Brain Based Learning Environments Elton J. Davis PSY 370 Keia Farr January 24th , 2011 Our currant educational system dates back to the Industrial Revolution at a time when our country prepared its people for agricultural work and factory jobs. The school systems and curriculums of the time were centered around the mass production mentality ( www. funderstanding. com/catagory/content/educatiion-history). The education system of that time prepared students to face the demands of the economy of the time.
Times have changed and the United States education system has dropped off dramatically in the last several decades in comparison to other countries. The test scores of many Asian and European countries show large disparities in educational achievement. Recent breakthroughs in the many disciplines of Brain Based Learning have showed evidence that our educational systems need to incorporate a more brain based friendly environment into our school curriculums. It has been proven that the learning environment that a student is subjected to has a major impact in the ability of that student to learn.
Extensive neurological research has shown how the brain works and different areas of science have used that information to develop suggestions how to incorporate them into learning and educational curriculum s and environments. When educators look to incorporate brain compatible learning environments they need to understand the fundamentals of how the brain works. Neuroscience research offers new insights into how the brain works and how students learn and have prompted the development of new approaches to learning and teaching.
Brain based learning and the teaching methods to support these methods can be found in four primary categories. The first and most prominent category is right brain left brain approaches followed by approaches that emphasize early brain development, approaches designed to develop multiple intelligences and brain based teaching approaches. Although the concept of brain-based learning has been applied most frequently to the improvement of learning outcomes for special education students.
The premise is that boys and girls learn differently and therefore should be educated in separate classrooms where teaching methods and curriculum are suited to their respective learning styles. It is important to note that not all experts embrace the notion that brain- based teaching methods affect improved learning outcomes. In fact, some experts argue that the neuroscience research being used to advance brain based learning today actually supports many of the traditional methods of teaching methods that have already demonstrated their efficacy in affecting improved learning outcomes Jenson, E 2008). For over 2,000 years there have been primitive models of how the brain works. Up until the 1950’s the brain was compared to an operator’s city telephone switchboard. Brain theory in the 1970s concentrated on the the right and left brain. Later, Paul McClean developed a concept of the Triune Brain which refers to the evolution of the human brain in three parts. In this theory McClean hypothesized that survival learning is in the lower brain, emotions were in the middle brain, and higher order thinking took place in the upper brain.
Now brain based education has a more complete view of the brain (McClean, P, Triune Brain Theory). During the last two decades neuroscientists have be doing research that has implications for improved teaching practices as they have obtained much information on how the brain works from autopsies, experiments, and different types of scans — MRIs, EEGs, PET and CAT scans. Information has been gleaned as neuroscientists construct clinical studies that use double blind, large, diverse, multi-age, multicultural groups of people to gather reliable information (Wilson, L, Dr. Brain Based Education). The brain is a vastly complex and adaptive system with hundreds of billions of neurons and interneurons that can generate an astronomical number of neural nets, or groups of neurons acting in concert, from which our daily experience is constructed. Many findings seem obvious and intuitive, as one outsider asked me, “isn’t all learning brain-based? ” For example, we all know intuitively that the best age to learn a new language is during our early childhood; what neuroscientists call the principle of windows of opportunity.
We can accept that all brains are unique and a product of interactions with different environments, generating a lifetime of different and varied experiences; what scientists call plasticity. We can accept the notion that either you use it, or you lose it; new neural pathways are created every time we use our brains in thinking through problems, but are lost forever – are pruned – if we do not use them (Lackney, J, Dr. , 12 Design Principles Based on Brain Based Learning Research). As our understanding of how the brain works and learns several noted experts from the diverse fields started o design the principles to follow, specifically based on conclusions from research in neuroscience. Professors from major universities have taken this information and incorporated it into books about learning. In accordance with these suggestions classroom practices can be modified by teachers applying new theories of teaching and learning based on recent findings. Some noted authors in this area are Marian Diamond, U. C. , Berkeley; Howard Gardner, Harvard University; Renate and Geoffrey Caine; Thomas Armstrong; Candace Pert, Eric Jensen; etc.
This is the core principles directing brain based education developed by Renate and Geoffrey Caine: The brain is a parallel processor. It can perform several activities at once. * The brain perceives wholes and parts simultaneously. * Information is stored in multiple areas of the brain, and can be retrieved through multiple memory and * neural pathways. * Learning engages the whole body. All learning is mind-body: movement, foods, attention cycles, and * chemicals modulate learning. * Humans search for meaning is innate. * The search for meaning comes through patterning. Emotions are critical to patterning, and drive our attention, meaning and memory. * Meaning is more important than just information. * Learning involves focused attention and peripheral perception. * We have two types of memory: spatial and rote. * We understand best when facts are embedded in natural spatial memory. * The brain is social. It develops better in concert with other brains. * Complex learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by stress. * Every brain in uniquely organized. * Learning is developmental. (Caine and Caine)
There are interactive teaching elements that emerge from these principles. Orchestrated immersion: Learning environments are created that immerse students in a learning experience. Primary teachers build a rainforest in the classroom complete with stuffed animals and cardboard and paper trees that reach to the ceiling. Intermediate teachers take students to a school forest to explore and identify animal tracks in the snow and complete orienteering experiences with a compass. Junior high teachers take a field trip to insurance companies to have students shadow an employee all day.
