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10 easy brain based learning strategies to engage students

Table of Contents

Brain based learning is innovative, engaging, and at the cutting-edge of teaching methodology. 

Brain based learning combines psychology, technology and neurology for actively teaching students in a way that keeps a diverse body of students engaged while enriching the learning environment and student understanding.

It does NOT take away from what teachers know but helps you modify what you know, so you can be more effective in meeting all your student’s needs.

Using Hileman’s brain based learning acronym, as a foundation, each section of this guide starts with an episode from Sophia (a classroom story), defines the strategy, explores the function in the brain, shows how it benefits learning, and most importantly, how to actually implement the strategy in your teaching.

  • Brain time clock
  • Repetition
  • Active learning
  • Images
  • Novelty
  •  Be colourful
  •  Auto learning
  •  Social brain
  •  Elicit emotions
  •  Develop thinking
10 Easy Brain Based Learning Strategies to Engage Students

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1 - Brain Time Clock

Sophia's brain time clock breakthrough

When the bell rang for the geometry class that day, Sophia was on the verge of tears. She had failed her geometry. The marks were way below what she had ever gotten in geometry class. 

It was an F. She had tried her level best. The amount of time she spent revising was double the effort. Tiana, on the other hand, had aced the test. They had studied together for the test and were the best of friends. 

Sophia excelled in her co-curricular activities, and hockey was her favourite. She was captain of her team. But her G.P.A (Grade Point Average) needed serious work. 

Mrs Jones, her Geometry teacher, was curious to know what activities Sophia engaged in after school. Mrs Jones was shocked when Sophia confessed that she buried her head in books in her room as soon as she got home.

She admitted that other times if there were visitors at home that did not require her attention, she went to the local library to do her reading or met up with Tiana after school to go over a concept that she did not understand.

She confessed that she was exhausted almost every single minute of the day. She began crying. It was clear she was frustrated.

Mrs Jones realised she needed to implement a brain based learning strategy and quickly recommended that as soon as Sophia got home, she should rest. She also suggested that Sophia take time off books, limit her homework time to one hour and indulge in other refreshing activities. Explaining the need to give her brain time breaks.

She quickly made a mental note to alert other teachers that Sophia be given some extra time for breaks between lessons for a while.

BBL 3 - Time Clock

What's a brain time clock?

We’ve all been there before: after a long day of work or learning, we feel burnt out, tired and fatigued – even if the day comprised of sitting in the office or classroom. Students experience this too, especially after long school days.

But why does this mental and physical fatigue happen even when students are seated quietly at desks, with little to no physical exertion? 

The human brain runs on cycles called ultradian rhythms. An ultradian rhythm is a recurring cycle repeated throughout the 24-hour day, closely linked to circadian rhythms that influence our sleep cycles based on the natural environment around us.

Ultradian rhythms, unlike circadian rhythms which cycle once a day, cycle much more rapidly – once about every 90 to 120 minutes! 

They influence attention, interest, cognition, memory, visual perceptions, moods, and behaviour.

So, if students are passively learning for hours on end, their ultradian rhythms are being worn out. The expectation that they are always at attention and engaged in passive or lecture learning is counterintuitive to how the brain works.

In fact, it is these ultradian rhythms being overworked that often contribute to brain fatigue and “burn out.”

Brain Clock Time

How to harness your students’ brain time clock?

It is recommended that passive learning be taught for no more than 12 to 15 minutes at a time and be varied properly with instructional learning. 

For example, lecturing for 12 to 15 minutes is okay – but hours on end will leave students tired. In the meanwhile, instructional learning can be used to engage students in step-by-step or hands-on material.

Since ultradian rhythms cycle once every 90 to 120 minutes, another important aspect of nurturing the brain “time clock” is to unplug in that same time fully. 

This means pausing both instructional and passive learning and invigorating the brain with physical or creative activities.

“Unplugging,” however, doesn’t include allowing for time with electronics. 

Students shouldn’t be checking their phones during these breaks but should aim for an activity that engages them both physically and mentally. Using a phone, laptop, tablet, or other electronic devices can derail the 90 to 120-minute break.

Ultimately, students are humans. Humans are living beings – we function in cycles, like how birds fly south for the winter, or how whales swim across the worlds’ oceans with their young.

On a much smaller scale, implementing an understanding of ultradian rhythms in the classroom is one way that the human brain – and body – can become functional parts of the learning process, without the brain fatigue or “burn out.”

2 - Repetition

Repetition strategy helps Sophia get ahead

The repetition strategy for brain based learning had to be implemented by all means. It was crucial to repeat concepts through varying methods. This had to be done to increase the retention rate. 

