The Science of Learning: Applying Neuroscience in the Classroom

Brain-based learning, Learning Strategies, Neuroscience in Education

Our brains change as we learn. Every experience, from playing with friends to bedtime stories, shapes how our brain works.1 When kids start school, they learn to use their brains in new ways. They learn to read, understand words, and work with numbers. Today, scientists and teachers work together. They study how schooling affects brain development and what this means for the learning process.

Key Takeaways

  • The brain’s neural circuits are continually refined through natural learning experiences from an early age.
  • Educational neuroscience examines how schooling impacts brain development and aims to optimize the learning process.
  • Applying insights from brain imaging and neuroscience research can lead to more effective teaching techniques.
  • Understanding how the brain encodes, stores, and retrieves information is crucial for designing learning experiences.
  • Personalized and engaging learning approaches that align with students’ cognitive abilities can enhance academic outcomes.

Understanding Brain Development During Schooling

Today’s kids are the first to have brain imaging and brain-wave sensors as learning tools.2 Also, sharing data among scientists is common. This new approach helps us learn more about how brains develop in subjects like reading and math.2 We can now study big groups of students, showing the true range of differences in how their brains work.2

These new brain tools can spot changes in brain circuits as fast as week to week.2 Because of this, we’re learning how types of learning affect brain structure and function.2 For example, a few weeks of tutoring can lead to big improvements in reading and how the brain is wired.2 This finding is reshaping what we call “learning disabilities.” It focuses on how the right help can make both mental and brain changes.

Brain Imaging Studies on Child Learning

Last year, over 11,000 third graders from different cities took part in a brain scan study.2 Scans were done every two weeks while they received tutoring. This work showed big improvements in reading and brain connections during this time.2 Tools like MRI and brain-wave sensors play a big role in studying how brains develop in school.2 Early experiences in school, like kindergarten, can boost brain networks for things such as focusing.2 How teachers teach also impacts brain growth and learning.2

Neuroplasticity and Educational Interventions

Kids learning to read change their brains to see words like they see faces and objects.2 Learning math alters the brain too, especially areas for understanding space.2 The Synapse School uses a studio to track brain activity with sensors.2 This allows researchers to connect how education affects brain growth. They look at school success, the surroundings, online habits, and hobbies like art and sports.2

The Role of Teachers in Shaping Brain Circuits

Teachers are key in steering a child’s learning path. How they direct a student’s focus can change specific brain circuits.2 One study had students learn to read with new symbols instead of letters. They were guided towards different strategies, either focusing on the whole word or on the sounds of the letters.

Words learned with the whole-word strategy showed brain patterns for new or unknown words. On the other hand, words learned with letter sounds sparked an adult-like word recognition area in the brain.2 This research hints at how important a teacher’s method is in influencing learning and its effects on changing brain areas.

Instructional Choices Influencing Neural Pathways

2 Another study found clear differences in students’ brain activity based on the teaching strategy used. This highlights the teacher’s role in shaping how the brain changes with learning.3 After a neuroscience course, 51% of teachers upped their use of educational neuroscience in lesson planning.

They saw this jump to about 90% for future lessons. Classroom visits and talks with teachers revealed ENCs were now core to their teaching methods. It helped in planning lessons and understanding different students and their needs.3

3 Teachers applying what they know about the brain are on the right track. They lead all the decisions in the classroom.3 Their own ideas about teaching, plus their knowledge and experiences, shape how they teach. The study highlighted how much effect teachers’ knowledge has on their classroom practices.

Looking at their own experiences and students’ data in professional groups can improve how they teach.3 Adding neuroscience to their training could make teachers focus more on questioning, thinking critically, and using better teaching methods. It might also lead to them feeling more able to help students and using practices that focus on student learning.3

Brain Circuits for Reading and Math Development

The science of reading and math, combined with brain imaging, has shown us how children’s brains change. They change when kids learn these basic skills. For example, as kids start reading, their brains learn to recognize lots of visual words.2

At the same time, when learning math, children’s brain areas that notice numbers become more active. They connect numbers like “seven” with the written symbol 7.2

Neural Reconfiguration for Visual Word Recognition

When children read, their brains change to handle more and more words.2 Math also changes their brains, making them better at connecting numbers with meanings.2 These brain changes help children get good at reading and math, two very important skills for school.

