Increasing neural networks make brains smarter
When students understand how their brain learns, they are more willing to put forth effort. Instructing students about the science of learning with a lesson about how neurons work to create new knowledge in the brain has been shown to increase students test scores.
Knowing that the brain can get smarter is critical to these improvements. Learning creates new neuropathways or roads in the brain. The nerve impulses that transmit new information from one nerve to the next are electrical. As this information travels through the axons and dendrites over the synaptic gaps, these electrical impulses form pathways.
As the path from one neuron to the next is traveled more frequently through repeated practice of the new skill being learned, it becomes a better road which speeds up the electrical signal. Brain imaging technologies have advanced now so that nerve impulses traveling in the brain can be seen.
Scientists who study these images track the electrical nerve pulses as they connect to different neurons to create new learning which lights up the brain. What they’re finding is that when an activity is challenging and the participant perseveres, the brain lights up even more.
As learning happens, more areas of the brain light up with these nerve connections. When students are working math problems, different areas of the brain are activated then when they’re reading text. The brain images for students with Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD look different from those with dyslexia.
Neuroscientists use brain imaging to show where neurons fire or light up due to new electrical pulse connections. Neurons that fire together wire together. As educators embrace this scientific principle, they find ways to make students more active participants in their learning. Seeing, saying and doing at the same time makes learning easier to remember than just listening to the teacher.
Adding music, movement and fun to learning activities lights up more neuronal connections making an event more memorable. Recall is dependent on the ability to retrieve information and more pathways to that new knowledge makes it easier to retrieve.
Learning how the network of nerves in students’ brains work helps them embrace the kinds of challenges that cause them to light up. Challenging concepts cause new neuropathways to be created. This new learning physically changes the brain. When students are taught that they can grow a smarter brain, many of the ardent resistors actually put in more effort.
Julie Adams in a recent blog post entitled “Neural Nuggets” summarized several significant new findings that researchers using this brain imaging technology have discovered. She reported that the brain does not develop fully until age 20 for girls and age 25 for boys. The last part of the brain to develop is the pre-frontal cortex which controls impulses and processes such as cause and effect.
Since teenagers don’t have a fully developed brain, they act without thinking, react emotionally and have trouble prioritizing. In order to concentrate and retain information effectively, they need 9-13 hours of sleep which also helps regulate emotions.
Children need positive feedback when they are taught concepts in class or chores at home because they’re new to reading emotions. Clearly explaining instructions and modeling help students understand because directions and emotions are misinterpreted up to 40 percent of the time.
Nurturing good student and teacher relationships enhances the emotional connection and makes a huge difference in the learning environment because it decreases stress and increases brain receptivity to new information.
Short-term memory only stores information for about 20 minutes, but when it’s connected to prior knowledge and positive emotions, it transfers to longterm memory which makes retention and retrieval of stored information easier.
Students need instruction to be broken up into 5-10 minute chunks because it allows them to reset their attention span. “Brain Breaks” such as summarizing the directions the teacher just gave to a partner helps them process the new information.
Every 10-20 minutes students should get up and move for a bit to get their blood pumping and to oxygenate their brain. They can share a new concept they just learned with a partner in another group as a quick way to energize them.
Teaching students about how the neurons in their brain connect to create new knowledge increases learning capacities and motivation.