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A Teacher's Thoughts on the Brain

by Sue Bos

the brainThere has been an explosion in what we know about the brain in recent decades, The brain is literally on our minds these days as more and more researchers share what they have been finding out about how our brains actually work. Advanced technology has allowed researchers to actually look inside the brain, examine the physical structure and monitor the activity that goes on there. Two years ago it suddenly dawned on me that these brain researchers might be discovering things that would be useful for me to know. I'm a classroom teacher. My job is all about helping young students learn. I've been trained in learning theory and learning styles, curriculum development and assessment techniques, child development, human behavior, and classroom management. Little of my educational training, however, involved learning about the brain and how it works. Yet, the brain is where learning happens. How it functions is a pretty big piece of the learning puzzle that teachers try to put together successfully in the classroom. 

Through my research I developed a basic understanding of the brain and how it functions. I also and started noticing specific things I thought were critically important for my work in the classroom.

Supported and encouraged by my participation in a professional development seminar class we ran on-site at our school, I set out to become better informed about the brain. I read a lot, wrote a lot, thought a lot, and shared my ideas with my peers. Through my research I developed a basic understanding of the brain and how it functions. I also and started noticing specific things I thought were critically important for my work in the classroom. From my reading and notes I pulled together a core list of “Brain Givens”, a selection of brain knowledge and facts that I feel are educationally relevant and therefore, important for an ordinary classroom teacher like me to know. From these givens I developed a correlating list of “Learning Implications”, teaching practices I can employ in my classroom in ways that make the learning environment more “brain compatible” and allow for my students to better maximize their learning potential. (See chart of Brain Givens and Learning Implications )

I can't claim to be an expert on brain structure and function; new findings are emerging all the time and it can be hard to keep up. Some of the research results are confusing and tedious to wade through, but there are references out there that are accessible to the average person and they have important ideas to ponder. (See resource list) My “Brain Givens” are intended to be useful generalizations. They mesh nicely with the knowledge and understandings I have developed over the years through experience in my classrooms; and for me they provide some solid, scientific justification for teaching practices that, until now, have felt merely instinctually “right”. I use this knowledge structure as a guide, as I shape the physical and social and environment in the classroom, plan curriculum and activities and manage my class on a daily basis. I share them here in the hope that they might be useful for others engaged in the task of educating our children.

A Teacher's Thoughts on the Brain

The Mechanics of the Brain l Brain Chart

Brain Givens and Learning Implications

The Brain and Service-Learning


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sue Bos is a veteran teacher at Guilford Central School in Vermont. She teaches 7/8 Science. Community Works Institute asked Sue to reflect on and compile her work investigating newer research on the brain. Her investigations are significant for their direct connections to her own classroom teaching. Several of the pieces included here originally appeared in Community Works Journal.

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