Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Changing Brains

Brain, Human Anatomy, Anatomy, Human  We all know that there is the idea that if students can get past the notion they are good or bad at mathematics and their ability is set, they can learn.  It is often referred to as mindset and we know there are both parents and students who are convinced they cannot learn math.  They just aren't good at it.

So what is it about our brains that allow us to  continually learn even if you are older? The brain has a certain amount of plasticity which means a person's intelligence is not fixed.  Instead, the brain is changing and growing throughout a lifetime.

Apparently as a person learns or accesses new knowledge, the neural networks as a cluster and form themselves according to the activity or memory.  When you quit practicing a skill, your brain eventually eliminates that node so it goes away.   Its like roads, if the road has lots of traffic, it will be wider to allow for the number of cars but if its not used much, it can be smaller and if its not used at all, it disappears.

It has been suggested we take time to explain how the brain is open to learning so students know things are not fixed.  If they realize they can change their brains, it can improve their self-esteem and be willing to learn.  Furthermore, it is important to have them practice because when they repeat an activity that has them retrieving information, they create stronger neural connections. 

If at all possible, connect the new material to prior knowledge to provide a context so students see a relationship. When they see the relationship, their brains display a greater amount of activity which helps them make better long term memories.

Understand that changes occur in larger networks rather than in just a single synapse. Learning occurs when different parts of the larger networks are strengthened.  It also appears that both the neurons and brain gather information from any sources so they can change their function as needed. 

Furthermore changes occur in both the synapses and the brain circuit. In fact, the changes occur in all the connected neurons in the brain circuit.  When learning is happening, changes occur in many different places at once using different mechanisms and different sequences. 

So how does this information help in teaching mathematics?  It has been discovered if you include hand gestures such as pointing to both sides of the equations, it helps increase student learning.  Tomorrow I'll be talking more about learning, teaching, and the brain.