Neuroscience is by far the most exciting branch of science because the brain is the most fascinating object in the universe. Every human brain is different – the brain makes each human unique and defines who he or she is. – Stanley B. Prusiner
I have been working with children for almost twenty years and I also never cease to be fascinated by how the brain works. I have followed the progress made by neuroscientists in all these years that I have been involved in education. A lot of amazing understanding has been made possible by cutting-edge technology like Magnetic Resonance Imagery (MRI) and Electroencephalography (EEG). The brain is a multifaceted organ: It is made of 100 billion neurons that fire, on average, 200 times per second, expressing trillions of messages throughout our bodies and making neuroscience the forefront of the thrilling research fields of this century.
Critical Results from the Research on the Brain and Their Application To Learning
In essence learning is the addition of new information to the existing stock; it engrosses the active construction of neural networks that functionally link up many areas of the brain.
Our brains constantly make thousands of postulations, causing each neuron to similarly make thousands of connections with other neurons. When these postulations are confirmed, learning is proven and connections become systematic “neurons that fire together and wire together”.
When the postulations are overturned, new postulations replace the former ones. This constant repetition (the learning algorithm) inside our brains accounts for brain plasticity in childhood and beyond that; our brains are dynamic, extraordinary learning machines throughout our lives.
Memory permits information to be deposited and then recalled as needed at a later time. It has been found that connections that are activated more often will be strengthened, constituting long-term memory, while those that are not will be weakened; hence the term “use it or lose it”.
It has been my experience and research has proven that teachers teach better and students’ learning improves when they know how their brains functions: students need to know they have the ability to restructure their brain to become superior learners at any point in time.
Emotions Are a Vital Force for Learning
We have millions of students who are stifled by the overwhelming flood of their emotions and are unable to learn. Their neocortex (the part of the brain immersed in learning) is taken over by rising anxiety, fear, and anger that comes from an increase in their exposure to violence and trauma. These emotions don’t stay outside school, they pour out there, hence the need for teachers to support their students’ social and emotional needs before dwelling upon academic learning.
Teachers ought to be trained and provided with adequate tools that create emotional adjustments and empathy among their students.
Cognitive science has detected four extra forces in learning, surmised by the French neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene, as the four Pillars of Learning:
The real truth is that humans are not good at multi-tasking. Experiments have depicted that it is very difficult for our brains to pay attention to more than an item at a time.
Attention and focus are the filtering mechanisms that allow us to select information and to adjust processing.
2. Active Engagement
Research has proven time and again that we don’t learn passively. We learn by doing, therefore we should ensure that active learning is enforced.
3. Immediate Feedback
Our brains are continuously making predictions and adjusting projections, depending on the feedback they receive. Feedback is therefore necessary for brains to process and readjust to learning, depending on the positive or negative feedback received.
Trial and error are essential for learning and there should be no stress linked to making mistakes as this inhibits learning.
When we learn something new, our prefrontal cortex gets tasked in putting together all of our asset to achieve this learning. When we duplicate this task over and over, the learning progressively becomes faster, more efficient, frees up gaps for new learning.
Those four forces are the columns of the house of learning, the walls are emotional adjustment and the roof is sleep. Sleep is extremely crucial for children (and adults) as it supports learning. During sleep, the algorithms of our brains reiterate everything learnt during the day, encoding new hypotheses for the next day that boost our life-long journey of learning!
Adetola Salau; Educator / Speaker / Author/ Social Entrepreneur / Innovator
She is an Advocate of STEM Education and is Passionate about Education reform. She is an innovative thinker and strives for our society & continent as a whole to reclaim it’s greatness. She runs an educational foundation with the mission to transform education.