They needed to revise the 3Ps and 2Rs methods that they had been introduced to which translated to, Pre-exposure, Previewing, Priming, Reviewing and Revising.

There was a major problem in the school. Sophia was not the only child that Mrs Jones was concerned about. There were others like Sophia, and there were very bright students in the same class. 

As a teacher, their code of ethics barred them from labelling a mentally and physically fit child as unfit to teach. Their method of teaching had to be reviewed and adhered to religiously. There was nothing impossible. No child was beyond teaching. All they required was attention. 

The same kind of attention across the board, regardless of whether a child was book smart or not. And repetition was a strategy that they could embrace as they had been taught in a workshop they had attended with Mr Sean.

Brain Based Learning 4 - Repetition

But repetition is a tricky game to play

You don’t want to repeat material until it becomes redundant and boring, distracting from student attention and productivity. However, it is also unlikely that a student will learn the content once and be able to accurately and fully remember that information forever, or even until the exam.

Successful repetition of information (NOT rote learning) can be done in different ways to strengthen connections in the brain. In fact, the brain remembers information best when it is repeated in multiple ways.

In presenting the information in multiple ways, the medium of the presentation is important. Video, images, charts and infographics are all productive mediums for repetition.

If information is shown in a video, then in text and images, in analytical charts, students will have different methods of grasping on to the information; their brains will also be reinforcing the information by strengthening connections.

Rehearsal of information increases retention since the brain rarely understands information the first time it encounters it. As Educators, we can improve this rehearsal by scheduling how the material is presented.

Schedule Repetition by presenting info over time

This presentation of information shouldn’t be timed at exact intervals. It should happen at gradually lengthening intervals, to exercise further and reinforce brain connections. 

Properly spacing out the priming, reviewing, and revising periods is a good method to promote the beneficial practice of repetition.

Pre-exposure: By providing preliminary information about the topic in advance, students can prepare for the content and begin to make inferences. Something as simple as providing a syllabus can begin pre-exposure!

Previewing: An overview of the information at the beginning of the lesson will introduce the student to the information, without overloading them. The preview should be clear and concise.

Priming: This is the primary lesson or the direct teaching of information. This is where more detail, nuances and facts are provided in the information.

Reviewing: Now that the lesson has been covered, coming back and repeating the information becomes essential. Reviewing can be for an exam or assessment, especially to present the informative details taught beyond the initial overview.

Revising: After the lesson has been taught, educators can occasionally check that students have learned the material correctly, and for the long term.

3 - Active Learning

Tiana helps Ariana play Juliet, in Romeo and Juliet

Their literature teacher had picked Ariana to play Juliet’s role in the famous Shakespeare’s book Romeo and Juliet. At the same time, Randal had been given the role of Romeo. It was a play that they were supposed to be examined at the end of the term. 

Ariana particularly found literature to be an unconquerable giant. She was having problems coming up with the various themes in the book and even the tone. Who used such a style in the 21st century? 

But she had no choice. She had to learn and understand the text. She approached Tiana and requested her to help her rehearse. Tiana and Sophia were more than ready to help her with her lines.

The deadline was approaching fast, and on Monday, she would role play. She was excited and nervous at the same time, but the girls helped her a lot. 

When Monday came, she was no longer so scared. When she started saying her lines and also owning her character, she found it to be enjoyable. The play went well, and she had never been more proud of herself. 

Her mental performance had been strengthened. Acting to be Juliet was not only physically stimulating, but she was glad that she could recall the lines. The role needed her to turn around, swiftly, fast, and be in sync with her lines. Their literature teacher was excited as she observed the play unfold.

Tiana was elated. She finally understood that it was not such a challenging book. She loved literature from there, and she always looked forward to participating in the plays. She understood the various stylistic devices, and it was like she was learning these things for the very first time.

Brain Based Active Learning

Engage students in active learning

Contrary to the thought that learning is only a mental process, students who engage in physical activity while learning can actually strengthen their mental performance. 

Educators who push students to be active in the classroom aren’t just improving physical health – they’re adding sensory stimuli that can improve students’ memory and retrieval while reinforcing information.

It’s a very intuitive fact that students who have healthy bodies will do better in the classroom. If a student is well-fed with a balanced diet and is not sick, they will have a better attention span and will participate more in class. However, physical fitness classes once every few days aren’t enough.

It is recommended that people should try to get anywhere between 60 minutes and 120 minutes of physical activity a day. Spending an hour to two hours being active can seem like a difficult feat when students are spending the majority of their days in the classroom or doing homework.

