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Brain-Based Teaching Strategies for the Digital Age

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

This lesson will examine the basic principles of brain-based learning, and demonstrate how those principles can be integrated with digital classroom tools.

How the Brain Works

So your brain is the cornerstone of the central nervous system, and the reality is that not much else can happen without it. Your cerebrum, which makes up the bulk of your brain, is divided into regions called lobes. Each lobe has specific jobs to do every time your senses engage in a new experience.

For example, if you are sitting in five o'clock traffic your frontal lobe will help you reason out the quickest route to your destination. As you are driving, your parietal lobe processes the messages on the highway signs, so you know which exit has your favorite restaurant. This lobe is also responsible for the processes involved in handwriting. The occipital lobe handles everything your eyes can see. Memories, both the visual and auditory components, are stored within the temporal lobe of your brain. When you learn new tasks, the odds are that most of the lobes of the brain are involved somehow.

The comprehensive nature of all the brain lobes working together helps lead to brain-based teaching. What exactly is brain-based teaching? It is a holistic teaching method, inspired by neuroscience research, that focuses on letting the brain learn naturally. This means that instead of traditional learning, where students listen to a teacher, take notes, and memorize those notes, learning reaches out to multiple learning styles, like visual, logical, and interpersonal. Brain-based teaching and learning helps the brain learn and grow efficiently.

Brain Diagram
The Human Brain

Getting the Brain to Grow

It seems ironic, but the reality is the process that happens in the brain when we learn is very simple. You are born with most of the neurons your brain will ever have in its lifetime. These neurons can migrate to different areas of your brain, and once they are there, they can start to grow fibers called dendrites. Every time your brain learns something new, it grows new dendrites from your original neurons, or out of dendrites that your brain has already created.

Dendrites can connect to each other, as new learning attaches onto the prior knowledge. These points of connection are called synapses. When you practice a skill, such as playing the piano, your dendrites actually grow thicker and the synapses stronger. This allows you to retrieve information more quickly. Brain-based learning uses a comprehensive approach so students can connect to prior knowledge and so that dendrites and synapses can grow.

Engaging the Brain in a Digital Classroom

The environment is key in brain-based learning, and in the digital age, that extends to the virtual environment as well. The amygdala, located at the center of the brain, governs emotions, which can facilitate or inhibit the learning process. Therefore, building an emotional climate within the classroom is a key component of brain-based learning strategies.

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