High school teachers of astronomy have students experience weightlessness by scuba diving in the swimming pool. Relaxed alertness: An effort is made to eliminate fear while maintaining a highly challenging environment. Teachers play classical music when appropriate to set a relaxed tone in the classroom. Bright lights are dimmed. Vanilla candles are used to calm students and peppermint scents are used to stimulate the senses. All students are accepted with their various learning styles, capabilities and disabilities. A relaxed accepting environment pervades the room.
Children are stretched to maximize their potential. Active processing: The learner consolidates and internalizes information by actively processing it. Information is connected to prior learning. The stage is set before a unit of study is begun by the teacher preparing the students to attach new information to prior knowledge so the new information has something to latch onto. (Jensen; Caine & Caine) D’Arcangelo developed twelve design principles based on brain based research: * Rich, stimulating environments using student created aterials and products are evident on bulletin boards and display areas. * Places for group learning like tables and desks grouped together, to stimulate social skills and cooperative work groups. Have comfortable furniture and couches available for casual discussion areas. Carpeted and areas with large pillows who prefer not the work at a desk or table. * Link indoor and outdoor spaces so students can move about using their motor cortex for more brain oxygenation. Safe places for students to be where threat is reduced, particularly in large urban settings. * Variety of places that provide different lighting, and nooks and crannies. Many elementary children prefer the floor and under tables to work with a partner. * Change displays in the classroom regularly to provide a stimulating situations for brain development. Have students create stage sets where they can act out scenes from their readings or demonstrate a science principle or act out a dialogue between historical figures. Have multiple resources available. Provide educational, physical and a variety of setting within the classroom so that learning activities can be integrated easily. Computers areas, wet areas, experimental science areas should be in close proximity to one another. Multiple functions of learning is our goal. * Flexibility: This common principle of the past is relevant. The teachable moment must be recognized and capitalized upon. Dimensions of flexibility are evident in other principles. Active and passive places: Students need quiet areas for reflection and retreat from others to use intrapersonal intelligences. * Personal space: Students need a home base, a desk, a locker area. All this allows learners to express their unique identity. * The community at large as an optimal learning environment: Teachers need to find ways to fully use city space and natural space to use as a primary learning setting. Technology, distance learning, community and business partnerships, all need to be explored by educational institutions. Enrichment: The brain can grow new connections at any age. Challenging, complex experiences with appropriate feedback are best. Cognitive skills develop better with music and motor skills. (D’Arcangelo) One of the key tenets of brain-based education is that attention follows emotion, and both music and art often tap into the emotional areas and thus are natural conduits for remembering and connecting information. Music can lower stress, boost learning when used 3 different ways: * as a carrier – using melody or beat to encode content, * as arousal – to calm down or energize, as a primer – to prepare specific pathways for learning content) impacts the immune system, and is an energy source for the brain. Art is an important part of brain-based education in that it provides many learners with avenues of expression and emotional connection and release. It is important at many levels. For instance, it is important in technology in order to create aesthetically pleasing PowerPoint presentations and multi-media displays that showcase work and make the information and facts presented memorable.
Art can be metaphoric creating simple icons or images that ground larger more complex ideas. Multicultural awareness is improved through the study of art as it instantly connects viewers to different cultures. Indeed, due to the diverse power and inherent potential of art to create deep emotional connections and aid in memory retrieval, some educators think the arts should be named as the fourth R (Wilson, L (2009) Brain Based Education). Brain research also suggests that the human brain learns best when it is at a balance between stress and comfort.
The human brain prefers a high comfort and low threat learning environment. The brain needs to be challenged or have some environmental pressure that generates stress to activate emotions and learning. Stress activates a survival action in the brain. The trick, too much stress and anxiety shuts down opportunities for learning, but too little stress causes the brain to become too relaxed and comfortable to become actively engaged. Educators must create learning environments that are safe to learn and spark enough emotional interest through celebrations and rituals.
The state of mind for optimal learning is referred to as relaxed alertness. Eric Jenson, an established author on brain based learning, conducted some interesting research on neurogenesis and stated that boosting neurogenesis is the ultimate low budget anti depressant. Jenson came up with a theory of the three A’s that matter most, arts, advanced placement curriculum, and activity. Jenson noted the three A’s will boost school learning environments. Jenson focused on studies that involved Arts, and Physical Education.