Brain Based Learning 5 - Active Learning

Physical active learning Improves student success

When Sensory Stimuli are added, they raise blood pressure and levels of epinephrine (also known as adrenaline). This can reduce drowsiness and restlessness while also reinforcing information.

Engaging in physical performance in the classroom can take on many forms: role play, acting, energising discussions, and games that make the students get up from their desks is all part of brain based learning.

Getting students outside the classroom is important too. If a lesson can be taught outdoors or has applications to the natural world, students can benefit from the novelty of a different environment. In the natural light, they also will be producing more vitamin D, which can help improve brain function.

Active learning can be especially beneficial for students with learning disabilities, such as ADHD who experience hyperactivity and have difficulty paying attention.

Furthermore, adding the dynamic change of physical movement to the classroom can be tied into repetition – it can be yet another way to present information in a lesson.

4 - Images

Sophia's GPA rises with visual learning

Tiana’s favourite subject was ICT. The joy of seeing technology in action was beyond explaining.  

Aided learning was what she mostly used. Attempting quizzes and getting her score was one of the activities she loved about these questions. If she missed a question, the expert system had been set in a way to offer the correct answer, and not only that, it had explanations.

She did not need to wrack her brains to know what something looked like. If it was not found locally, there was the internet. Their ICT teacher had shown them how to search for helpful information online effectively. She smiled as she blessed her teacher in her heart.

Other students felt the same; looking at images, watching documentaries, and embossing a picture in your mind was one of the most incredible ways of recalling concepts. Sophia was quickly adapting to this challenge, and impressively her G.P.A had begun having an upward trend.

Their ICT teacher understood from brain based learning the importance of images. He was smart enough to give his students the freedom they needed to discover how devices made from integrated circuits were different from those that ran on magnetic energy and optical energy. It was always fascinating to watch them as they discovered all these on their own.

BBL 6 - Images

Our eyes are our windows to the world

Of all the information that the brain absorbs about 80 to 90% of it is visual, through our eyes.

Humans are extremely receptive to visual cues and store visual memories with faster recall more than any other form of stimuli, be it auditory, tactile, or something else.

Of the five human senses – taste, touch, sight, smell and sound – sight is how we observe the world around us, and make sense of taste, touch, smell and sound.

For example, sight is how we know the food we are tasting is an apple, how we know that clothes are touching our skin, how we know that the horrible smell in the air is a nearby skunk, or how the music playing is coming from computer speakers. Sight is the most essential of the senses; without it, it is challenging to navigate the world around us.

Based on this information, it is clear that adding visual imagery to the classroom is a massive part of brain based learning.

By showing students imagery-driven information, that information is stored in their long-term memory, which makes for faster and easier recall. Visual information helps make sense of the content and directs students’ attention to important information.

Use images in learning to engage learners

Handouts and text material can include graphics and diagrams, or pictures that demonstrate the text material. Infographics are also an effective way to explain information with visual cues since they typically formulate information into a conclusion.

Videos, especially shorter clips that reinforce a single topic, aren’t just fun for students to watch – they present one topic with changing stimuli, including the sound that activates students’ long-term memory.

Another way to activate visual memory is in the physical classroom itself. Not only does a bright and colourful classroom, fruitful with information, create a positive emotional environment for students – by adding posters and pictures on the walls with relevant information or applicable imagery, but students will also absorb the world around them and process through memory and emotion.

Younger students may learn best by absorbing many images. Older students, who can make cohesive sense of images that tie into text or infographics, can benefit from making these connections from imagery to context. By reinforcing ideas from imagery to information, brain synapses are being reinforced likewise.

5 - Novelty

Sophia's school outing spikes her dopamine levels

Sophia’s history teacher noticed an improvement in her history grade towards the end of the term as they neared their summer break. Earlier in the term, they had visited the White House. She had never seen the students that excited. They were awed by the beauty of the statehouse. The highlight was when they were given a sneak peek of the oval office.

Sophia was beside herself with elation. She was so attentive. No amount of classwork would be able to explain the thrill of what she saw. The experience was for a lifetime, and although their history teacher had tried as best as she could to explain the White House to them, none of the explanations came close to what they were seeing. That trip was something. 

Seeing it in real life was all they needed. The presence of the secret service agents was exciting, with their suits, their headphones, their routine, courtesy, alertness and professional behaviour. Their history teacher was quite positive that their dopamine levels had spiked a great deal.

