Saturday, July 15, 2017

Brain based teaching in a digital age

Marilee Sprenger wrote Br@in-Based Teaching:) in the Digital Age in 2010 and in the intervening years technology has certainly continued to advance with a rapid pace. Neuroscience has made huge discoveries as well. That said, there is much to glean from this book. One of the Appendices probably should be in the introduction- How the brain works is really what underlies many of her assertions.

Her research indicates a huge need for non-technology interactions. Like so many things moderation is important and variety is the spice of life. Kids who are glued to their devices need to learn to interact without them just as they need to be used as part of the learning spectrum. She talks about how the brain changes in response to stimulus. There is lots of research on this if you want some interesting reading (here, here, and here for example). Children who are exposed to huge amounts of fast-paced, visual input have more synapses around their visual cortex than those who do not. These children need to be trained in how to use focus when interpreting visual information as well as instruction in responding to auditory information. They need to work in groups and learn social skills that are often poorly developed because they spend so much time glued to their devices, even in social settings.

Sprenger cautions against, however, blaming technology for loss of creativity. She suggests looking at the loss of unstructured time for our kids as a large cause of limited imagination and creativity. This is not just in school where recess has been targeted for elimination to make way for ELA and math instruction, but with parents who plan exclusively organized events for their kids- team sports, classes, and parent supervised games have free play in the neighborhood playground. While the world is not necessarily a more dangerous place, we refrain from allowing our kids from traveling around their environment independently. A family recently had their children removed because they were allowed to walk home from the park independently. We need to promote unstructured time away from technology to promote well being for our children.

One strategy that Sprenger strongly supports is mind mapping. Using these graphic organizers helps kids form linkages and organize their important information. She also supports using music to link information in the brain. These two tools- music and mind maps- help to strengthen memories. We need to teach children to use these strategies if they are to effectively use them to enhance learning.

Many of us may have learned that people can maintain 7 pieces of information in our short term memory. Sprenger points out an important detail- that number grows as children develop. They begin with one bit of memory at age three and increase their capacity one bit every other year through the age of 15 (see the chart below).

Number of memory bits

Sprenger's information forms a good foundation to understanding neurological function and the brain. While the pace of discovery is fast, understand the tenants she lays forth, will help teachers design better instruction for children.

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