Jenson found that the arts are an often neglected area of the curriculum that has a dramatic impact on student performance. Jenson found if a musically naive student had their brain scanned, then they were taught to read music, and then taught to play the piano, after fifteen weeks of lessons, a scan of their brain again showed physical changes (Jenson, E (2010) Teaching with Poverty in Mind). In theater, drama and other performance arts, subjects have demonstrated improved emotional intelligence, timing, reflection, respect for diversity, and even higher SAT scores.
When compared to those taking no arts courses, the longer they worked at it, the higher the scores of those taking theater and drama scored higher on the widely used college entrance test. Drama teaches emotional intelligences (correlated with better grades), memorization and processing skills (upgrades operating skills) and builds social status and friends (Jenson 2010). Arts are particularly valuable because they build lifelong, transferable skills such as reading. In fact, the implicit learning that arts provide transfers better than the explicit textbook learning of other subjects.
Jenson states “To put it bluntly, arts build a student’s operating system as well as anything that is in their school” (Jenson, E (2010) Teaching with Poverty in Mind). UCLA professor of education Dr. James Catterall analyzed data on more than 25,000 students from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey to determine the relationship of engagement in the arts to student performance and attitudes, and also investigated the impact of intensive involvement in instrumental music on student achievement. She found that students with high levels of arts participation outperform “arts-poor” students by irtually every measure and that high arts participation makes a more significant difference to students from low-income backgrounds than to high-income students. In addition, Catterall found clear evidence that sustained involvement in particular art forms music and theater is highly correlated with success in mathematics and reading. She documented the difference between students of lower socioeconomic status who took music lessons in grades 8-12 when compared to other low SES students who took no music lessons. The former not only increased their math scores significantly but also improved reading, history, and geography by 40%.
The arts are particularly valuable for kids from poverty. Another find in brain based research has shown that physical education and athletics are an aspect not associated with learning. Surprisingly, athletic programs have been found to increase rates of academic performance and graduation and to reduce behavioral problems in schools. In addition to improving the health of students and improving reaction times, cardiovascular capacity, muscle strength, body coordination, speed, and a stress response, athletics also enhances cognition and academic outcomes.
Fernando Gomez-Pinilla and her team at UCLA found that voluntary exercise increased levels of brain-derived neurotropic factor or (BDNF) in the hippocampus, a brain area involved with learning and memory. Some studies have found strong evidence that in mammals, exercise increase the production of new brain cells and that they become functional. In addition, exercise leads to increased calcium levels in the blood, and that calcium is transported to the Brain where it enhances dopamine synthesis, making the brain sharper for both cognitive problem solving and working memory.
The study also found that the increase in BDNF not only supports learning and memory function but BDNF also repairs and maintains neural circuits. As a school administrator, teacher or any member of a school faculty, a question is raised every year how can I improve the schools learning environment? Some of the answers are not that difficult to answer. Brain Based Compatible Learning is a science that is diverse and on the rise.
Though it is in its infancy stages, many elite collage programs are shifting more attention to its merits thanks to the authors and journals that publish the findings of university studies that are being conducted. It is not a matter of turning a whole school curriculum into a brain based learning curriculum, which is absurd. The goal should be to use the knowledge of neuroscience in addition to the current curriculums to better serve the students ability to learn. The research and studies cannot be ignored; it should be the duty of any faculty member to look into the incorporation of brain ompatible curriculums. Advances in the knowledge of brain based learning comes from many diverse disciplines. New findings in the field are being established daily at major universities, the results are being published by many respected scientific journals across the world. Brain compatible learning environments are feasible and will benefit the learning environments of all students. References: The statements above has been condensed, synthesized, and summarized from: Jenson, E, (2008) Brain Based Learning, Second Edition Emotional Intelligence Information: Retrieved from http://www. unh. du/emotional_intelligence Twelve Design Principles Based on Brain-Based Learning Research. Retrieved from http://www. designshare. com/Research/BrainBasedLearn98. htm. McLean, P, Triune Brain Theory, Retrieved from http://www. definingconcepts. net/DefiningConcepts/Triune_Brain. html Wilson, L, Dr. , Brain Based Education retrieved from http://uwsp. edu/education/lwilson/brain/bboverview. htm Teaching High Poverty Kids Using a High Impact Curriculum Retrieved from http://www. jensenlearning. com/news/teaching-high-poverty-kids-using-a-high-impact-curriculum/teaching-with-poverty-in-mind#more-79 Caine, G. Nummela-Caine, R. , ; Crowell, S. (1999) Mindshifts: A Brain-Based Process for Restructuring Schools and Renewing Education, 2nd edition. Tucson, AZ: Zephyr Press. Retrieved from http://uwsp. edu/education/lwilson/brain/bboverview. htm Caine, G. , Nummela-Caine, (1997) Education on the edge of possibility. Alexandria, VA: ASCD–Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from http://uwsp. edu/education/lwilson/brain/bboverview. htm D’Arcangelo, M. (2000). How does the brain develop? A conversation with Steven Peterson.