Brain Based Learning 7 - Novelty

Novelty of information motivates students

The freshness of a new school year motivates students to work hard in the first few weeks – but this motivation often drops off at some point into the semester. 

Similarly, students may be motivated at the beginning of a new lesson to tackle the information with vigour, but want to move onto the next lesson soon after.

Ever wonder why the newness of information adds motivation to students to succeed?

When students see something new, the novelty of the information motivates them to learn more. 

Why? 

The answer can be found in dopamine levels, the neurotransmitter linked to motivation-reward thought as well as pleasure.

When new information is presented, dopamine levels spike!

This is because the brain believes that the new stimuli have the potential to bring them a reward, so the person is more motivated to work for that reward.

New info is a motivational cue for the brain

For educators, it can be hard constantly to present the same information in new ways. However, creative applications to learning can create novelty around the content of a lesson.

New examples of material application, a surprise of new data or scenarios, or engaging students in unfamiliar situations to learn the content can all provide novelty. The classic “field trip” can even play into brain based learning, as seeing the lesson information in a real-world application outside of the classroom provides novelty to information.

Whether or not the student receives a tangible “award” for learning something, or not, does not factor into dopamine levels. A good grade or positive reinforcement from a teacher can be enough for students’ motivational levels to keep up. In keeping information fresh and presented in creative ways, students will remain motivated throughout the lesson.

6 - Be Colourful

Sophia loved the new colours in the library

The school’s library was one of the best facilities or investments the school could ever have made. It was the state of the art library. It was large, and it accommodated a large number of students. It had been installed with the latest library technology, and issuing, borrowing, and returning books had been automated. That was not even the best part of the library. Its highlight was in the colouring.

Its architecture was conical. It was painted on the inside with shades of yellow, brown, purple, white, a little bit of red and orange. All these colours had been blended in such a way that it resembled one giant mural.

It was a safe space for brain activity. It was the quietest, most peaceful place in the school. The architect who oversaw it being built had heard that colours had a way of boosting people’s confidence, concentration and some offered an atmosphere of peace. 

Sophia and Tiana found inner peace while studying there. They could spend hours on end studying. You knew it was a good place as students rushed to secure their favourite seat.

BBL 8 - Be Colourful

Human brains love colour - more than images alone

Colour has been linked to changing moods, improving creativity, and increasing concentration. People remember colours better than plain images alone.

Colour can improve comprehension of information as much as 73 per cent, in comparison to learning without colour cues. It can improve learning memory from 55 per cent to 78 per cent. It’s no surprise that new parents will paint their nursery walls certain colours; colour is a huge factor in how humans learn about the world. But how colour affects us is a more recent discovery.

Different colours have different effects on the human brain.

Yellow and pink can improve memory, while red can release excess energy, anger and adrenaline. Blue and green help students relax and increase their creativity, and blue has been proven the best colour for overall learning comprehension and retention.

Utilise colour in your classroom - don't overdo it!

Even if your classroom walls are stark white, adding colour through students work, posters, pictures, bulletin boards, and signs can improve information for students to absorb. BUT don’t overdo it!

Yellow increases creativity, attention and feelings of positivity.
Brown reduces fatigue and gives students a feeling of security.
Green/Purple brings a sense of peace.
Off-White improves attention and positive feelings.
Red inspires alertness and creativity.
Orange can improve alertness but don’t use too much.

These theories, called colour psychology, have also been implemented in marketing, art, and placebo experiments. But the classroom is one of the most effective ways to utilise colour psychology.

Student success cannot be based entirely off of colour alone but introducing colour into the learning environment, handouts, and even in classroom lighting can effectively improve students’ memory and comprehension.

7 - Auto Learning

Kat's bullying inhibits Sophia's learning

After leaving the library that afternoon, Sophia and Tiana hurried to the car park. 

When they reached the car park, Sophia found a note on her windshield mirror. She opened it and read it. All colour drained from her face. She was as pale as ice.

“Soph, what is it?” asked Tiana snatching the note from her.

She read it, and she clenched her fist. How dare she? She knew who it was. The note said. “RUN!” what was worse was that it had been written in blood. She knew Kat was behind this. This had to be stopped. She had never missed an opportunity to bully Sophia. 

“This time around, she has gone crazy,” muttered a livid Tiana.

She held Sophia’s hand and practically dragged her to the principal’s office. They reported the matter, and the principal rang Kat’s parents right away. He scheduled a board meeting, and they were to wait for the board’s decision. Enough was enough.

Sophia had been in constant fear of her, and unknowingly it had messed up with her grades big time.

