September 19, 2013

Neuroscience

“Fast Tracking” Academic Gains

se091221_wThe Center for Educational Improvement (CEI) neuroscience research area explores how the brain acquires, stores, and uses information, and what intrinsic and extrinsic factors make this process more or less efficient. What is being discovered about neuroscience and neuroplasticity—how the brain actually has the capacity to be reshaped through experience—will open new vistas impacting our understanding of education for decades to come.

By synthesizing the implications of this growing body of research, CEI identifies and disseminates educational interventions enabling elementary and middle school leaders to “fast track” academic progress. With application of neuroscientific principles, educators can override negative emotions that interfere with learning. With application of neuroscientific principles, educators can pace instruction in ways to plan experiences for sensory input, allow for positive student experiences that support social-emotional connections, and also provide structure for student reflection, a part of the learning cycle.

In the videoclip that follows Dr. Richard Davidson, Director of the Lab for Affective Neuroscience at the Waisman Center in Wisconsin, describes the impact of life experiences on the brain, and particularly on the prefrontal cortex. Dr. Davidson also shows the relevance of brain neuroplasticity and its implications for learning and instruction. Dr. Davidson’s latest book, “the Emotional Life of Your Brain,” offers a new model for understanding the origins, power, and malleability of our emotions, as well as also providing strategies we can use to change our own brains.

Areas we track and explore include:

  • Which conditions optimize learning outcomes
  • Which interventions strengthen neuron pathways in growing brains to “reset” them with greater capacity
  • How to stimulate production of dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter, to help engage students in learning and listening
  • Which “brain exercises” can help students struggling academically catch up to their peers
  • How the limbic system impacts the efficiency of learning and the strength of memory and compassion (i.e., the connection between academic learning and emotions, which dovetails with our Heart Centered Education research area)
  • How physical and mental activity stimulate neurogenesis, the creation of new neural pathways in the hippocampus
  • How to encourage courageous risk taking and prevent a fear of failure from stifling creativity and motivation
  • How to stimulate alpha waves, a prerequisite for “aha”! spontaneous insight (i.e., how to create “space” into curriculum maps and academic calendars, which dovetails with our Heart Centered Education research area)