In John Medina's book, Brain Rules, he outlines 12 big ideas that science knows about the human brain. These rules can be applied to teaching and education in general. As a teacher, if we aware of how the brain works and then put these rules into practise then our teaching practise will be more effective, resulting in better learning outcomes for our little learners.
Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power.
During exercise, more blood is pumped to the brain, which brings glucose and oxygen and movement keeps the neurons in our brain connecting. Running around in the playground for half an hour at playtime and lunchtime can make a massive difference in concentration, as can making your lessons more active in general.
Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too.
We humans have a triune brain which means that we have three brains inside our brains: the reptilian brain (survival and physical safety), the mammalian brain (relationships with the 'herd') and the cortex (the cognitive brain). All three parts of the brain must work together for the brain to function effectively. This is a similar idea to Maslow's hierarchy of needs where we need safety, security and belonging to be ready to learn.
Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.
Tell a group of children the same story and get them to recall it. You'll find that they all retell the story in different ways depending on how their lens on the world operates. No two students process or store information the same way as they all come into the classroom with a different set of experiences, emotions and connections. Even though the activity is the same, the learning is not. Therefore its important to listen to students and work out how their minds are connecting to new content.
Rule #4: People don’t pay attention to boring things.
If something captures our emotions then we pay attention to it. If we can't connect to it then we don't find it interesting but if its about something that we care about, our attention is piqued. When teaching, start by identifying a central idea or concept which becomes the glue. When you add the details they then stick to the glue of the central concept.
Rule #5: Repeat to remember.
The more elaborately we encode a memory during its initial moments, the stronger its retention will be. If we spend time building up the memory and then link it to existing memoriesthen we're more likely to remember it. Music, visual stimuli and movement all enhance memory and make the recall of information more consistent and long-lasting.
Rule #6: Remember to repeat.
When I first started training as a teacher, one of the most important things I was taught was about recency and frequency. The more frequently we repeat something and the more recently we recall it to memory, the more chance we have of remembering it. Our brains are like muscles which are best trained by short sharp drills repeated at regular intervals. Its better to learn maths facts for 3 x 10 minute sessions spread out during the day than to learn them for one 30 minute session.
Rule #7: Sleep well, think well.
When we sleep, the brain replays what we have learned during the day so a good sleep is important for achievement in the classroom. In a similar way, taking brain breaks during class time is beneficial to learning too. We can't let our students fall asleep during school time but we can provide them with activities that allow the brain to experience the trancelike state of sleep. Activities that involve mundane, noncognitive, psychomotor movement (e.g. playing in a sandbox, manipulating sewing cards, or cutting out shapes) allow the brain to take necessary “rewiring” breaks.
Rule #8: Stressed brains do not learn the same way as non-stressed brains.
Our students can be stressed because of many different reasons and stimuli. The worst kind of stress comes from situations over which they feel no control. Laughter, movement, and food can counter these feelings of helplessness and cause the body to slow or reverse the production of stress chemicals; they can even trigger the production of serotonin and dopamine—chemicals necessary for cognition. Providing students with an emotionally safe activity that requires him or her to identify patterns, argue, and defend his or her thinking may actually provide a sense of cognitive control and a break from stress outside the classroom.
Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses at the same time.
Making lessons more stimulating makes them more memorable and makes their encoding in our brains more elaborate. If we stimulate all of the senses then we have more chance of engaging learners and them remembering the lessons. Stimulation can be achieved by audio, video, kinaesthetic activities and movement around the classroom which tie in with rules 1 and 4.
Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.
Half of the brain’s resources are dedicated to the sense of sight. During our early years, we connect what we see to our other senses (the smell of our mum, the voice of our dad) so its important to incorporate visual stimuli into our lessons or to allow learners to conjure them up in their brains.
Rule #11: Male and female brains are different.
Although there are differences in the structural and biochemical components of male and female brains, there is no difference in cognitive ability or capacity related to gender. In the classroom, work that incorporates emotional connections increases the likelihood that girls will remember details and boys will get the gist.
Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.
From the day that we're born, we test our surroundings through observations, hypotheses, experimentation, and conclusions. We look for patterns and try them out. It is an active, rather than passive, process, and we take control of and interact with our environment. It is the most natural way we learn and lends itself to enquiry based learning in the classroom.