Her subconscious, without knowing it, had absorbed the bullying from Kat, but the principal stepped in and put a stop to it. 

Sophia’s freedom from the bullying seemed to double her capacity to learn overnight.

Brain Based Automatic Learning

We create habits via automatic learning

The parts of the mind of which one is not fully aware still affect and influence one’s actions and feelings. 

They are difficult to identify and vary unpredictably from person to person. There are some parts, such as the ego, psyche, imagination, and self, that everyone has – and have the power to influence almost everything we do.

Despite the lack of apparent existence, the subconscious mind is powerful, and it will influence learning as well.

Scientists believe that 95% of learning occurs in the subconscious mind – everything from habits to muscle memory to information we gather through non-verbal cues.

Automaticity is the ability to perform functions without occupying the conscious mind with low-level required details, often the product of repetitive or practice learning.

Muscle memory and reflexes are part of automaticity, but so is fluency and literacy. We create habits through automaticity.

Since automaticity takes place in the subconscious mind, learning occurs there too. It can be difficult to figure out how to access your students’ subconscious minds to affect that 95 per cent of learning. 

The best way to do this is through the learning environment. Be insightful about how varied materials can trigger subtle, subconscious aspects of your students’ experience.

reduce the source of stress

Cortisol, can trigger stress and harm learning

While a little bit of stress is necessary in the classroom to motivate students to do assignments and pay attention, higher amounts can negatively impact the learning experience. 

Students who experience uncomfortable to overwhelming levels of stress do not perform as well as their happier, less stressed peers.

 High levels of stress for long-term periods of time won’t just negatively impact a student’s classroom performance: this can lead to the onset of depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, and further mental detriments.

Here, it is more important to note not so much what educators can add to the learning experience, but what they can take away. 

 

How can a teacher reduce the amount of stress in the physical classroom environment?

Yelling, loud noises, criticism and bullying, disruptive actions, and other triggers to stress can negatively affect students’ learning. 

Furthermore, a cluttered and disorganised classroom can lead to stress being triggered subconsciously.

Whether it is the teacher or another student causing stress, the source should be reduced; That is effectively taken out of the setting. Just like Sophia’s bullying was stopped by the principal.

Knowing the psychology behind students’ triggers and blockades from success are essential to tapping into their potential.

8 - Social Brain

Kat, Sophia and Ho'se bake Cookies together

Mrs Tate, the home economics teacher, asked everyone to work in threes to get the cookies baked fast, as they needed to get them to the children’s home just across their street a few blocks away. They did this once a month, and they loved taking something they had baked to give to the kids.

Kat and Sophia decided to work together to bake the cookies; they just needed a third. While everyone was milling around to get into their groups, Joseph, whose name he made them pronounce as “Hose” in Mexican, approached them. 

Hose had always enjoyed working with Kat and Sophia. They had been good to him since he moved to the United States, and they had taught him a lot. He had lately been more confident about his English, and he was proud of that.

They had tirelessly helped him, and even though his accent was still there, it never barred him from expressing himself in front of other people. He was glad that he had them as friends.

You should have seen him boasting throughout the baking session how he made the best cookies in Mexico. Sophia and Tiana rolled their eyes, and Mrs Tate and shushed him.

His social brain was learning a lot from the two girls. He was able to socialise well, pick the cliques to involve himself with and those to avoid like plagues. 

BBL 10 - Social Learning

The brain craves social interaction with others

The brain develops better and learns more alongside other brains, especially in a social environment where people directly interact with one another.

Like much of nature, humans are social animals; we need one another to learn, to develop and to survive. The physical classroom environment leads to many opportunities for socializing within and outside of peer groups.

Students who socialize can mature and develop their thinking skills at a faster rate than those who don’t. This doesn’t have much to do with being an introvert, someone who enjoys solace, or an extrovert, someone who thrives off of being social. Rather, humans take influence from one another’s behaviour, both consciously and subconsciously.

People know that certain behaviour and actions are “good” and others are “bad” based off of one another’s interpretations. Being social is essential to fitting in with society as much as it is to survival.

Learning through the social brain doesn’t simply take place in the classroom. In any instance where humans are interacting with each other, there is a social connection being made. The social brain prepares and develops humans for lifelong learning, no matter their age.

BBL 10 - chatting face to face

Social contact is best - face to face

It is important, however, that social contact takes place in person instead of over a screen. Even if two people are video chatting with each other, the interaction does not appease the social brain as well as if they were talking face to face.

