Magazine article Techniques

Engaging Students with Brain-Based Learning

Magazine article Techniques

Engaging Students with Brain-Based Learning

Article excerpt

"LEARNING IS INNATELY LINKED TO THE BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL FORCES that control the human brain" (Hileman, 2006, p. 18). Although few people would argue with this statement, the educational and science communities have sometimes overlooked the role of the brain in the learning process. The connection has received increased attention in recent years because scientists are now better equipped to study the brain. With this new knowledge, we are learning that traditional approaches to career and technical education (CTE) have been successful because they make use of the brain's natural learning tendencies. More importantly, though, research on brain-based learning is offering practical ideas for enhancing learning even more, thus ensuring future success.

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BACKGROUND

The roots of brain-based learning principles are in neurological research, particularly during the 1990s. In fact, the 1990s was themed "the decade of the brain" (Bush, 1990; Roberts, 2002; Sousa, 2001). The decade included increased media attention toward brain research, including a Newsweek cover story entitled 'Your Child's Brain," and a Time magazine special report, "How a Child's Brain Develops" (Isaacson, 1997).

The publicity for brain research in the 1990s promoted increased emphasis on questions about how the brain learns. LeDoux (1994) found relationships between emotions, memory and the brain. Other researchers (Eden et at, 1996) reported that children learning to read require activation of both the auditory and visual areas of their brains to create meaning. Another study found that the brain stores real-life experiences differently than it does a fabricated story (Schacter, 1996). These findings and others have slowly prompted changes in teaching methods.

During the "decade of the brain," Caine and Caine (1997) worked with schools to apply brain-based learning principles and to "change educators' mental models of teaching and learning" (p. 240). After four years of work with two schools, they reported moderate success in helping teachers move from an information delivery approach to a more learner-centered approach. Based on efforts to progress the two schools toward higher-level learning, Caine and Caine surmised that "results can be influenced but not guaranteed" (p. 244).

As 21st century brain research further develops, additional findings with relevance for teaching and learning continue to amass. Meanwhile, experts on brain-based learning are promoting the use of research by teachers in the field (Sousa, 2001). Many outstanding teachers frequently conduct research on aspects of brain-based learning. They may not recognize it as "research," but the desire to find better techniques for reaching learners causes them to "test" new approaches. Their findings need to be shared.

Brain-based learning does have strong connections and roots in CTE. Some of the early research focused on accelerated learning. Birkholz (2004) defined accelerated learning as "an educational delivery method and philosophy utilizing brain research to design optimal learning opportunities" (p. 1). In 1977, Walters compared the effects of accelerated learning among ninth-grade agriculture students. The instructor taught a control group using traditional methods of lecture and class time. Meanwhile, an experimental group met less than half of the traditional time, but was actively engaged in class participation. Post-tests in agribusiness achievement supported the efficiency of the experimental methods, finding no significant difference between scores of the two groups.

The field of brain-based learning encourages educators to capitalize on the associations the brain must make to create synaptic connections and anchor learning through contextual experience. Chipongian (2008) distinguished brain-based learning from conventional learning by making the argument that "there is a difference between 'brain-compatible' education, and 'brain-antagonistic' teaching practices and methods which can actually prevent learning" (p. …

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