Using Brain Research in the Classroom

Back in the early 2000s, I used to think that brain-based research about teaching was just a fad.  Why do I need to understand the brain in order to become a better teacher?  It all sounded like a bunch of hooey to me, like laserdiscs and beta players.  It wasn’t until a former co-teacher convinced me to take an online class with her on the neuroscience of teaching that I saw the light.  It was one of the greatest professional development experiences of my career.  Understanding how the brain learns, and how we as teachers can use that information to improve our teaching and lessons, was eye opening.  After gaining this knowledge, I totally changed the way I approached teaching.  The focus should be on the students.  I should not be the voice up front talking all the time.  Instead, I should create a student-centered classroom that puts the students in charge of their learning.  So, I did, and I have seen such drastic changes within me as a teacher and from the students I have worked with since taking that course.  They are much more self-sufficient and able to creatively solve problems encountered in unique ways because of the changes I made in my classroom.  It is crucial that all teachers learn about how our students learn.  I wish I had understood this idea a lot sooner than I did, but at least I now know how to engage, support, and challenge my students in relevant and meaningful ways in the classroom.

For the final presentation portion of a research project my students are working on in STEM class, they have to memorize a unique expository paragraph that they craft themselves.  While memorization isn’t used in schools as much anymore, it is still an important skill to expose my students to as I know they will need to apply it in their future English classes.  While I introduced the assignment to the students yesterday in class, they will be learning all about the brain science behind memorization in PEAKS class this week and next with my co-teacher.  She is going to explain the many different strategies used to memorize various chunks of information.  She is then going to provide the students ample time to practice applying the different strategies to memorize their paragraph.  This is a perfect closing for the brain unit she has been working on with the students in this study skills class.  The boys learned all about how their brain works and functions.  They learned about the plasticity of their brain and the ideas of growth and fixed mindsets.  This activity on memorization will allow them to apply this information to STEM class.  How can their brain help them remember things?  When the students understand of what their brain is capable, they are able to do so much more because they believe they can.  Most students tend to think of the brain as a filing cabinet with limited space.  When they learn about brain science, they begin to see their brain as this amazing machine that can do almost anything.  The possibilities are endless.  Teaching students the neuroscience of learning is crucial for their growth and development as students.  If we want our students to be able to tap into their full potential as thinkers and learners, they need to know how to do that as well as realize that it is possible.

In STEM class yesterday, to help introduce the skill of memorization, I showed the boys a short video on how to use the Mind Palace technique of memorization that is thousands of years old.  Shakespeare used it with his actors to help them memorize their lines.  Introducing the students to a completely new technique like this that they have most likely not learned previously, seemed like a fine way to open my lesson on memorization.  I then answered any questions the boys had about this new method of memorizing something before asking the students what strategies they have used in the past to memorize something.  They named some of the basic techniques such as chunking, walking and talking, reading, and listening.  I then provided the students a chance to practice memorizing their piece in class using one of these methods.  Today in PEAKS class, they will dig into many more memorization strategies that will allow them to make use of how their brain learns best.  Knowing about how the brain works though, is crucial when having students learn new information or a new skill.  When students understand how powerful the tool in their skull truly is, they can do anything.


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