This is why students who travel to countries where a different language from their own is spoken find that they pick up the language faster and easier than learning it online, or from a book. “Immersion” is a social phenomenon created by close human interaction.

Implementing social aspects into the classroom interaction is easy and can be a creative way for students to learn and also make friends.

Group assignments, whether short in-class exercises or long-term projects are an effective way for students to learn socially together. Ideas and hypotheses can be bounced and vetted between students, contributing to social and intellectual development.

Educators who utilise social learning in mixed ability groupings can see a payoff in student success across the classroom.

Brain based learning believes that cooperation is the best way for students to learn. What it doesn’t believe in is competition; that students pitted against one another will motivate each other.

Often, competition does not motivate students, but in fact, can lower self-esteem as students compare themselves negatively to their peers. This deters motivation and productivity.

9 - Elicit Emotions

Mr Garvey's lesson elicits emotion in his students

Mr Garvey, an African American Teacher, announced their topic that day was humility. 

Ariana and Sophia sat next to each other, and Joseph sat a few meters behind them. Tiana was in the front seat as always. She had this funny assumption that you were likely to get everything taught firsthand if you sat in front. As she put it, “Where the sound waves were fresh.” Ariana thought it was a funny assumption, but nobody dared to discourage her. 

“My parents worked two jobs and some. So you can understand it when I tell you that whatever I have achieved now has not come easy.” He continued.

“There were tears, we cried. There was segregation for people like us. But we never gave up. We strived to work hard and smart and honest. We let our work talk for us. 

I remember one particular day when I was working at McDonald’s as a waiter, and my supervisor had gotten the day’s calculation all wrong.

He went on and on about how he could never make a mathematical mistake, but when I picked the sales records that day, I quickly figured out where the error was. I corrected it and went quietly to him, showing him the maths.

I was not looking for any recognition or a gold award. All I wanted was to correct the mistake as quietly as possible. From that day, there was massive respect, and he made sure the staff respected me too.”

As he finished and looked around the class, some looked at him in admiration, emotion showing on their faces. 

There were a few hands up waiting for a chance to ask a question. 

He smiled. It was obvious that he had rattled their amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain. This was what learning was all about. The fact that the children were showing any emotion was a positive sign that at least his story was getting through.

BBL 11 - Elicit Emotions

Emotions are essential to human well-being

Experiencing a range of emotions, from negative to positive, is important for healthy and proper human development so people can learn how to cope with negative emotions and sustain positive emotions. Controlling emotions can’t be taught in a classroom – it is something learned by intuition.

Emotions don’t just control how we feel; they are also essential for attention, perception, memory and problem-solving. The amygdala, known as the emotional centre of the brain, controls all of these aspects of human feeling. The amygdala is most known for releasing chemicals that cause fear, but it does so much more – in fact, the amygdala doesn’t just control emotions, but it controls how we perceive them as well.

When the amygdala finds that stimuli from the five senses have high emotional value, it considers those stimuli to be more important than others. Not only do these stimuli then trigger emotions, but learners can also remember the stimuli easier than other information.

You can see how this can play into a classroom setting: information that plays into causing emotions to occur is more effectively remembered and learned by the brain than information that does not. These emotions can occur in any range, from negative to positive.

Not only will students learn the information; they will learn how to control and exhibit emotions. However, this doesn’t mean that all material should be taught melodramatically, or with unadulterated enthusiasm.

A great way to elicit emotion is through stories

Storytelling, depending on how the story is told, can evoke an infinite range of emotions. From excitement to despair, storytelling is an effective way to present information for optimal memorisation.

This does not mean you need to start reading stories in all your lessons but if there’s an opportunity, use it.

‘The Cross With Us Rhinoceros’ by John Bush, is one of my all-time favourite stories. With lower primary kids, they enjoy the story as it is, and upper primary kids pull apart the story to find the story elements. In middle school Art, I use the story and images to grip students and motivate them to create a picture storybook for kids as a group or individually. It’s simple enough to grasp and get hold of quickly. 

When a storytelling format is utilised in a classroom, the structure of a story makes sense to the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that forms new memories and is associated with learning and emotions. When a new informational stimulus is presented, the hippocampus is the first part of the brain to process it. If stories are told structurally, this will help students compartmentalise and store the learned content.

This doesn’t necessarily mean writing a story for your students either. 

Following a storyline, however, can be effective; starting with rising information that leads to a climax.

By tapping into different parts of the brain, eliciting emotions in brain based learning can help students commit information to memory. Storytelling, through its structure and emotional value, can aid in this commitment

10 - Develop Thinking

Sophia learns how to solve problems in real life

Tiana’s hand was the first to shoot up.

