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The Six Principles That Move Mind, Brain, Education #MBE #edchat #techchat #education via @PatFurstenberg

What are the limits of the human brain? How do we learn best? How can we aid and support our children in reaching their full potential as students?

Throughout the centuries, great teachers have been guided by their intuition as to what method of teaching works best. Modern brain imaging techniques have brought into plain view why certain methods work as the workings of the brain has never been as thoroughly demonstrated.  Today we have a clear understanding of which methods work. The latest research in the science of Mind, Brain and Education (MBE) are available to help 21st Century teachers and learners achieve success. MBE is a young science started at Harvard University 25 years ago by uniting the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and education.

Here are the 6 principles MBE is based on:

#1: Each brain is unique and uniquely organized.

Our brains are as unique as our faces or our fingerprints. Although the basic structure and patters of learning remain the same, each brain is unique.

Each human being has unique DNA. Our blueprint is further influenced and shaped by our lifetime experiences, as the age old nature versus nurture argument goes. Even if identical twins share very similar genes (each human being has 24 000), the latest genetic studies prove that their phenotype or physical manifestation will differ as a result of life experiences and epigenetic factors (the way in which environmental factors alter behaviour and development.

Humans share general physical and neurodevelopmental stages (yet not in the same way or at the same rate) that establish the parameters for learning. Since each brain is unique and develops in its own way, students will learn and develop at their own pace. This is why a “one size fits all” method of teaching is ineffective.

#2: All brains are not equal because context and ability influence learning

He has a gift for words, she has a mathematician’s brain, some of us resent change while others welcome it – why is it so? We know that the different stages of brain development impact our comprehension and the development of our skills by influencing our brain’s physiology. Not only are our brains different, but our genetic predisposition, our “abilities” differ. There is no predefined frame for success as a learner.

The human brain is wired for studying and experimenting and is constantly changing.  With the right support, motivation and an appropriate learning environment, a modest background (genetic or not) can be maximized beyond expectation; while individuals born with great potential or under the right circumstances may not reach their potential if they do not live up to it.

An interesting example is that of dyslexia and astronomy. Research shows that dyslexia is the result of an atypical cortical organization. However, the dyslexic brain’s visual field is wired differently, allowing for a wider spatial attention. Because dyslexic students favor the peripheral visual field, with the necessary support and training, they’ll have a greater advantage as astronomers (Schneps, “Dyslexia and Astronomy”, 2007).

#3: The brain is changed by experience

Our genetic codes, the circumstances of our birth and our social experiences make us who we are, each with our own set of strengths and weaknesses.

Since learning is “the acquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience, or being taught” (Oxford Dictionary), it is impossible for the brain not to learn and change through daily experiences. Previous positive experiences will empower learning, while negative ones will hinder the learning process.

The human brain is not detached from the body during the learning process so the stimuli affecting the human body (taste, smell, touch, sight) will impact upon the brain. A repetitive stimulus will, in time, create a permanent change; more stimuli exciting a wider area of the brain will, in time, strengthen that area. The reverse is also true; the lack of stimulation will, eventually, cause an area to atrophy – How the Brain Works. All these changes are unseen, but the effects thereof are clearly visible.

#4: The brain is highly plastic

Your brain will be different than it was before you read this article in response to your thoughts; your brain constantly prunes and strengthens its neural pathways. This is neuroplasticity, derived from neuron (a nerve cell) and plastic (mouldable). The human brain is most malleable at a young age, yet throughout our lives the brain is capable of neurogenesis (creation of new neurons), reorganizing old pathways and creating new neural connections that improve its capabilities. We can learn at any age, as our brain constantly rewires itself and changes its physical structure (functional plasticity) or recuperates a lost skill, if the usual route is damaged or blocked (structural plasticity).

Neuroplasticity goes beyond, confronting the belief that certain brain areas are responsible for a specific function. Antonio Battro, neuroscientist and educationalist, documents the extraordinary life of a child living with only half a brain in “Half a Brain is Enough: The Story of Nico”. The brain works as a system; when parts of brain are missing other parts take over and learn new functions.

The brain’s plasticity is also associated with the growth mind-set concept: by being told that intelligence is not fixed, but changeable; a group of schoolchildren were able to raise their IQ’s.

Neuroplasticity means that anybody can learn or develop a skill at any stage throughout their life, if context (support, environment, motivation, prior knowledge and enough practice) and ability are present.

