Tuesday, 9 April 2013

How to empower the brain

I decided to test the blog for a summary of our Term 1 learnings on the brain


YOUR MAGIC BRAIN: Target – for every child in the school to begin to be aware of this and for teachers to refer to parts of the brain constantly!

Has three distinct brains in one:
-       An instinctive brain (often referred to as reptilian – just reacts automatically without thought)
-       An emotional brain (often referred to as mammalian)
-       And the amazing cortex (thinking brain)

If every child knows this much, how can it be used in the classroom??

In lining up for class Tom pushes Jack out of the way so he can be first.
Teacher: Wow, that was  a real ‘reptilian’ action Tom.  Lets back up (rewind) and try again.

Allow a few seconds ‘wait time’ and then: Now, what was it that you were trying to achieve?
Tom: I wanted to be first and he was in my way.
Teacher: He was first, so what else might you have done?
Tom: I guess just be second or be quicker next time.
Teacher: Or perhaps we could discuss in class and take turns at being first or see if another child has another good suggestion?
Now, Tom  - you used your mammalian brain to decide what you wanted and then your thinking brain to find a solution which was really responsible of you. 

You could relate this then to 3 I’s – next time I see you solving a problem without reacting first you might get a ‘I am responsible’ or ‘I am a learner’ token.


Please add this information to last week’s to extend the student understanding of how their brain works and how they can enhance their own learning.  It is vital that ALL levels in the school have this information to empower their learning.  Please cover in the next fortnight before we move on – This would be a good time to implement the VAK (Visual, Audio, Kinesthetic test).   I am happy to help in any way – please ask!  Kerri


It is an extension of the spinal cord and controls our most basic, instinctive responses such as breathing and heartbeat.  Its nerves are connected with all parts of the brain and the nervous system.  It is joined to the cerebellum which co-ordinates information for smooth muscular movement.

If you dissected your brain, at the base of your skull you would find a segment almost identical to that found in a lizard, crocodile or a bird.  This is why scientists sometimes call it the ‘reptilian brain. 
Turn on a bright light and any insect nearby will stop dead still.  The bright light will send a signal to its tiny reptilian brain.  Drive toward a bird sitting on the road and it will fly off an instant before you hit it: its reptilian brain has an inbuilt program to flee. 

There are certain things that keep the Reptilian Brain happy e.g.: maintaining a sense of territorial space, ritual, avoiding anxiety..etc.  If the Reptilian Brain is not kept happy and the learner becomes too cold, stressed, insecure ... etc then learning becomes biologically impossible. Professional educators need to make sure their learning environments are places of low emotional and physical stress if learning is to be most effective.

THE CENTRAL PART OF YOUR BRAIN – MIDBRAIN - LIMBIC SYSTEM – MAMMALIAN BRAIN – contains the thalamus, the hypothalamus and the limbic system.  Scientists say mammals kept their reptilian brain but added to it.

This is the emotional centre of your brain.  Scientists call it the  ‘limbic’ system (from the latin word ‘limbus’ meaning ‘collar or ring’ because it wraps around the brain-stem like a collar.  Since emotional arousal is needed to activate attention and memory, the limbic system is probably a key to the learning sequence.   The hypothalamus monitors the blood and controls our responses to hunger, thirst, oxygen needs and temperature changes.  This keeps our vital energy, water and oxygen flowing to the brain and the rest of the body.

RAS (Recticular Activating System) works with the Limbic System to control attention. It filters the data that flows through the senses - picking out the important pieces of information and bringing them into consciousness (eg; why you are able to hear your name through a cacophony of sound). The more senses learning experiences trigger or are needed for response, the more memorable the experience will be.

THE CORTEX OR NEOCORTEX – makes us uniquely human. It enables us to think, talk, reason and create.
Scientists call it the cortex – the Latin word for ‘bark’.

This covers the midbrain and is the most highly developed section.  This is the thinking part of the brain, setting humans apart from the rest of the animal world.  The cortex is the ‘grey matter’ of the brain, its colour being due to its dense supply of blood capillaries.  It controls the use of language and symbols, analysis and synthesis, appreciation of art and music and any rational responses to external stimuli.  It integrates information to build up overall pictures and to make connections with what is already stored.  Most memory recall seems to come from large sections of the cortex. 