“Yes, Tiana,” Mr Garvey pointed.

“Sir, why didn’t you let the others know that you had solved the error?”

“First of all, you need to understand that I was the only African American employee in that place. That was a big deal for the other people that I was not of the same race. That in itself was the biggest problem. If I needed to get respect and equal treatment, I had to be smart about it. 

On several occasions, I had helped out a colleague when they got stuck on a customer’s order, and all I got was a nod in appreciation. After that, it was back to the same old treatment. I continued being myself and never rebelled at any point. 

So when I saw the opportunity to prove myself to the supervisor, I was not letting it go. 

My experience in solving such problems or any other for that matter has taught me that you need to strategise how you handle problems. Since decisions can affect you positively or negatively.”

“That was smart, Mr Garvey!” exclaimed Joseph.

“I know, right?” said Sophia. 

BBL 12 - Develop thinking skills

Thinking through real-life problems

Every day, humans are presented with problems and decisions to make based on those problems. 

We learn for the future by trial-and-error, so we know how to make better decisions the next time around. Problem-solving has to be developed through maturity and learning.

When a problem occurs, the brain needs to learn how to process it. It gathers information, conceptualises the problem, imagines possible outcomes, and works towards the final solution. Education in a classroom is setting students up for the real world; shouldn’t they gain some sense of problem-solving ability to prepare them?

By developing comprehensive thinking skills, students learn problem-solving not just by answering questions on a test; they can apply these thinking skills outside of the classroom in real-world situations.

In helping students develop thinking skills, mimicking the real world is an effective way to place them in problem-solving situations.

Brain Based Learning - give students the freedom to learn

Use the six D's framework to develop solutions

Giving students the freedom to learn, rather than a hyper-structured environment, allows them to encounter more problems and make more mistakes that can then be solved with thinking skills. 

Peer collaboration and engaging the social brain is another way: what happens when a team works together to solve a problem?

In developing solutions, students should pay attention to the 6 D’s framework to solve a problem:

Define the driving question or problem.

Discover all aspects of the problem. What is the scope, nature and subject of the problem?

Dream the approach to the solution. Brainstorming to imagine the problem being solved quickly and in the best way drives solution-making.

Design the solution. By creating an instruction manual on how to solve the problem, students can access step-by-step thinking.

Deliver the solution in a practical application. If the solution doesn’t work, try again.

Debrief and review the outcome of the problem to learn from the experience.

Developing thinking skills is essential to student development and their brain. The brain has muscles that need to be exercised or they’ll lose it. 

As older students are closer to the real world, making sure students can comprehend, problem-solving is critical to both their classroom and real-life success.

Nerdy X-tra Stuff

The science behind brain based learning - Hey, you can skip this bit . . .

Much of what we know about the human brain and its functions has only been developed within the past fifty years. 

The left brain / right brain theory, in which the left brain is analytical and logical, while the right brain is visual and intuitive, was not developed until the 1960s and is still being researched today. 

In a 1990 book by Paul MacLean, the upper brain is supposed to be responsible for sophisticated thinking. Many conclusive research efforts in the 20th century have since been debunked, especially in the treatment of mental disorders and brain health.

The science behind brain based learning

The brain is something that everyone has – but there is only so much we know about it.

However, what we do know about the brain and its functions is extremely helpful in developing strategies such as brain based learning. Since the 1990s, educators have become increasingly involved in applying neuroscience to how their students learn in the classroom.

In explaining brain based learning, it is important to know the definitions of the three stems that are involved in how brain based learning works:

Psychology: the scientific study of the conscious mind and behaviour.

Technology: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry (such as education).

Neurology: the branch of medicine dealing with the nervous system, including the brain.

When psychology, technology and neurology combine, brain based learning is created. 

The strategy utilises knowledge of how our brains work both functionally and behaviourally with modern educational technology to develop a truly 21st-century technique of creating student success. 

brain neurons

Throughout our lives - neurogenesis is occurring

The production of neurons in the brain by neural stem cells to replenish and repair our brains.  Neurogenesis occurs long into adulthood, especially in the hippocampus and amygdala, thus meaning our brains are developing throughout our lives. Having a healthy brain with proper neurogenesis can actually be a preventative factor in Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Because our brain is changing throughout our lifetime, “brain plasticity” is a recent discovery in neuroscience. The brain’s “plastic” ability to adapt and change overtime differentiates it from many organs in the human body. This change is typically the result of events in our lives that impact our synapses and neurons. Brain plasticity can even cause weakening of certain traits and strengthening of others.

