1. The brain is a social organ: Our brains require stimulation and connection to survive and thrive. A brain without connection to other brains and without sufficient challenge will shrink and eventually die, moreover, the modern human brain’s primary environment is our matrix of social relationships. As a result, close relationships promote positive emotions, neuroplasticity, and learning. That’s why it pays for teachers to create positive social experiences in the classroom.
2. We have two brains:The cerebral hemispheres have differentiated from one another and developed specialized functions and skills. In general, the left hemisphere has taken the lead on language processing, linear thinking, and pro-social functioning while the right hemisphere specializes in visual-spatial processing, strong emotions, and private experience.Most tasks, though, involve contributions from both hemispheres. So, it is important to understand how to engage both in the classroom context.
3. Early learning is powerful: Much of our most important emotional and interpersonal learning occurs during our first few years of life.Early experiences shape structures in ways that have a lifelong impact on three of our most vital areas of learning: attachment, emotional regulation, and self-esteem. These three spheres of learning establish our abilities to connect with others, cope with stress, and feel that we have value.
4. Conscious awareness and unconscious processing occur at different speeds, often simultaneously.
5. The mind, brain, and body are interwoven: Physical activity exerts a stimulating influence on the entire brain that keeps it functioning at an optimal level. Exercise has been shown to stimulate the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus and to pump more oxygen through the brain, stimulating capillary growth and frontal-lobe plasticity. Proper nutrition and adequate sleep are also essential to learning. Although the brain is only a fraction of our body’s weight, it consumes approximately 20 percent of our energy, which makes good nutrition a critical component of learning. Sleep boosts cognitive performance and augments learning while sleep deprivation limits our ability to sustain vigilance and attention.
6. The brain has a short attention span and needs repetition and multiple-channel processing for deeper learning to occur: Curiosity, the urge to explore and urge to look for novelty plays an important role in survival. We are rewarded for curiosity by dopamine and opioids (feel-good chemicals in the brain), which are stimulated in the face of something new. Because our brains evolved to remain vigilant to a constantly changing environment, we learn better in brief intervals.
7. Fear and stress impair learning: Evolution has shaped our brains to err on the side of caution and to trigger fear whenever it might be remotely useful. Fear makes us less intelligent because amygdala activation—which occurs as part of the fear response—interferes with prefrontal functioning. Fear also shuts down exploration, makes our thinking more rigid, and drives “neophobia,” the fear of anything new.Stressful situations trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which interferes with neural growth. Prolonged stress impairs our ability to learn and maintain physical health.
9. Learning is enhanced by emphasizing the big picture—and then allowing students to discover the details for themselves.
When problems are represented at higher levels of abstraction, learning can be integrated into larger schemas that enhance memory, learning, and cognitive flexibility. Starting with major concepts and repeatedly returning to them during a lecture enhances understanding and memory, a phenomenon that increases when students create their own categories and strategies of organizing information. Chunking material into meaningful segments makes it easier to remember, and improves test performance while increasing prefrontal activity during encoding.
4. Chunking is the only way ! The typical attention span is the child’s age plus or minus a couple of minutes. That means young children can’t attend past 5 – 10 minutes. Again, proof that typical “lecture” type teaching just doesn’t work. That means they need a chunk of information, then an opportunity to process that in some way. Here’s where “turn and talk” works, as well as an opportunity to write, draw, or even move.
5. Movement makes it easier to retain ! Combining movement with the learning almost guarantees stronger learning. Here are some ideas: Counting by tens while doing jumping jacks, touch three desks while naming the three flowers etc
6. Sometimes Shake it up! If you do exactly the same thing, exactly the same way, it becomes boring and the brain tunes out. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good things about sticking with a routine, but once in a while you need to shake it up! Have a backwards day, turning the whole schedule around (within reason, of course!) change the seating arrangement, do one part of the day completely different. We need this in our own lives, too, don’t we?
7. The brain needs oxygen, go outside ! They say 20% of all the oxygen used in the body is used by the brain. That means we need to get the kids up out of their seats regularly and moving!
8. Make connections , Relate it ! Connections are important for the brain. It can’t hold random information, it needs to connect to something else that’s already there. Did you ever hear a kid say, “I remember that because I know….” You can make connections through your own experience and stories.
9. Feedback is essential to keep our lesson on track ! Practice doesn’t make anything better unless the practice is accurate. Children need to hear they are on the right track. I use a colour code to let the children know if they are on track.
10. Music is magical! There are many studies on music and learning. Use happy music first thing in the morning. That way the children enter feeling good.