Brain Research and a Brain Friendly (Compatible) Term Paper

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Brain Research and a Brain Friendly (Compatible) Classroom

Review of the Relevant Literature

This chapter reviews the peer-reviewed and scholarly literature concerning recent brain research findings and its sources over the past 10-15 years. Following an overview of the subject, a discussion about the "critical periods" in a child's brain development will show that there is powerful new evidence from neuroscience that the early years of development set the base for competence and coping skills that affect learning, behavior and health throughout life. The findings from this research could be used to enhance or better yet enrich how to better develop the minds so that learning can be maximized in the classroom.

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Term Paper on Brain Research and a Brain Friendly (Compatible) Assignment

The nation's schools are struggling to meet the needs of their students in a dynamic and increasingly competitive globalized marketplace today (Reis, Colbert & Hebert, 2005). Although researchers have learned a great deal from psychological research that is relevant to teaching and learning, much remains unknown about how the brain functions and learns (Bruer, 1999). Educators such as Stanley I. Greenspan (2000) point out, though, that humans typically experienced a "window" of learning opportunity during their early years that cannot be replaced once it has been passed. For instance, in her essay, "Evaluating 'Brain-Based' Curricular Claims," Bergen (2002) reports that: "Catalogs for educational products now tout the links between the products and specific areas of brain development, and parents are urged to buy many products purporting to stimulate development of certain skills during early 'critical periods' for children's brains" (p. 376). While this early window of learning opportunity has been widely reported in the media and scholarly literature, the fundamental approaches to brain-based education have been increasingly applied to middle childhood and adolescent education environments as well (Bergen, 2002). This point is also made by Davis, Marshall and Puckett (1999) who report that, "Emerging information on how the young child's brain develops is exciting professionals and illuminating the field of early care and education. Young children have become the focus of long-awaited and much-needed attention from scientific researchers, educators, politicians, and the media" (p. 8). Given this setting, then, it is little wonder that researchers have been increasingly investigating the connection between learning and how the brain works.

In their book, Practical Approaches to Using Learning Styles in Higher Education, Dunn and Griggs (2000) report that people have such unique patterns for learning new and difficult information that "it is hard to judge accurately how to teach anything academically challenging without first identifying how each student learns" (p. 19). Once a student's learning style has been identified, though, educators can develop appropriate processing approach (es), method(s), and sequence(s) of perceptual exposures to resources that are likely to make learning relatively comfortable for everyone involved (Dunn & Griggs, 2000). Educators who support this approach have adopted a brain-based approach to learning, a technique that is not without its detractors. For example, Morgan (1999) points out that, "The most recent discussions concerning human knowledge acquisition come from neuroscience. Studies on monkeys and cats have been reported by educators with limited knowledge of neuroscience. This has led to leaps in logic and inappropriate interpretation of the findings" (p. 222). The brain-based approach to learning and its underlying theories are discussed further below.

Brain-Based Learning Techniques.

According to Chance (2001), the fundamental assumptions behind brain-based education are that research in neuroscience should serve as a guide to identifying effective instruction techniques. In this regard, Chance points out that, "Teachers try to change the brain every day. The more they know about how it learns, the more successful they can be" (p. 72). To date, researchers have determined that:

Complex environments produce smarter brains than do boring environments. Implications: provide lots of variety in classroom activities; offer students new challenges every day.

The brain requires sleep to clear out the neurochemical garbage that accumulates during the day and to solidify memories. Implications: encourage students to get plenty of sleep; provide naptime after lunch.

Experiencing high levels of stress for prolonged periods can destroy brain cells. Implications: reduce stress (no more pop quizzes); lead students in relaxation exercises (Chance, 2001, p. 72).

According to Bruer (1999), brain-based educators generally support progressive education reforms and denounce the "factory model of education" in which "experts create knowledge, teachers disseminate it, and students are graded on how much of it they can absorb and retain" (p. 648). In fact, one of the leading proponents of brain-based education theory, Eric Jensen, maintains that the key to improving students' ability to learn is directly related to creating the physical framework required to think about things rationally in the first place: "The key to getting smarter," Jensen advises, "is growing more synaptic connections between brain cells and not losing existing connections. it's the connections that allow us to solve problems and figure things out" (Jensen, 1998, p. 15). By and large, brain-based educators also support a constructivist, active learning model in which students are actively engaged in learning and in guiding their own instruction (Bruer, 1999). Earlier, though, Breuer (1997) also criticized brain-based learning because "Brain science fascinates teachers and educators.... Educational applications of brain science might come eventually, but as of now neuroscience has little to offer teachers in terms of informing classroom practice" (p. 4).

Other scholars suggest that more research needs to be done before educators fully embrace all of the tenets of brain-based learning: "Human understanding of the brain is in its infancy, and much research needs to be done" (Blakemore, 2003, p. 22). Davis (2000) points out that although some educational theorists such as Jensen have ventured their opinions concerning what brain research means to educational practice, there have been no studies to date to confirm the efficacy of these techniques. "Behavioral psychology has developed theories and practices separate from the neurological sciences," she says, and "Both fields have historically viewed the world in ways that are equally informative and knowledgeable; at this time, however, there have been no studies that directly connect these fields" (Davis, p. 100). In this regard, Bruer (1999) noted that is has been only recently that cognitive neuroscientists began investigating how "neural hardware might run our mental software" (p. 650). While studies still need to be conducted to link the following findings with the specific brain operations that are involved,

Jensen (2000) and Jensen and Dabney (2000) identified the following known beneficial effects of exercise on the human neurological system:

The number of capillaries increases around the neurons of the brain, thus facilitating an increase in blood and oxygen; this serves to improve the speed of recall;

Circulation is enhanced due to increased capillaries and the transport of more oxygen and nutrients to the brain;

Gross-motor repetitive movements stimulate the production of dopamine, a mood-enhancing neurotransmitter;

When some exercises are performed, endorphins are released and alertness increases;

The release of chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine reduces depression by as much as 50%;

Improving fitness levels create faster reaction times; and,

The production of the hormone NGF (nerve growth factor); this enhances brain function by stimulating the growth of nerve cells, may be triggered (cited in Blakemore, p. 24).

While Bruer does not agree with many of the conclusions reached by brain-based educators, the editors of Phi Delta Kappan responded to these criticisms by pointing out that Eric Jensen has been investigating brain-based learning for some time now and has developed a much more complex model of learning and thinking than Bruer and other critics have acknowledged. "That model shows how different parts of the brain and body work together on most tasks," they say, "how different portions of the brain can assume different primary functions in different individuals, and how PET (positron emission tomography) scans and other new techniques provide visual evidence about learning and thinking processes" (a challenge to brain-based educators, 1999, p. 254). In this regard, Jensen has reviewed a substantial amount of evidence from neuroscientists on brain-based learning and points out that today, "If a brain educator talks about a right-brained learner, he or she is referring to a code for certain learning or thinking preferences or talents not to any assumption that only one portion of the brain is being used. Valuable research on brain laterality continues, but up-to-date educators are not presenting yesterday's simplistic model" (a challenge to brain-based educators, 1999, p. 254). In fact, there have been some solid findings presented by Jensen that can be used to good effect without making any other substantive changes in teaching styles.

According to Gilbert (2002), researchers have determined that it is not control that makes a difference in learning capacity in people but rather merely having a sense of control over what happens. For example, in a classroom setting, this technique can consist of a simple and straightforward approach such as asking the class which project they want to do first. If this approach is used, Gilbert suggests, "You have not lost any of your overall control -- you are the one… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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