Facts about the brain and learning

Fun facts about the brain and

Advances in medical technology such as positive emission tomography (PET) scans and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have shown us how the brain actually functions while learning. We can now apply the latest neuroscience research findings to design instructional materials and deliver what is called brain-based instruction. We can also apply these in our classrooms to create the perfect “brain-compatible classroom”.

So, here are some brain research findings and implications for us as educators:

  1. Short term memory can hold only 7 bits of information plus or minus.

Any new information first goes to short term memory. According to famous cognitive psychologist George Miller, short term memory can hold only 7 bits of information, plus or minus two. More recent findings have revised this figure to four bits. Information next travels to another temporary memory called working memory, which has a longer time span. From here the information either moves to long term memory (permanent storage) or fades into oblivion. Unless actively rehearsed, information stays in working memory for 10-15 seconds only (Goldstein).

Implication for Educators: Repetition is the key. A new information or fact should not be said only once. It should be revised, so that it is processed again and again and moved to long term memory. Elaborate Rehearsal: showing content via videos, audio, and slideshows can help tutors achieve the desired effect. Associating that fact with student’s prior knowledge helps the student retain the same permanently.

  1. Left brain and right brain work together in learning. In approximately 95% of the population, left hemisphere processes the content (language and speech) while right hemisphere is dominant in decoding the context.

It’s a common myth that only one hemisphere is dominant in a human. Wrong. Both work together in all learning situations.

Implications for Educators: Educators have to teach both halves of the brain. Meaning? Place emphasis on both the content as well as the context. Here’s an excerpt from the book Brain matters: Translating research into classroom practice (2001) by Patricia Wolfe:

We need to teach content within a context that is meaningful to students, and that connects to their own lives and experiences. This is teaching to both halves of the brain. Too often, the curriculum is taught in isolation, with little effort put into helping students see how the information is, or could be, used in their lives. Too many students never comprehend the “big picture” of how the content they are learning fits in the larger scheme of things.We need to teach content within a context that is meaningful to students, and that connects to their own lives and experiences. This is teaching to both halves of the brain. Too often, the curriculum is taught in isolation, with little effort put into helping students see how the information is, or could be, used in their lives. Too many students never comprehend the “big picture” of how the content they are learning fits in the larger scheme of things.

  1. Emotionally arousing incidents are better remembered than neutral events.

Emotional arousal triggers increased activity in the amygdala region in turn enhancing memory-related activity in other regions of the brain like medial temporal lobe and hippocampus (The Human Amygdala by Paul J. Whalen, ‎Elizabeth A. Phelps).

In an experiment, Stephen Hamann of Emory University used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the memory for emotional and non-emotional picture stimuli. He found that subjects remembered twice as many emotional words as neutral ones.

Implication for Educators: Positive emotions strengthen learning and should thus be incorporated in teaching. How? Marilee Sprenger in her book “How to Teach So Students Remember“, advises teachers to begin the lesson with a story. “It can be a personal story that you somehow relate to the topic at hand, or it can be a secondhand story with connections to the topic.”

Another way is to use channels of interaction like text, audio, and video chat, in the virtual class. It makes students feel welcome and a part of a group. Emoticons should be employed while chatting in the virtual class. Several teachers report that students love using emoticons while chatting in WizIQ’s Virtual Classroom.

  1. Hippocampus is susceptible to stress hormones which can inhibit cognitive functioning and long-term memory.

Negative emotions leading to high levels of stress impair memory. Stress in the classroom or elsewhere, raises dopamine activity in the prefrontal cortex. This increased dopamine activity (DA) has been linked to disruptions in working memory. (Dr. Kathie F. Nunley, 2013).

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