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Part 1 (Dec 30, 2015)

This part had been written after reading Six Tips for Brain-Based Learning”

Brain-Based Learning: a myth or a reality?

A teacher is starting a new topic; after ten minutes into the lesson the teacher looks at a large screen that glows presenting live images of the brain activities of each student. A teacher thinks: “Hmm, their prefrontal cortex does not show much of activities, but everyone has the amygdala overly excited; I need to do something about it; maybe I should try singing?”

Of course, the situation described above is fictional.

Maybe in thirty - forty years new technologies will allow teachers to observe live brain activities of students to adjust their teaching.

But until then almost nothing we learn from neurology about a brain is of any practical use for a teacher.

Like any body organ (e.g. a muscle):

1. A brain exists.

2. A brain changes/develops in time AND when being used/exercised.

That is basically all a teacher needs to know about a brain.

A simple illustration shows the correlation between brain development and learning abilities.

Let us assume that for years students have been doing only one type of physical exercises - squats. Then in the end of their schooling they can make squats many times without any difficulties. All the muscles involved in making squats will be developed. However, all other muscles, which have not been involved in the exercise, would be underdeveloped or not developed at all. Students simply would not be able to do other lids of exercises. A brain – as a “muscle, or a collection of muscles” works the same way. If for years the majority of lessons were based on memorizing and reproduction, other kinds of intellectual activities would be difficult for students to produce.

It is obvious that there is a strong connection between a brain and intelligence. Any school subject is usually considered as a “knowledgebuilding” tool, but also can be seen as a “brainbuilding” tool. We all know very well that brain activities manifests themselves via human behavior. Now we also know that human activities affect the structure of a brain.

The concrete structure of relationships between a brain and human activities currently is not very well know. But a teacher does not need to base his or her practice on that particular knowledge.

So, why do we see so many papers which are trying to excite teachers about the science of brain?

I leave the answer to this question to others.

My job as a consultant is to equip teachers with concrete tools they can use in their everyday practice. That is why I advise: when reading something like “Six Tips for Brain-Based Learning” (http://www.edutopia.org/brain-based-learning-strategies-resource-guide), keep in mind that the parts about brain are interesting but not really important, the tips though are useful (but not unusual).

One might ask, if the tips are not based on our knowledge of how a brain functions, how can we trust the tips?

Well, most of the tips in the quoted or similar publications had been known for decades (even when neurology was in its infancy), extracted from the experience of numerous successful teachers, supported by the results of numerous psychological studies, and rooted into such well-known wisdoms as “Practice makes perfect”, “People grow through experience”, “Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play”, and many others.

Maybe a decade or two from now a brain-based learning will become relevant to teaching practice, but nowadays it is just a myth (i.e. something we might dream about).

Dr. Valentin Voroshilov


Part 2 (2014) This part had been written yearly in 2014

It seems nowadays in community of educators it has become fashionable to mention the latest research on the brain.

What this research tells us, however, can be formulated in three obvious statements (should be sufficient for every educator):

1. a brain exists

2. a brain changes due to natural age development

3. a brain also changes due to physical and mental exercises (similar to any body muscle does),  in particular, a certain mental exercise affects certain regions in a brain (although, no one knows yet for sure which affects which).

There is a name for this phenomenon, namely neuroplasticity (giving a phenomenon a name brings it into the field of science).

There are services attracting people who want to develop their brain, like lumosity. I think, using lumosity is a sign of laziness; study a new language, or learning how to play a piano, or taking a physics course would bring a much stronger effect (assuming having a good teacher), plus a useful skill.

However, there is a value in proving the fact that if you train a brain it is actually getting trained J, and if you do not train the brain, it is not getting trained L – exactly like having a gym membership and using or not using it: see http://cdn-hcp.lumosity.com/uploads/completed_research_post/original_paper_file/3/Ng-2012-ESCoNS.pdf.

If ten hours of cognitive training can significantly improve students’ cognitive

performance, then it is possible that these improvements will carry over to other

measures of academic performance.”

A true statement.

It also means that if the way students are taught reading, math, etc. would resemble cognitive training, we would not have a need in any additional cognitive intervention (speaking again about having a good teacher).

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