And tucked out the back you have the cerebellum which plays a vital role in storing “muscle memory”: the things you remember by actually performing tasks such as riding a bike or playing any sports.

You use many different parts of your brain together to store, remember and retrieve information.  Each one has an important bearing on how you use your own inbuilt power. 

This is the academic brain where the higher order thinking skills occur. It is divided into two hemispheres: the right and the left (see below). The brain is stimulated to learn by novelty, multi-sensory learning techniques (see VAK theories), high stimulation and regular feedback. It works best in short bursts.
Each brain is unique and the individual must tailor learning approaches according to their own needs (see Gardner's 8 Intelligences/multiple intelligences).


NOW WE KNOW ABOUT THE THREE PARTS OF THE BRAIN, WHAT NEXT?? Well, let’s look a little further about how we can begin to use this information.
 The working units of the cortex are the nerve cells, called Neurons.  These nerve cells are made up of a cell body, a fibrous stem called the Axon and tree-like structures called Dendrites that connect with other neurons across tiny gaps called Synapses.  The brain collects messages by the dendrites.  The messages are processed in the cell body and converted to chemical material that is sent along the Axon.   By the time that this information reaches the end of the dendrites it has been converted so it can cross over Synapses to other dendrites.  This movement of electrical energy within our brain creates Brainwaves.
 Our brain contains as many as 15,000 synapses connecting to other neurons.  Although the number of neurons is fixed at birth, the number of dendrites increases as more learning occurs and more information is processed.
 Wow, this means the more we use our mind, the greater its capacity becomes.  A mature brain may have a 100,000 kilometres of dendrites.  However, it is said that we only use a small fraction of our brain – perhaps less that 10% of  our brain’s incredible capabilities.
  So, over the coming weeks we will look at how we can ‘power’ our brains to maximise our learning opportunities!!  It’s how we use it that counts – our responsibility to be the best learner we can be!!



Language sets up different patterns in your brain – and different patterns in your culture.

If you grow up in China or Japan you learn to write a ‘picture’ language; in western cultures you learn to take in information through all your senses but to communicate in linear writing.
If you grew up in a traditional Polynesian culture in the Pacific then your main communication would be through sound alone – rhyme, rhythm, song and dance.

This is either visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learning.


The brain stores information by making use of associations.  Every person’s brain has an association cortex.  It can link up like with like, from different memory banks. 

Learning to store information in patterns and with strong associations is the first step toward developing your brain’s untapped ability.

The second step is learning to use your subconscious mind.  This is where we meet up with brain waves.

Parts of your brain can send and receive information on different frequencies.  Like TV, tune in to Channel 9 or 7 and you will be able to receive messages sent out on that wavelength.

Scan your brain when you are wide-awake and it will be transmitting a certain number of cycles per second.  Scan it when you are dozing and it will be transmitting on a different frequency. 

Researchers are now convinced that we can absorb information much more quickly and effectively when our brains are in a state of relaxation.

That’s why nearly every successful study session starts with relaxation – clearing your mind so your subconscious can receive uncluttered messages and store them in their right file.

So this week, lets practise breathing deeply to relax –

Sitting straight – it is impossible to breathe well when the spine is hunched.

Balloon breathing – move the lower rib cage out and up for inhalation and in and down for exhalation while shoulders remain relaxed and almost stationary.

Breathing deeply – breathing in to the count of four and out for the count of six – a great strategy for students before and during tests and when stressed.


How I would love one’s like Julia’s (Atkin)!

I am sure Julia extended everyone’s thinking on Friday so I thought it would be a good time to recap.

3 parts of the brain –
Reptilian – instinctive reactions
Mammalian – emotions
Cortex – thinking/ storing information

The brain collects information through the dendrites.  Dendrites can connect together through the synapses to link stored information.

A mature brain can have 100,000 kilometres of dendrites.  Great Maths activity.

(Lix K/ Xav – please pass this on to your class – we were discussing this when I was in there)

So – how many dendrites can you ‘grow’ this week to store new information????

Store some new information in your (memory) bank to grow new dendrites!!


1 comment:

  1. Your expertise on the brain is always appreciated Kerri. I particularly love this link you have provided: http://pinterest.com/kathytps/growing-dendrites-with-kathy-griffin/ . What a terrific resource!