Thursday, January 19, 2012


As teachers, we really are brain engineers, and we need to know as much as we can about the brain.  Eric Jensen has always been my “go to” source for brain research.  I read TEACHING WITH THE BRAIN IN MIND over ten years ago, but I recently reread the second edition and was struck by the “dissonance” (loved how this word was used in the book) between research and practice.  Research on children’s brains continually emphasizes the importance of movement, multi-sensory experiences, emotions, environmental factors, language, etc. in learning.  Classroom practice is a far cry from what we SHOULD be doing and what we know is BEST for children! 

Knowledge is power!  I know how busy you are, so here are some of my favorite highlights from the book.  Children are fascinated by their brains, so explain the research to them when you experiment and try new things.  “Boys and girls, I found out from the brain research that we need to move more to get blood going to our brains.  Let’s give it a try today and see what happens!”  “Your brain is like a sponge and needs lots of water.  Everybody bring a water bottle to school and let’s ‘hydrate’ our brains more often.”

Vary Instruction
In K-2 classrooms children can handle 5-8 minutes of direct instruction.
Change your voice, change location, use a prop, divide children into small groups, use choral response, etc.
Use movement to activate attention.  Stand, go for a walk, stretch, dance, march, or sing.
Balance active learning with passive learning.

Movement can strengthen learning, improve memory, and enhance motivation and morale.  Movement can also enhance social skills and reduce stress.
Exercise fuels the brain with oxygen and increases the number of connections between neurons.  (Rats grow more brain cells when they exercise!  Hmmm!  Why are we taking away recess and PE?)

Play is good for us and for our brains!
Exercise play (running, dance, routines)
Group games (basketball, soccer)
Outdoor explorations (digging, climbing)
Solitary play (puzzles, beads)
Stand and stretch (Simon Says)
Constructive (blocks)
Dance and drama
Walks and hikes
Point to (touch something that starts with /m/, point to a proper noun)

Music, Music, Music! 
Singing is an engaging and convenient way to learn.  Music acts as a place holder in the brain and is good for repetition.

Children need to talk as they learn and they need to talk about what they have learned.  DEATH IS SILENT.  LEARNING IS NOISY!
Invite children to discuss what they have learned and recall information with a partner. 
Encourage parents to talk to their child daily about school events and what they are learning.

Ask open-ended questions and give children time to think.
Encourage children to “think out loud” by asking, “How did you know that?”

Cross Lateral Movements
Crossing the midline helps blood flow to both hemispheres. 
*Simple Tap - Touch right hand to left knee and left hand to right knee.
*Bend and Stretch - Lift left knee and touch with right elbow.  Lift right knee and touch with left elbow.
*Backwards Touch - Lift left foot behind you and stretch back with right hand and touch.  Reverse for the right foot and left hand.
*Nose and Ears – Touch right ear with left hand and place right hand on your nose.  Touch left ear with right hand and place left hand on your nose.
*Disco Dance – Put right index finger in the air and point to the left.  Bring right index finger down by your side.  Place left index finger in the air and point to the right.  Then bring down by your side.
*Crazy Eights – Make the figure eight in front of you with your right hand and then your left hand.   Make “lazy” eights by making eight laying down with your right hand.  Make lazy eights with your left hand.
Clasp your right and left hand and make large lazy eights.
Lean over and pretend to draw an imaginary “lazy” eight on the floor with your right hand and then your left hand.
*Brain Hug – Stretch out arms, cross right over left, clasp fingers, bring down and toward your chest and squeeze your arms.

Personal Processing
Children need time to digest new information and reflect on what they have learned.  Just call the rest period after lunch “brain growth” time.