Measuring Real-Time Brain Activity in the Classroom

At the Synapse School in Menlo Park, California, students work with Stanford University experts. They get to visit the Brainwave Learning Center, where they wear special caps. These caps have many sensors to track their brain waves while they play games or do meditation.4

They see real-time displays of their brain waves as they focus or relax. This makes learning about their brain activity fun and interesting. It also shows how brain activity relates to learning and thoughts. This makes students feel more involved in their own learning journey.2

Playing educational games helps with important studies on brain activity and learning. Scientists can see how brain waves change during such activities.2

Number of Neurons in the BrainRoughly 86 Billion4
Number of Electrodes in EEG DevicesUp to 256, or fewer in portable headsets4
Brain Waves Captured per SecondA Thousand “Pictures”2
Students Monitored at Synapse SchoolBrain circuits observed from kindergarten to middle school2

The research and brain-computer interface techniques at the Synapse School are groundbreaking. They give deep insights into how students’ brains change as they learn and grow.24

classroom brain activity

Optimizing Learning Through Neuroscience Insights

Teachers can improve how they teach by knowing a bit about the brain. This is because our brain keeps info alive by focusing on or repeating it in working memory. For example, students can only keep a few things in their mind while they learn.

So, teachers help students know it’s okay not to get it the first time. They do this by using simple tricks like taking breaks during lessons. These tricks are great for students who can’t hold a lot in their minds. This way, they can learn better.

Working Memory Capacity and Teaching Techniques

Working memory is like a ball game where students only keep about four balls in the air. But, some students can juggle more or fewer balls than others.

When teachers pause during lessons or show clear steps, it really helps some students. These are students whose working memory isn’t so big.5

Balancing Declarative and Procedural Learning Pathways

The brain has two ways to learn new stuff for later: facts/events (declarative) and complex skills/patterns (procedural).

Quick summaries and teaching others are good for remembering facts. But, to really learn a skill, you must practice. This practice turns facts into automatic skills.

Focused and Diffuse Thinking for Optimal Learning

Learning best means switching between focused and diffuse thinking. Focused is when we work hard on something. Diffuse is like letting our thoughts wander.

Dr. Oakley is making a course for teachers. It will teach them better ways to use this brain science in the classroom.5

The Science of Learning: Applying Neuroscience in the Classroom

Neurodidactics has boosted our understanding of how we learn. It looks closely at both the learners and how the brain works when we learn. Since the 1990s, studies have underlined the importance of linking education with biology.5But, the quick growth of educational neuroscience also birthed neuromyths – false beliefs from a misreading of scientific findings. To bridge neuroscience and teaching, we must tackle these myths with proper information and training.

Brain hemisphere specialization and its relationship to learningThe idea that one brain hemisphere is solely responsible for learning is incorrect. Research shows both hemispheres are key and work together when we learn.
Brain plasticity is relative only to specific critical eventsIt is wrongly believed that our brains can only change at specific times in our lives. In truth, our brains can adapt throughout our whole life.
Learning improves or is facilitated under conditions of higher synapsesMaking new synapses is important, but it’s how these synapses are organized and their quality that truly helps us learn.
We only use 10% of our brainThis common idea is not true. Studies using neuroimaging prove that our whole brain is active, no part is dormant.
Acquisition of information about specific preferred learning stylesThe belief that everyone has a unique learning style is being questioned. What works best are diverse teaching methods to reach all students.

Addressing neuromyths with the right facts and training makes the link between neuroscience and education stronger. This way, using neuroscience in education is based on real science. It improves how we understand and apply learning, making teaching better.

Neuromyths and Misconceptions in Educational Neuroscience

Neuromyths are misunderstandings about how the brain works and its impact on learning.6 These neuromyths and educational neuroscience misconceptions include wrong ideas about brain sides, the timing of brain adaptation, and how many of our brain we use.6 It’s crucial to clear up these neuromyths to improve how we use neuroscience in education.

Instructors worldwide often have wrong notions about the brain (neuromyths).7 A study found that, after a Science of Learning (SoL) course, teachers-to-be knew better about brain science.7 They started to change their minds, with fewer wrong beliefs over time.7

The SoL course also helped them realize that ideas like specific learning styles and Brain Gym may not be as effective as some think.7

To fight neuromyths, having a solid education and knowing at least a bit about brain science helps.7 But, too little brain knowledge can sometimes worsen these myths.7 We still need to figure out how much brain science each teacher should know to stop neuromyths.7

Integrating Neuroscience into Educational Contexts

Neuroscience in education is a topic of debate. Critics say lab experiments don’t always apply to real classrooms.8 But, research now puts these tools in real learning settings, like schools.9

Ecological Validity in Neuroscientific Research

Hyperscanning is a new method in neuroscience. It looks at brain activity of several people doing things together. This includes teachers and students, showing how they interact.8 It lets us study brain activity at the same time people are doing tasks together.

