University Exams — even saying the words brings back anxiety — that pit in my stomach that feels like I might not keep my breakfast down. It was one of the few times in my life where I found my nervousness getting the better of me. I remember the anxiety, the lack of interest in eating, the inability to concentrate when I really needed to bear down and study.
On the actual exam day, I wore my favourite pair of Puma runners — to EVERY exam for good luck. Those shoes lasted through 2 undergraduate degrees, dozens of mid-term and final exams … and lots and lots of tape holding them together.
I’m sure I’m not alone in my memory of those times studying when I just couldn’t get stuff to stick inside my head — no matter how many times I read that #$%& paragraph. Of course, it really didn’t help that I was tired and impatient.
Science tells us that when we are presented with new material to learn it is critical for us to remain focused and calm. Our brains can’t learn if they are stressed, tired or overwhelmed. One of the things we can do to help maintain this optimal state is incorporating something called ‘Brain Breaks’ along the way.
There’s a good article in Edutopia (Energy and Calm: Brain Breaks and Focused-Attention Practices) that outlines a number of really neat ideas for teachers to use with their students to help their brains re-charge and re-focus for the learning ahead.
Brain Breaks are used most effectively when we choose to do something other than memorize, learn or problem solve. I’ve seen lots of great examples of teachers effectively using time in their lessons to give these necessary breaks.
Some of the BEST Brain Breaks also include physical activity to get the body moving and blood pumping. Need proof that movement helps learning? Take a look at the following fRMI image:
Movement clearly stimulates the brain which can increase learning effectiveness. These movement breaks don’t need to be very long in duration. Research shows that even 5 minutes of short, energizing bursts of activity can boost blood flow, send oxygen to the brain and result in kids (and adults) being better at retaining information.
In my visits to classrooms, I’ve seen some really neat Brain Break activities:
- Dancing to a music video projected onto the classroom white board
- Class jumping jacks
- A run around the sports field
- A 10 minute nature walk in the forest
- Playground tag
Brain Breaks can positively impact both our emotional states as well our learning. They refocus our neural circuits and allow for increased, productive activity in our brain’s pre-frontal cortex where we problem solve.
So, go for that walk around the building, stand up to do your work rather than sitting down, or run in place for a few minutes. You’ll be doing your body some good and definitely helping your brain learn better — talk about win-win!
I suppose I should have used those good-luck Puma’s to go outside for a walk around the block — it surely would have been a more effective addition to my studying methods than re-reading the same paragraph over and over and over again.