What do a pianist and a London taxi driver have in common?
Brain Science studies on the plasticity of the brain discovered that, in both cases, an area of the subject’s brain was enlarged. The area of the somatosensory cortex representing the fingers is more enlarged in pianists than in non-musicians. London Taxi drivers (that need to learn how to navigate the twists and turns of the city’s streets) showed an enlarged hippocampus (an area of the brain responsible for special navigation) – the degree of enlargement reflects the amount of time spent as a taxi driver.
In both cases, an area of the brain become enlarged as a result of mastering a certain skill, as this sustained activity produces new neuronal connections that in time were strengthened. Over time this accounted for an enlarged cortex area.
Perhaps the most extraordinary case study is that of a student who had half of his brain removed during preschool due to severe epilepsy and it revealed the incredible plasticity of the human brain (Immordino-Yang 2008, A Tale of Two Cases). The student received extensive educational support, tailored to his needs, while his abilities were reinforced. During time, the remaining brain hemisphere developed to compensate for the missing one to a significant degree. Now in high school, this student is cognitively normal, performs above average, has a normal social life and is an aspiring artist.
These Brain Science observations are proof to the human brain’s plasticity and its ability to constantly develop.
Good to know as the Anthropocene era has high expectations of its students. The youth today needs to acquire, apart from foundational knowledge, computational thinking and a community and global level ethic of care. They have to develop the six C’s considered the core skills of the 21st century: critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, citizenship and character.
Can teaching alone prepare our youth for the 21st century’s requirements?
21st century genetics has researched how the environment affects our hereditary structure.
Something as abstract as the learning process is re-analyzed using innovative cognitive methods as neuroscientists have been able to study the brain in action, with brain imaging tools.
The top two images show parts of his brain lighting up when he hears and sees the words. The bottom two images show how his brain reacts when he talks and processes the information from the book.
For a favourable learning experience we want many different parts of the brain to light up. This can be achieved through active teaching, when different techniques encompassing hearing, seeing, speaking, thinking, both auditory and visually, are used. Teaching, as well as learning (a rigorous discipline in itself) need to be fun, engaging, stimulating.
A collaboration between Brain Science and education is paramount. For this inter-disciplinary partnership to become viable and productive educators need to understand how the brain works and scientists need to learn what tools a 21st century educator needs in his classroom.
Mind, Brain, Education (MBE) can help 21st century educators.
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
MBE studies discovered that children absorb information in different ways, depending on the subject at hand. Therefor educators need to adjust their teaching style to suit each subject. Furthermore, MBE studies show that multiple factors influence the continuous development of the human brain. These factors are: our DNA, life experiences, formal learning, work experiences, informal learning (comprised of extra murals, community experiences, the cyberspace, etc) – How the Brain Works.
Our emotions also play a vital role in moulding the human brain as our emotions filter the formal learning acquired through study, a positive situation motivating us to achieve. Humans tend to gravitate towards such positive situations. The academic content is not the sole purpose of education anymore. Due to the brain’s plasticity and the factors influencing it, the learning experience is equally important in aiding students through their learning process.
Today, MBE can help educators comprehend how people with reading disabilities such as dyslexia actually use their brain when reading so that educators can understand how to adjust their teaching methods to better suit each student.
MBE research suggests that, while active content is important, students learn best through active learning experiences, in a flexible educational environment. This is where, by the use of technology, the instruction can be differentiated, thus offering varied and comprehensive content that will benefit a wider audience. This approach is beneficial as each pupil is different, has different needs and requires a different teaching technique – and therefor a flexible teaching method.
MBE advocates a student-centred approach to learning. This approach will prove beneficial in underprivileged communities where pupils have less educational support at home and therefore can thrive when various teaching techniques are used in the classroom.
Education is the building brick for a better lifestyle,
a better job, better health care and a better future for one’s children, thus a prosperous community and nation. Education is also the much needed tool to improve the life of women, to reduce pregnancy rate and infant mortality, to empower women and afford them equal rights to men. An empowered woman is a positive force in her community. She will contribute towards improving the lives of her children, of her community and of her nation.
The first MBE seminar in Africa is organised by ITSI.
ITSI is the MBE pioneer in South Africa. It aims at providing educators with the knowledge needed to use the Brain-Science discoveries in their classrooms. The seminar is facilitate by Glenn Whitman and Dr. Ian Kelleher, leaders of The Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning, the only Mind, Brain, and Education science research centre located in a pre-collegiate school in the United States and co-authors of “Neuroteach: Brain Science and the Future of Education”.