I’m a Bit of a Science Geek
My children might argue that it’s more than a “bit”. I really love how science consistently works to validate ideas and increase our understanding of the world. And I love how it actually creates more questions than it answers — Science is a never-ending series of inquiries that delve deeper and deeper into areas of discovery.
Here’s a sprinkling of my passion for Science:
- My first degree was in Zoology;
- I was a Chemistry, Science and Math teacher;
- I enjoy reading all kinds of science articles and watching YouTube clips from people like Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson;
- The study of brain biology and how it relates to learning fascinates me;
- And, I’m a HUGE “Star Wars” fan.
Admittedly, there’s more fiction than science in the Star Wars movie series, but I love escaping into it’s world of science fantasy.
With this personal scientific lens, I look to see where the understanding of brain science can play an increasing role in education. Our understanding of how the brain works has exploded in the past couple of decades — included within this leap is the revolutionary understanding of the brain’s remarkable ability to rewire itself (brain neuroplasticity). This new knowledge of brain functionality will continue to influence our teaching and learning paradigms in the years to come.
The GREAT news is that we are already using some of the recent brain science discoveries in our education system. Understanding even a little bit about how the brain works has led to a better understanding of the neural processes that enable all children to learn. Here are a couple of examples:
- Self-Regulation – Brain science has provided us with insight into the critical need to have a self-regulated environment for learning. One of the best sites I’ve found on Self-Regulation is the CSRi website (Canadian Self-Regulation Initiative).
- The Brain’s Reading Centres – Research has also provided us with key understandings of our brain’s cortical ‘reading centres’. Innovative software programs like Fast ForWord have capitalized on this insight to create reading interventions that actually re-wire these areas that might be under-developed.
Neuroplasticity – The Revolutionary Discovery on Brain Biology
Norman Doidge has been a pioneer in the understanding of brain neuroplasticity. In his book The Brain that Changes Itself (2007), Doidge explains how the brain can physically change its structure (or wiring pattern) to recover from a deficit or injury. What was once thought of as impossible, we now know as extremely possible — the brain can rewire itself by growing new connections and pathways, often reestablishing abilities thought permanently missing, lost or disabled. This ‘plasticity’ is revolutionary in our understanding of brain capability — and learning!
As an example, a recent article in Edutopia (The Teenage Brain is Wired to Learn – So Make Sure Your Students Know It) by Drs. Wilson and Conyers, note that between the ages 12 and 25 there is and extraordinary period of brain neuroplasticity. The article states:
“… it’s important for kids to be challenged and exposed to novelty in order to facilitate healthy development of brain systems that are important for things like self-regulation.”
“The brain’s prefrontal cortex, which functions as the control center for executive functions such as planning, goal setting, decision making, and problem solving, undergoes significant changes during the teenage years.”
What does this Mean for Learning?
As the science of brain biology is in its infancy, there is likely a large amount of brain science we still don’t know. Once we know more, we can apply its revelations to effective and improved learning conditions.
In the present time, it means we need to continue to:
- innovate our learning environments — finding ways to keep learning engaging, meaningful and relevant;
- be bold in ensuring that new technology supports improved student learning;
- refine our teaching pedagogy to capitalize on the teachings from brain research.
Oh … and if you didn’t know already, Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi opens in movie theaters everywhere on Dec 15, 2017.
You will be missed, Carrie Fisher.