Education, Neuroscience, Neuroplasticity, Neurolinguistic Programming, Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

Brain Matters: Youth, Learning, and Development

I had the opportunity to attend an excellent conference today put on by Quebec Federation of Home and School Associations, Inc. As I am a member of the Home and School Association at my kid’s school, I was made aware of this conference by an email and had the opportunity to attend representing our school.

The topic was Brain Matters: “Optimizing the Brain for Learning” by Michael Quinn, BSc. who is a Neuroscientist and Educational Consultant. The title hooked me in and I was not disappointed. He also had an amazing accent as he is originally from England; a bonus!

Neuroscience, the plasticity of the brain, and how the brain absorbs our memories, our emotions, and past experiences fascinates me. I took 4 pages of notes and now have a new ‘need to read’ book list. Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience by Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld, Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer, and Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey- here I come!

Two reference organizations to review are: The Dana Foundation in the USA and The Wellcome Trust in the UK; focus of neuroscience to improve education and up-to-date research. A great way as a teacher or other professional in the school is to involve the emotions-tell stories, focus on positive things and point out the good-this goes a long way in helping students to remember what is being learned in the school environment. Exercise was also described as having an amazing effect on students learning. Kids cannot sit at their desk for 6 hours without movement or physical activity, and they need to take breaks; just as adults do in the work environment.

Some methods to help students learn (of any age) is to ‘chunk’ the information together, use elaborate encoding techniques and make it multi-sensory. The more senses used, the more likely one is to remember! Circadian rhythm was also discussed and in listening to how the body goes through the day in different temperature states along with optimal learning times being discussed made sense to me. It describes the ‘afternoon slump’ that students and adults might face in the school or work environment; the sleep-wake cycle. A “master clock” in the brain coordinates all the body clocks so that they are in synch. Circadian rhythms are produced by natural factors within the body, but they are also affected by signals/cues from the environment.

Optimal learning time is in 50 minute to 1 hour blocks with a 10 minute break. It was suggested to break down large projects into smaller segments, plan regular breaks, get up and move on your break, schedule meals and relax during this time or socialize-do not rush through eating.

I also learned that ‘blue light’ stimulates the brain and can assist in the learning process which is great during the day-but I did not know that computers, iPods, smartphones and such give off this blue light and if one is on electronics at night-it stimulates the brain and so one is less sleepy. Turns out there is an app/program that one can download to reduce this blue light on computers and laptops, F.lux and for the iPhone or iPad.

I plan to go back to my kid’s school and share all the information I learned with our Home and School Association and am eager to see it be implemented in the classroom environment. Teachers, professionals, and principal’s need to hear this presentation and be open to change. It is amazing what can happen when parents and teachers are focused, willing to work together, and learn together; it is for the betterment of the kids and makes learning easier and fun.

By Victoria Brewster, MSW