Educators' efforts to solve the mystery about how students think and learn has in the past been hampered by one critical element: an inability to study the human brain in the process of thinking. With the advent of technologies for direct observation of brain function, the brain slowly is giving up its secrets, and the ramifications for educators is enormous. Consider the following information gleaned from the research on brain function and schooling.
- Students who utilize flash cards for learning will do better if the card is round. A circle is the most recognizable shape. Circular cards allow students to focus better because the round shape is less distracting than squares or rectangles (Barron, 2000).
- Movement is the only experience that unites all brain levels and integrates the right and left hemispheres of young students. Movement increases heart rate and circulation. It provides students with a spatial reference in the classroom, which improves memory. Movement promotes the release of noradrenaline and dopamine. These energizers keep students alert and enhance attention (Barron, 2000; Jensen, 1998).
- Thematic instruction improves learning by helping students to identify patterns and build on prior knowledge. Integrating curriculum areas such as the study of rain forests by combining mathematics, music, biology, and geography into a unit helps students learn more effectively than teaching each of these subjects in isolation (Wagmeister & Shifrin, 2000).
- Abstract ideas are developed by connecting concepts to students' personal experiences. This helps students link new information into preexisting neural patterns. For example, a teacher introduced a lesson on ratios by having students make juice from cans of concentrate (i.e., three cans of water for each can of juice) (Westwater & Wolfe, 2000).
- Analogies, similes, and metaphors enhance learning by linking abstract concepts and visualizations. For example, the terms million, billion, and trillion have no referent in direct experience. Creating visual analogies makes the numbers comprehensible. For example, a 4-inch stack of tightly bound 1,000 dollar bills would equal a million dollars. A stack that was a city block long would equal $1 billion (Westwater & Wolfe, 2000).
- The brain is not wired for long attention spans. Attention is focused in short bursts. Initially, attention lasts for about 18 seconds. The optimum sustained attention span is roughly equivalent in minutes to the age of the student. A 1st grader's attention span is 6 minutes. 6th grader's 12 minutes, and high school seniors 17 minutes. Individual lessons should include a variety of components, for example, teacher presentation could be followed by student discussion, seat work, group project, and feedback (Jensen. 1998).
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