students get clinical and educational perspectives

Camerons-web.jpgPhysician and Educator Team Up at UF

While everyone is looking for value in college tuition, many students in the College of Education feel they’re getting “double their money’s worth.” Those enrolled in Drs. Mary and Donald Cameron’s class are getting both the educational and clinical perspectives of how the brain changes during the learning process. 

Mary Cameron, Ph.D., has years of classroom experience and an abundance of knowledge about brain-based learning. She has been a member of the UF faculty since 1998. Donald Cameron, M.D., a Toledo-based pediatric neurologist, teaches in tandem with his wife. This fall, they collaborated on a graduate offering: Neurobiology of Learning and Behavior. 

Special Needs or Special Conditions?

In an era that’s fraught with special needs diagnoses, including autism, dyslexia, ADHD and ADD, Mary feels that many of the labels given to children are oversimplified.

“We’ve learned that all of these conditions are caused by something physiological,” Mary stated. “That’s why it’s so important to get a clinical understanding of the brains of children with special needs.” 

Attention problems, she continued, can be caused by many things, including depression, allergies, lack of sleep, a dysfunctional family or even bullying. ADHD may not just be something you’re “born with.” 

How the Brain Learns 

Often referred to as educational neuroscience, brain-based learning focuses on how the brain learns naturally. According to Mary, the brain actually changes physically and biologically depending on how it’s

We've learned that all of thee conditions are caused by something physiological.  That's why it's so important to get a clinical understanding of the brains of children with special needs.

taught. The Camerons strive to show students the direct effect that teaching has on the brain. At the graduate level, they review all of the body systems to help the class understand the brains of children with special needs. 

“Learning happens when students are actively engaged,” added Mary. “Today, an effective teacher needs to be a guide and facilitator, not the ‘sage on the stage.’” 

Although some educators blame technology for many learning difficulties, Mary feels that computers, and iPads, can be good learning resources. 

“The computer doesn’t entertain you. You must be engaged to use it,” she commented. “I once watched a child with hyperactivity interact with a SmartBoard for more than an hour.” 

From Romance Languages to the Language of Learning 

While she was growing up in Jamaica, Mary’s parents spoke Spanish, a language that came very easily to her. Since it was more challenging, she opted to study French in college. After earning a master’s degree, she became an assistant professor in the Department of Foreign Languages at the University of the West Indies. 

The Camerons met while Donald was a medical student in Jamaica and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1977 so he could complete his internship and residency. They eventually moved to Toledo where he was initially employed by the Medical College of Ohio and subsequently opened his own practice. Since most of his patients were children with special needs, he found himself in need of someone to be his liaison with area school systems. 

“The delivery of special education services was mandated by law in 1975,” added Mary, “and the study of the importance of the brain and learning really exploded in the late 1990s. I went back to school and received a Ph.D. from the University of Toledo. The title of my dissertation was ‘Brain Electrical Activity in the Underachiever.’” 

With Mary visiting schools to discuss their needs and Donald making great strides in the diagnosis and treatment of learning disabilities, it was only a matter of time until they decided to share their knowledge. Luckily, students at The University of Findlay’s College of Education have been the beneficiaries. “Our children have also been involved in the field of education,” Mary said. “One son is a professor at Vassar; the other is a librarian, and our daughter just graduated from Kenyon College where she majored in French.”

-by Barb Lockard