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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Reading - Chapter One

At our faculty conference yesterday we were given summer reading and homework. The text is Eric Jensen's Teaching with the Brain in Mind. I love this stuff and have written about the brain on some occasions in this blog: Left Brain Right Brain and The Teenage Brain. More recently at the end of April I suffered a TIA stroke. During my followup visit with my doctor, I saw the MRI images of my brain and where I had my stroke. Now I have more appreciation for this brain research and understand more about it as I was privy to my own brain and was able to look at its parts and see exactly how this research is conducted. The homework consists of doing weekly assignments that result in 7 Thinking Maps for our use next year.

As a teacher I'm in the business of improving the brain of my scholars, so it seems logical for me to be more cognizant of the brain. Now with the advancements in technology, we have more access to how the brain works and what we can do to stimulate and fortify key parts in the learning process. I have always been fascinated with my own power at the computer in my classroom. When I sit at the controlling computer, I can see my scholars working. I called this brain surgery because I could watch them edit, which is thinking. But that was as close as I was going to get, for now. Advanced technology like the MRI provide us tools to observe what happens to the brain during certain tasks thus enabling the educator to be more aware and purposeful in administering instruction. With the little I already know, I have been amazed at how this knowledge has enhanced my own teaching and in the end the learning of my scholars.

As I said, I love this kind of reading.

FACT: The Glia cell carries nutrients and speed repairs. They are more important than previously thought. Since there are 30-50 billion neurons in each brain the variation of 20-40% in each person's brain strongly supports differentiation in our teaching.

FACT: "The human brain has the largest area of uncommitted cortex (with no specific function identified so far) of any species on earth. (page 9)

FACT: "The most amazing new discovery about the brain might be that human beings have the capacity and the choice to be able to change our own brains. (page 10) Good argument in Nature vs Nurture.

FACT: "In summary, the brain is a dynamic, opportunistic, pattern-forming, self-organized system of systems." (page 13) Scientists conclude with differences that the brain cells die and are regenerated. The brain reorganizes usage areas depending upon usage. Research is constantly discovering just how this works, but they know it happens. This means the brain is reteachable and trainable constantly. Old dogs can learn new tricks, even if they don't want to.

FACT: The brain has two halves. There is constant communication between the two and within each side or lobe. The brain is constantly looking for and assigning or reassigning parts to perform or store. We have lots to learn about our brain.

So how does the brain learn?

This chart provides a mapping of the process by which we learn. In short as the brain learns "sparks" go off in the brain as the particular part affected is excited or stimulated. So these electrical sparks become chemical and then electrical again. The electrical charges are relative to the sodium and potassium present. The entire process of communication is called a synapse. During class there should be electrical thunderstorms going on in the brain. Learning is all about controlling the action in the synapse. The action is the synapse shows our learning process like when we make mistakes and then learn from them. "In short, learning happens at a micro level through the alteration of synaptic efficacy. Excited cells will excite other nearby cells. " (page 18) This is similar to Thomas Armstrong's claim in Awakening Genius

From the standpoint of education, genius means essentially "giving birth to the joy in learning." I'd like to suggest that this is the central task of all educators. It is the genius of the student that is the driving force behind all learning. Before educators take on any of the other important issues in learning, they must first have a thorough understanding of what lies at the core of each student's intrinsic motivation to learn, and that motivation originates in each student's genius.
What I take away from this chapter is that repetition of good habits, learning skills, and knowledge are important in the syntactical part of learning. Feedback in a timely manner is also important so the connections are repaired and the correct connection and communication between cells is made. The brain can relearn as old cells are lost and new cells are generated. The brain is a pliable and a teachable organ.

For my homework "Teaching the Brace Map," which explores the parts of the whole, I will use The Paragraph, VETY, the Poetry Fact Sheet, and the Fiction Fact Sheet.

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