Spring 1999 Contract for Grade (Part 1)

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Workshop-How the Brain Learns: Translating Brain Research into Classroom Practice

Presenter-Dr. David Sousa

January 29, 1999

Wayzata, Minnesota


After reading an article in Time magazine a few years ago on the subject of how the brain develops, I became intrigued with the topic of brain research. I wanted to learn more about how a child's environment may affect brain development. I wanted to use this information to create the best possible circumstances in my classroom, for optimal learning to occur.

In the workshop that I attended titled "How the Brain Learns: Translating Brain Research into Classroom Practice", Dr. David Sousa brought together recent findings on how the human brain develops, changes, learns, and remembers. He presented practical ways to apply this knowledge in the classroom. Sousa began the workshop by engaging the audience's emotions by telling jokes. Laughter is a stimulus that affects the brain's frontal lobe, which must be engaged for any learning to occur. He stated that hitting a person in the frontal lobe area would do the same thing, but would be an unethical teaching practice.

Sousa spent the first part of the workshop revealing the latest, "cutting edge" technology and discoveries in neuroscience. Sophisticated medical instruments such as PET scans and MRIs produce three-dimensional maps of the human brain performing various activities, including learning. The assumption made by Sousa as well as some scientists is that the more actively engaged the brain is, the greater the potential for the information to be permanently stored in the brain. Scientists know that a newborn brain makes neurological connections at an incredible pace as it absorbs its environment. The richer the environment, the more connections that are made, and the more the child learns. To strengthen the point, Sousa compared these neurological connections to trees. He presented a diagram of a brain with many connections and one with very few connections. The diagrams resembled the branches of a tree. He explained the premise in the following way: "The more branches a neuron has, the more it can have. Learning causes neurons to grow. The more a person learns, the more a person can learn". Sousa explained that there are critical periods in brain development when the "brain selectively strengthens or prunes connections based on experience. These so-called "windows of opportunity seem to be most pronounced between the ages of 2 and 11." This research reminds us that he early years are important for developing concepts such as second language, music, motor development, and emotional control.

Today's brain is different from the brain of 15 years ago, in that we live in a fast-paced, multi-media-based culture. Sousa states "Students spend more time watching television and playing electronic games that with their parents. Our brains are accustomed to rapid sensory and emotional changes, which responds more readily to the unique and different." Despite this, many of our teaching methods throughout the years have remained the same. Many students find school dull and uninteresting because it cannot compete with the multi-sensory experiences that hold their interest and attention outside of school. What is the solution?

Sousa offered the following suggestions to help "teach" to the new brain:

1. Explore the use of the multiple intelligence theory, learning styles, and cooperative learning strategies.

2. Teach appropriate skills and concepts within the "windows of opportunity".

3. Teach in shorter blocks of time with 20 minutes being the maximum length of a lesson.

4. Learn more about biological rhythms in regard to planning the school day.

5. Use humor and emotion in your lessons.

6. Give students time to move about and relax between lessons.

7 Make time for a snack and drinks of water, which will help the brain, remain alert.

Educators should continue to investigate the brain and gain a more scientific understanding of it in order to determine all of the many ways to integrate "brain friendly" practices into their classrooms.

-- Anonymous, May 16, 1999

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