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The human brain weighs about 3 pounds, and, according to Jensen (2005), is adaptable in nature, has good integration between structures, and is sophisticated. Certainly, something to marvel at, the human brain has the capacity to do things that science has just begun to identify. As teachers, learning more about the brain and how it works certainly has implications for how we should educate our students. So, here's the skinny on the different structures of the brain and how Brain-Based Learning can impact our students.
The Cerebral Cortex of the Brain
So, this area of the brain actually coats the surface of the brain. The cortex (Latin for "bark") processes a majority of the information that comes to the brain, and is so efficient in size that it folds to increase the surface area of the brain, which then increases the amount of information that the brain can process. When we teach students, we are actually teaching their cortex, as this is the area of the brain where we can form an awareness of what we are thinking. Who knew that the brain's bark had such a huge role to play?!
Neurons and Glial Cells
Need to send a message or receive a message? The neurons and glial cells do tons of work in the brain. As humans, were are born with 150 to 200 neuron cells but by the time we're adults, we keep 100 billion and have about 500 billion glial cells to go with them. Neurons do many things, including talking to other neurons and networking with millions of other neurons via nerve impulses. Glial cells also have many functions, including carrying nutrients, speeding up repairs, supporting the barrier between the brain and blood, and even neurogenesis. Neurons have dendrites, which receive information from other cells, thereby beginning a chain of electrical impulses at the cellular level where the axons are. Dendrites are information receivers, and axons are information senders.
Strengthening Connections in the Brain through Electrical Impulses
Electrical impulses like these begin from stimulation through sight, sound, or thought. There is a connection between the axon branch and the dendrite called a synapse, and the electrical impulses release neurotransmitters to start new electrical impulses in the receiving neuron. The more ways in which we teach information to students, the more of these connections are made, which then lead to us making and strengthening connections. Good, strong connections are necessary in order or students to remember information, so electrical impulses like these begin from stimulation through sight, sound, or thought. There is a connection between the axon branch and the dendrite called a synapse, and the electrical impulses release neurotransmitters to start new electrical impulses in the receiving neuron. The more ways in which we teach information to students, the more of these connections are made, which then lead to us making and strengthening connections. Good, strong connections are necessary in order or students to remember information, so the quality of learning is more important than quantity.Good, strong connections are necessary in order or students to remember information Click To Tweet
The Occipital, Temporal, and Parietal Lobes
This part of the brain handles vision and, from the time we are born, we have 300 million brain cells devoted to helping us see colors, lines, and three-dimensional objects. But, the cool thing about the brain is that it has neural plasticity, so if you're born blind, no light rays will ever hit the retina of the eyes, so the occipital lobes change their function from vision to auditory and tactile cells, thereby giving those who are blind more auditory and tactile acuity. When teaching students, we should recognize that neural plasticity has a huge role to play. While we teach children, we shape their brains by what they do in the classroom, so we are shaping their brains for the rest of their lives. The temporal lobes, located near the ears, actually process hearing. And then, of course, there is the parietal lobe, which is found at the top and back area of the head. These lobes process increased sensory and language functions. Altogether, these lobes process what we see, hear, and feel.
The Frontal Lobes
In our brains, we form associations that help lead us to higher level thinking in the frontal lobes. Through the frontal lobes, we learn to communicate with one another through language development and not just feel emotions, but talking about them. Because the frontal lobes make us more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, we have the ability to be creative.
The Amygdala and the Hippocampus
Inside the temporal lobe, implanted deep down in the brain, are the amygdala and the hippocampus. Now, the amygdala actually holds our emotional memories, but is also integral in our survival. Knowing what emotions we attach to our memories help us process when we should be afraid so that we can escape from danger. Close by, you can find the hippocampus, which stores episodic memories by sending information to the cortex and then retrieving it when we recall information.
Why Emotions Matter
A while back, I posted about why emotions matter in the classroom, but looking at brain research, there is so much more to talk about. Emotional memories can either be good or bad. Our good, positive memories are more motivational and are remembered for longer. So when we do activities in the classroom to stimulate learning that the students enjoy and become engaged in positively, they tend to remember those things more often. It is important to ensure students have positive memories, as well, because negative memories can impede learning. While some stress helps us function and get things down, too much stress makes students shut down. This shut-down happens in the brain at the cortex, so when a student is too stressed or feels a lot of negative emotions in the classroom, they cannot learn. By ensuring that students feel safe in the classroom, we keep their brains from shutting down so they can learn.By ensuring that students feel safe in the classroom, we keep their brains from shutting down so they can learn Click To Tweet
Teach for Deeper Understanding, Not for Rote Memorization
In order for students to learn, rehearsal through a variety of methods will help students process the information in their brains. When content is taught better, students learn better. Just exposing students to content does not ensure their understanding, and learning without understanding does not help build connections between the neurons and glial cells in the brain. While we feel obligated through district standards to cover a certain number of topics over a certain amount of time, front-loading the information is a much more efficient process than coming back and having to review material that didn't stick with the students in the first place. Whatever we feel is worth teaching students should be worth teaching well, so educating students in ways that help make connections in the brain rather than just skimming over content so they're exposed to it actually works much better for students in the end. Let's vow to teach for deeper understanding rather than giving students a quick glance at each topic. Ways that work for the brain rather than against it.