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January 10, 2014

Applying Brain-Based Learning in the Classroom

Whether it is electricity, better transportation, or greater access to information, technology has radically changed our lives. For instance, increasingly better scanning technology has improved physical diagnoses in medicine. Doctors are able to view portions of the human body without the need of incision by using CT (computer tomography) and PET (positron emission tomography) scanners and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), which means better diagnosis and treatment. In terms of education, this imaging technology has the capacity to transform how we approach teaching and learning.

While many scientists and doctors use scanning technology for medical purposes, others are using scanning technology to see how the brain functions when learning, speaking, memorizing, recalling, etc. to gain insight that was never before possible. What they have found is that different centers of the brain are activated based on the concept or skill being used and that the brain physically changes when it learns. Scientists have also studied the impact of neurotransmitter chemicals on learning, focus, engagement, and memory. Even though the brain is extremely complex, researchers have begun to develop new theories of learning and developed new strategies for learning that have been tested and implemented in schools.

Brain-based learning (BBL) theory provides insight into not just how to structure learning, but how to set up a classroom, support social emotional learning, and assess students. Brains work best in more colorful classrooms, which incorporate music, movement, and novelty of tasks. When teachers provide feedback to students in non-threatening ways, students feel safe to try new skills without fear of failing and ridicule. Good nutrition and healthy habits are essential, as these habits impact the brain tremendously. Finally, when students are allowed to work collaboratively and build strong relationships with classmates, they learn better.

Another key to brain-based learning is how we assess students. Chapter/unit tests and standardized assessments (summative assessments) are commonplace in our schools, but by providing multiple forms of assessment in multiple formats it allows students to show their knowledge in authentic and meaningful ways. Something as simple as having students practice a skill or concept in the same way it will be tested can lead to greater success. The next time you are preparing students for a debate, have students stand up to discuss a question or claim so that they are prepared to do so during the final debate. Brains also learn best when they are consistently and routinely assessed in a low-risk way while in the process of learning; this formative assessment means that students have the opportunity to give teachers real-time feedback, so that instruction can be tailored to their needs.

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