#5: The brain connects new information to old

We all thrive to make sense of the world around us, no matter our age. Mouthing is part of normal infant development; teenagers need to belong to a group and as grown-ups confronted with a new situation we felt that the world made no sense – until we found a familiar pattern to relate to. This is part of foundational knowledge, using what we already know from different disciplines to make sense of something knew.

The human brain is designed to find and generate patterns.

Our mind learns and makes sense of experiences by finding old patterns to relate to before creating new ones. Patterns can be a thinking principle, a category, or diagrams. It is much like following directions to an unknown location by looking for familiar landmarks. At the same time, very much like connecting the dots to create an image, the human brain will use the understanding of small details to comprehend the big picture (such as a project, a meaningful story or a history lesson).

By connecting the new information with the old information; new neural connections will appear, that will anchor the new concepts to the already existing ones.

This is why teaching in a vacuum fails. Students need to connect new information to old information in order to understand it.  And the new information that relies on old information can not be absorbed if the old information is missing, or not completely understood.

#6: Attention + Memory = Learning

Our brains are not made to download the information presented to them, but to first analyse it visually, auditory and tacitly.

Our experiences are first lived, then learned.

Attention is needed during the learning process; first to make sense of what is being taught and then to connect new ideas to the existing knowledge by noticing similarities between the two. Yet the information presented to us will compete with the overall stimuli our body is exposed to. At the same time; learning is influenced by our emotional state, as emotions convey meaningfulness to the subject at hand.

When a new concept is being taught; we first commit it to the working memory. After revision, it is stored in the long term memory. Overloading the working memory will reduce the amount of information we can move to long term memory. Practice and meaning are crucial to committing the information to long term memory. Therefore, the way information is presented needs to reduce the cognitive load and facilitate learning.

As our brains are unique; each student will better assimilate the information through a different channel. Using a variety of methods while teaching (reading, videos, debates, discussion, projects, slides, etc.) will benefit a larger number of students, as the input information enters through different neural pathways ensuring a greater possibility of maximizing student learning, often through the overlapping of information.

(Written by Patricia Furstenberg for ITSI_SA – April 2018)

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Mind-Brain-Education Secrets: Strategies to Benefit Students and Teachers #MBE #mind #brain #education #educhat #knowledge #strategy #students via @PatFurstenberg

Mind-Brain-Education Secrets:  Strategies to Benefit Students and Teachers

1. What is Mind-Brain-Education (MBE)?

MBE is a young science started at Harvard University 25 years ago by uniting the fields of neuroscience, psychology and education. MBE brings together cognitive neuroscience (studying of the mind and its processes), behavioral science (studying the interactions among different organisms in the world) and professionals in the education field. MBE takes the latest discoveries in brain science and applies them in education, revealing new, more appropriate teaching methods lined up with the latest studies and the demands of the 21st century.

2. Why is MBE important to me, a parent, teacher or student?

The human brain, the most complex organ in the human body, is the centre of our nervous system. We need our not only brain to move, make use of our senses or regulate the functions of our body but also to speak, think, learn, and interact with the world around us.

Let’s think of the brain as the engine of a car. By understanding the basic aspects of engineering we can reduce its fuel consumption, saving money and lengthening the life of our car.

Understanding how the brain develops and functions we can learn how to better make use of its massive power.

The development of the human brain follows a natural, biological process yet it constantly changes, developing and adapting to our experiences, be it emotional, physical or educational. So not only does the educator needs to teach content, but he also has to be mindful of the ways in which he teaches and use subject-tailored methods to ensure a better educational outcome.

Understanding why each individual’s brain is unique means that we understand that each one’s brain develops at its own pace and that teaching can and should be tailored to individual needs.

The concept of brain plasticity is vital to grasp as well. The brain’s plasticity means that our brains are permanently remodeling themselves by cutting old, unused neural pathways and strengthening new ones, reinforced through practice. This is a fantastic trait of our brains; understanding its mechanism and how to make the most of it can have positive, long lasting effects on individual’s education and long term life goals.

Understanding how the human brain evolves from birth through childhood, teen years and going on throughout our lives, allow teachers to prioritize and plan the educational curriculum accordingly. This is crucial in aiding students to focus in class and in developing effective, intelligent methods that help them remember more information, easier.