The Hyperscanning Paradigm in Educational Neuroscience

Hyperscanning’s focus is on how teachers teach. It looks at where the brain is active, thoughts, feelings, and how teachers and students work together.8 This way, we get a better view of what happens when teaching and learning work together.

neuroscience in education

The Teaching Brain: A Neuroscientific Perspective

Research on the “Teaching Brain” (TB) digs into how teachers’ minds process student-focused info. The idea is to make a model of student thinking. This model helps teachers direct student thinking and learning. It aims to get students to their full potential. However, if teachers tweak their approach according to how students learn isn’t fully proven.10

Work in educational neuroscience tries to link brain activities of both the teacher and the student. They wanted to see how these links affect learning when teaching is happening. They found that when the brain activities of both sync better, students pick up more.10

Teacher’s Theory of Student Cognition

The Teaching Brain (TB) concept dives into how teaching and thinking work together.10 Rodriguez (2013) and others looked at how teachers’ and students’ minds act during classes. They used special scans to see brain patterns while teaching and learning. They found that when the teacher and student brains were in sync, learning and social parts of the class were better.10 Bevilacqua et al. (2019) noted a strong teacher-student bond leads to better brain connections and thinking outcomes.10

Brain Synchrony in Teacher-Student Interactions

Research uses fNIRS to check the brain activities of teachers and students. They looked at activities where the teacher and student brains synced a lot. This sync was high when students understood and repeated what they learned.11

A study also used a portable EEG to watch students and their teacher’s brain activities. They did this over a few days of the school semester. The findings showed that when brains sync, it can tell how interested students are in the class. Also, it shows how well they get along with their classmates. This sync seems to come from everyone focusing on the same thing.12

Neuroimaging Studies on Teacher-Student Brain Coupling

Studies have found that if students feel close to their teacher, their brains sync more. This way, we can see how well a teacher and student work together. The study of two brains at once (hyperscanning) helps us understand teaching better. It looks at where the brain is active, what it’s thinking and feeling, and how well the teacher and student interact.1211 This approach helps us see the ‘Teaching Brain’, which is a way to explain learning and teaching as a shared process. It’s about how the teacher and student’s activities, thoughts, and feelings match and create a joint learning experience.11

Social Factors and Brain-to-Brain Synchrony

Research shows that how close we feel to each other affects how our brains sync up when we learn together.12 This means looking at the brains of a student and teacher together can help us understand more about teaching. This includes where in the brain certain activities happen, how we think and feel, and the process of teaching and learning together.11 The idea of the Teaching Brain shows that learning is very involved. It’s not just the student’s brain working; the teacher’s brain is in the mix too.11

When students are together in class, like during a lecture or group discussion, their brain activities line up. This shows how teaching each other affects our brains.12 Also, when students’ brains sync up more, they tend to say they’re more into what’s happening in class.12

By using a special method called hyperscanning, scientists can see what happens in both a teacher’s and several students’ brains as they learn together.11 This way, we get a better understanding of how teaching and learning work. It tells us that learning with others changes how our brains work in class.12 Social stuff is key to the brain stuff that happens when we learn together in class.12

Future Directions in Two-Person Educational Neuroscience

The usual way of looking at how we learn focuses on our brain. It looks at how we think and the brain’s processes. But, not many studies have dug into what teachers think and feel when they teach, through the “Teaching Brain” (TB) perspective.13 Yet, a new approach in neuroscience, called hyperscanning, can give us a better view of the TB. It looks at the brains of both the teacher and the student while they interact. This method shows us more about how teaching and learning really work, as a back-and-forth between teachers and students.

This new way in educational neuroscience lets us dive into how teaching and learning are connected. It helps us see which brain activities are linked to how teachers and students interact.14 By studying both the teacher’s and student’s brain activities together, we can learn about the TB. This tells us how it acts to meet students’ thinking and feeling needs.14 Knowing this, we can come up with better ways to teach and make learning spaces that support what both teachers and students need.

The field of two-person educational neuroscience is growing. It might look into how social stuff affects how teachers and students’ brains sync up.14 Also, it could test how using things like brain-computer interfaces might make teaching and learning more interactive.14 By putting together what we know from the brain, teaching, and tech, we could find cool new ways to learn. These ways would help everyone understand teaching and learning better, and learn more effectively.

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