08 September 2007
There Is Nothing Like the Brain
A few weeks ago, a friend and I went to Seattle to see the musical version of "Young Frankenstein." (It did not take place at the Space Needle, as shown above.) For those of you familiar with film version, you'll remember the scene where we first meet Frederick. He's giving a lesson to students on brain impulses. This has been transformed to include the song "There Is Nothing Like the Brain!" True to that.
I have had my own ups and downs in understanding or buying into brain-based learning. The term is definitely a misnomer, but I suppose it is shorthand of a way as we're going to get to "applying knowledge of cognitive science to the classroom." This is a somewhat interactive post. Take your hands off the keyboard and make fists. Now, place your fists together, matching knuckles, in front of you. You have a nice model of the brain. It's about the same size as your own. There's a left and right hemisphere for you to look at. Your thumbs? Frontal lobes. Middle fingers? (No, don't wave them at me.) Where the sensory-motor cortex is.
During a brief "downtime" between work sessions this week, I had my kids do this activity with me. We talked about the growth their brains are undergoing right now (especially the frontal lobes and the impact this will have). We talked about the need to break up the class into some different segments in order to help them stay engaged. Some of them giggled when I mentioned that 15 minutes was the maximum a brain their age could stay focused on a task without too much effort. I had stopped them after 10 minutes of work---and it was obvious that some of their minds had already started to wander and daydream.
One of my goals this year is to make students aware of how it is that they best learn. Certainly a variety of activities and ways of presenting information will help all students. None of us are purely auditory or visual or kinesthetic learners. We are combinations, each way reinforcing another. But somewhere in all of that is the individual brain's sweet spot. There is nothing like it and I am going to commit to helping each kid find theirs---and communicate that. I want them to feel confident that as they move to other stages in their educational careers that they can help themselves, especially in classrooms where the teacher is all about "sit and get." Learning how to learn shouldn't be akin to brain surgery. I think we can build better monsters. :)