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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ITSI and the First Mind-Brain and Education Seminar in Africa #MBE #MBEafrica18 @ITSI_SA via @PatFurstenberg

Mind-Brain and Education (MBE) uses emerging research in cognitive and behavioral sciences to better understand how the human brain works and to uncover new methods needed by a 21st century active-style teaching. The student of the Anthropocene era (current geological age) must acquire, apart from foundational knowledge, computational thinking and a community and global level ethic of care. In a technology-driven future educators need to extend their professional skills further, beyond what the industrial era called for. The time is now for MBE to step in and step up in transforming the educational process. South Africa takes the lead in implementing the principles of MBE in its educational system via ITSI and hosts the first seminar in Africa on MBE.

How the Brain Works

Imagine walking through a field of grass. You’ve reached its middle and glimpse behind. You can hardly see where you came from; to make a path that lasts you have to walk the same route many times. And then you would have formed only one path.

The same happens in the human brain when we learn.

Neurons are the specific cells forming the nervous system. What makes them unique is their ability to transmit chemical and electrical information through the body. But unlike other types of cells, neurons stop reproducing after birth. The good news is that neurons are capable of forming new connections, thus new pathways, any time in life and can maintain them as long as we use them.

When we use our brain, be it to study or listen to the news, new pathways of neurons are formed and older pathways brought back to life – one neuron can connect itself with several others. Over time, the active connections become more prevalent while non-used ones weaken or are eliminated.

Neural pathways for in the brain and old ones are strengthened during reading. Patricia Furstenberg for ITSI #MBEafrica18
Neural pathways for in the brain and old ones are strengthened during reading. Patricia Furstenberg for ITSI, #MBEafrica18

When a web of neural pathways is formed, that information is stored in our long-term memory. For this to happen learning must be active: to stimulate visually and auditory, not only cognitive (passive study). Brain-Science shows that an active learning process involves a wider area of brain, new neural connections are made, old ones are strengthened, as opposed to the passive study where few cortical changes register.

Mind-Brain and Education – Why the Time for South Africa is Now

South Africa’s Educational System faces a reading crisis, with 78% of grade 4 pupils failing to read for meaning, while private schools are under pressure to produce critical and computational thinkers. Moreover, learning became a social activity and the Anthropocene students are expected to master skills needed in a global tech-driven future.

Brain-Science speaks of the plasticity of the human brain, its ability to adapt, especially when it involves learning new skills. Their studies show that children learn along specific pathways, defined by the content they focus on (different for mathematics than history). Due to the brain’s plasticity the learning experience is equally important in aiding students through their learning process.

Factors influencing the continuous development of the human brain. Patricia Furstenberg for ITSI #MBEafrica18
Factors influencing the continuous development of the human brain. Patricia Furstenberg for ITSI #MBEafrica18

MBE takes into consideration all components of education. MBE transforms the learning process into an enhanced experience, while simplifying it and adapting it to the needs of each student and the requirements of each subject. Pupils can reach the standard of a basic level of education while empowered to be responsible for their own learning and still receive guidance from a classroom teacher. MBE can give the educational system the much needed boost and support, regardless of the social and educational background of its learners.

Who is ITSI and its South African Platform

ISTI is the first-mover in the South African market working with over 200 educational institutions and 80 000 users. 2018 will add over 25 institutions and 20 000 learners. ITSI breached into the rest of Africa by opening ITSI Solution in Namibia and has offices in the UK and the Middle East.

ITSI’s platform is accessible “anytime, anywhere”. Their e-books combine foundational learning with computational thinking. ITSI makes available digital lessons that follow the CAPS curriculum, enhancing the learning experience. As an added value, educators can personalise their teaching by adding resources and adapting the app to suit individual needs.

MBE Seminar, ITSI and Educator’s Skills

A vital part of MBE success is the teacher’s involvement and their level of knowledge on how the human brain works, as well as their extensive professional skills supported by a solid platform.

The first MBE seminar in Africa aims to provide 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”.

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