Friday, 28 March 2014

Brain Science for Teachers

Starting from scratch ?
Brain science is playing an increasingly important role in teaching and learning.

It's concepts are already being used fairly widely in lesson design. Soon I expect it will become an underlying feature of curriculum design.

If you are a teacher wishing to learn a little more about brain science then this post offers you some general guidelines to launch yourself into the amazing world of cognitive neuroscience.

The first step !

1. Do some reading and I suggest in this order:
  • Robertson, Ian. Mind Sculpture : Your Brain’s Untapped Potential. London: Bantam, 2000.
  • Merzenich, Michael. Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life. San Francisco, Calif.: Parnassus Pub., 2013.
  • Claxton, Guy. Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind : Why Intelligence Increases When You Think Less. London: Fourth Estate, 1997.

A little more advanced reading:
  • LeDoux, Joseph. Synaptic Self : How Our Brains Become Who We Are. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.
  • Schwartz, Jeffrey. The Mind and the Brain : Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. 1st pbk. ed. New York: Regan Books/HarperCollins Publ., 2003.
  • Geake, John G. The Brain at School Educational Neuroscience in the Classroom. Maidenhead, England: McGraw-Hill/Open University Press, 2009.
Journal Publication
  • Mind, Brain and Education: Implications for Educators. Learning Landscapes: Autumn 2011, Vol. 5 No. 1
I consider the first three books essential reading. They are not difficult to follow and you should gain a good introductory grounding in neuro-plasticity and thinking concepts - the basis of learning and problem solving !

                                  Brain Structure and Function
2. Brain Structure and Function:

You should, at the very least, know the main brain areas and their functions.

There is an enormous amount of good material online - just Google - but don't get bogged down. Diagrams and structure / function tables will give you all you need. Also check out YouTube - it won't take too long.

Your first port of call could be Eric Chudler's Neuroscience for Kids - and another excellent website as a must visit is the Dana Foundation -

             Information Processing

3. How and where does the brain  process information ?

An enormous area. I used to spend some days teaching this topic. I would just like you to become more aware of how the brain works - no more than this just now - at this early stage for you.

 All information from the external world enters the brain via our senses. Our biases, emotions, past experiences and cultural background influence how we perceive the external reality. Two people may interpret the exact same sensory input in quite different ways. Often we miss obvious data features or even see an object as something it is not - illusions. Find a few examples of illusions on the web especially illusions of scale and area !

Left Brain, Right Brain
The brain has two hemispheres - the left brain and the right brain. Both hemispheres are a world of their own (you could say we are in "two minds") but they work together. Find out a little more about their roles. (Which has the more generalized circuitry ? How does this help you as a learner ?)

The idea of "left brain" and "right brain" learners is complete nonsense (but it was a popular idea a while ago).


4. Learning and Performance

Information - capture, storage, application
How does the brain learn ? What part of the brain allows us to make meaning or sense of something ? What is unconscious or implicit learning ? What are mirror neurons ?  How does a rich knowledge database help us ? What is incubation with regards to complex problem solving ? What is circuit priming ? How does this help a learner ?

So many questions but they hardly scratch the surface of the cognitive sciences. But bear these in mind as you do your reading.

                  Information Storage

5. The storage of information

How is our information stored ? Is there a grandmother cell ? When cells are lost how does memory survive ?  Is a memory stored in one piece just like a photograph ? What is associative memory ? How do neural pathways change when memories are formed ? How can memory be improved ?

Information structure model
What is the advantage of information structures being connected ? How does stress and tiredness affect the functioning of these connections ? How is information packaged and stored ? What role do the brainwaves play in this process ? What conditions allow better innovative and creative thinking ? How does alert and relaxed enable better understanding /comprehension ?

Now it's over to you. I've provided a few pointers to guide you along the way. There's no hurry, enjoy finding out new things as you go. Also you may turn you thoughts to the classroom  situation. It is important, however, that you do your own reading and design your own brain-based lessons (teaching and learning).

Ask me any questions if you want. Good luck !

                                               © Copyright 2014 School of the Mind - All Rights Reserved.