Analogical reasoning, or considering the ways in which two ideas are related, is the way in which our brains make sense of new concepts, by explaining them based on what we already know, connecting and comparing new information to old one. A classic example of analogy reasoning is comparing the structure of an atom with the solar system:

“The nucleus is the sun and electrons are the planets revolving around their sun.”

Relational thinking means finding meaningful patterns in new situations and using this to make a decision, for example a physician correcting his diagnosis by taking into consideration the abnormal symptoms displayed by his patient. The bases and neural pathways for analogical and relational thinking are laid during childhood and until adolescence and they are crucial skills needed by the 21st century work force.

3. How do I use the MBE knowledge?

Understanding how our brains differ from one person to another based on our genes, personal abilities and the context of our upbringing is an important factor to consider in the 21st century educational field.

Although MBE is still a very young science, it is vital to understand that brain science, psychology and education are strongly interrelated and that modern, 21st century education cannot happen without 21st century psychology on one side and 21st century brain science on the other side. MBE shines a spotlight on the uniqueness of each individual’s brain, on how its biological mechanisms influence how we learn and that our past experiences and the environment also affect our brain’s development and learning. MBE helps us understand how powerful our brain is, how much we can actually do with it and how we can better use it to our advantage.

Using the MBE knowledge might not bring a change or show improvement overnight. As with any cognitive skill, it takes time and practice as well as a clear idea of the desired outcome.

The knowledge MBE reveals can be used in:

  • helping to develop the critical cognitive skills needed by Generation Z;
  • understanding the brain-based causes of different learning disabilities such as dyslexia and how to apply the latest research in identifying these children at an early stage and helping them achieve their best in school by providing them with the necessary cognitive and educational support ;
  • understanding that, although we all have genetic predispositions and abilities, these have little to do with our success as a learner. With the right support, stimulation and a suitable learning environment even a modest background can be maximized beyond expectations;
  • preparing graduates in this new work field, with US Universities already offering master’s degrees and a doctoral programme in MBE. There are also short term study alternatives available. In Africa, the First Mind-Brain and Education Seminar already took place.

4. How is MBE different than what we knew about education before?

We know that the best time to learn is when the brain and the nervous system are still maturing during childhood and through the teenage years. MBE shines a light on the importance of the school curriculum as well as the methods of teaching. MBE explains why laying down the physical wiring (neural connections) during the formative years will only benefit the young generation later on when such neural connections, already in place, need only be reinforced. For example in the relational thinking field when the neural pathways and connections formed in the brain are laid out during the formative years, before adolescence.

21st century jobs require novel skills. We work less with our hands and more with our brains while being required to learn and remember more and more information. MBE can help us better accumulate this information, integrating it and manage its volume, filtering and remembering it. Here is where we understand why good analogical and relational thinking skills play such an important role, more than ever before in the history of human education.

5. How can MBE help you acquire a 21st century job?

We all agree that in order to succeed in the 21st century student’s knowledge must now go beyond the “three Rs” (“reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic”.and basic computer literacy. No student in the history of education has ever needed to cover such a multifaceted array of topics.

Chances are that in your family or at your office there are at least four generations present, working side-by-side. But different generations of employees will have different motivations and would have required different skills when they first entered the workforce.

Mind brain education - Comparison of qualities, values, qualifications of different generations, Patricia Furstenberg
Mind brain education – Comparison of qualities, values, qualifications of different generations, Patricia Furstenberg

According to Global Digital Citizen and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, the most important 21st-century skills students will need are:

  • Problem Solving
  • Creativity / Innovation
  • Analytic Thinking
  • Collaboration / Team work
  • Oral and Written Communication
  • Ethics, Action, and Accountability
  • Diversity (global thinking and global citizens)
  • Information Technology Application
  • Leadership
  • Lifelong learning / Self Direction
  • Social Responsibility

Only innovation in the classroom will help students gain these 21st century skills and MBE can provide educators, parents and students with the knowledge and the tools on how to acquire them. There is still a huge gap between the skills required by 21st century companies and the skills taught in schools. This gap exists because technology evolves in leaps, becoming challenging to keep up with while incorporating it in the school curriculum. This is why teaching students how to learn, how to accumulate information in a proficient way and how to make the most of the power that the human brain has will equip them with the basics needed to face the challenges of a 21st century work field.

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