Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mind, Brain & Education

That's the title of an interesting collection of brain-based education articles I borrowed from a friend. While there are definitely some dryer parts to this collection, there is much that can be applied in everyday classrooms. It also expounds on the numerous inaccuracies that many teachers have been led to believe is solid research in terms of the brain and it's impact on education.

  • Right-brained vs. Left-brained. While there are clearly different sides of the brain that accomplish different tasks, there is no such thing as a kid who is too left-brained to be able to do something "right brained." (I read the same thing in a NYTimes article today.)
  • Mozart EffectThe original study describing the impact of Mozart's music on increasing intelligence in people has never been replicated, and the original study only showed a weak, temporary increase in intelligence. 
  • Brain Plasticity is Limited to Certain Ages. The past ten years of research has confirmed that a person's brain is able to change to include new things at any age. While it is true that there are certain periods in which the brain demonstrates extreme plasticity, this process continues in varying degrees throughout life. 
 Here are some of my favorite ideas from the book.

  • Only kids who think, learn. Specifically, when kids make predictions, it ensures that they learn something. When they are engaged with the material and have to presuppose what might come next, and they receive confirmation (or not), the neural network in the brain is either rewarded with a dopamine burst for being correct, or has to rewire itself to adapt to the new information. Either way, comprehension is occurring. But it only happens when kids think. (p. 56) 
  • Know your brain. When students understand a few key bits of information about their brain, it can motivate them to not only study more, but study more effectively. For example, if a student knows that repetition forces the neural networks to prune out unnecessary information and only latches on to the repeated information, their practice can make that knowledge permanent. (p. 58)
  • You can change your brain. Research has shown many times that human brains change from birth to death, due to experiences and learning. This is critical for all students to know, but especially those students who think they aren't as bright as others. When they find out that they can change their own brain by practicing new skills, correcting mistakes, and having new experiences, they are empowered to take responsibility for their own learning. (p. 61)
  • Think big picture. Ask the kind of probing questions that help students develop intuition about their own thinking. For instance, if a student is trying to solve a math problem, have them back up and ask themselves if they are using the right strategy for that type of problem. Or, if they're working on a science project of some sort, have them ask themselves, "Am I getting closer to the answer?" This type of metacognition (thinking about one's thinking) encourages the brain to begin to automatically ask these sorts of questions when working through any problem. By evaluating their thinking process, students learn to make their thinking more effective, by focusing on what works, and how to get there as quickly as possible. (p. 80)

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