Knowing the age and maturity levels of the students you are teaching is essential to tapping into these changes. An elementary student is going to react differently to how lessons are taught than an adult learner. Information being presented will be absorbed and processed differently as it is taught in different ways to different people.

BBL 11 - Mirror Neurons

Mirror Neurons

When we carry out an action and then observe that same action, groups of neurons in our brain are firing left and right. 

These neurons are called mirror neurons, and they are closely linked to empathy and language. 

This means, in part, those mirror neurons are especially used when humans perceive facial and emotional expressions, including actions linked to emotion.

When mirror neurons fire, the same action is repeated in the observer of the action. For example, if one person smiles and laughs, the observer of that person is likely to smile and laugh too. As creatures of habit, mirror neurons help humans be social and interact with one another. Mirror neurons create empathy and understanding among humans, making them crucial to the learning experience for students.

BBL 11 - Emotions and learning

Teaching students to use their emotions

We’ve already covered that eliciting emotions is an effective method of teaching information to students. 

But how can students be taught to use their emotions that the educator has elicited to their advantage? 

The answer is in learning to control emotions; how to harness them and effectively utilise emotions.

“Controlling emotions” often refers to keeping strong feelings at bay to not interact with the learning process. But what happens when educators teach students to be conscious of their emotions and take advantage of what they’re feeling? 

An obvious answer to this is by teaching coping skills to deal with negative emotions, such as sadness and stress, so students can recover and continue to learn. 

By creating healthy learning environments, students experience less stress and can learn how to manage these negative emotions in a safe space. 

But when it comes to positive emotions, there is more to being happy than just enjoying the moment. 

Students should be taught that when they are happy and alleviated from negative emotions, they should try to learn a new topic. Since learning is ingrained in the brain more easily when strong emotions are present, associating learning with a happy emotion makes students more likely to enjoy learning that information.

By utilising emotions to human advantage, students can learn not just how to control their emotions, but how to capitalise off of positive emotion. Eliciting emotions is just as important as presenting lesson information.

BBL 11 - Dyslexia, ADHD & other learning disorders

Learning disorders

Most learning disorders become present in humans during childhood – but can last a lifetime. Thankfully, recent developments have unveiled advances in learning disorders, from discovering disorders to knowing how to treat them more effectively. 

Students with dyslexia, ADHD, ADD, and other learning disorders often struggle in the classroom more than their peers. 

It is important to note that their brains do not work in the same way, and thus these students must have their needs addressed differently.

Thankfully, these recent developments have also taught us how educators should handle learning disorders in the classroom. Personalised support can help a student live to their full potential, such as special education or therapy. 

Neuro-educational tools and technology can assist students with disorders such as dyslexia to improve their comprehension of learning material.

Genetics are the basis for our abilities and potential

Genetics

The growing developments in psychology have not dismissed one of the age-old questions of the field: is nature or nurture more influential to human development? 

While older answers leaned one way or another, most experts today say that both are equally important. Experience in our lives influences us just as much as genetics; we develop from both branches.

Genetics is the basis for our abilities and potential. They determine many of our physical traits and set a standard for what we can achieve. 

However, experience throughout our lives interacts and reacts with these genetics. Experience can exemplify certain genetics and subdue others. We become equally the traits of our parents, as well as our own personal experiences.

The term “nature versus nurture” has been around since the Elizabethan period. However, it has only been in the last 25 years that conclusive efforts have been made supporting both hypotheses.

Conclusion

Mrs Jones in awe at the change in Sophia

Many of the students were now able to handle homework easily with little or no challenges. How they interacted with each other had greatly changed, a kind of respect that had not been witnessed before, was manifesting itself. 

Throughout the week, the students had noticed how the teachers had begun a different approach in instruction giving. 

They were interactive, and there were more practical lessons where they were expected to participate as each individual made a presentation of some sort. The majority of the students mainly looked forward to their E-learning segments.

Others tried different methods of solving conflict, decision making. It was obviously not going to be achieved overnight. Still, they reasoned and appreciated that if these trends were kept up, they would be lawyers, doctors, and engineers with an absolute difference. 

Sophia was no longer feeling helpless as Mrs Jones took the initiative to advise her on managing her schoolwork without exerting herself too much.

It was working. She had started showing impeccable improvement. School was becoming fun. She was happy.

Brain Based Learning: Does it Work?

Yes, brain based learning really works!

We have posed instances of how teachers can implement brain based learning in the classroom, and the scientific approaches behind how it works. 

By identifying the functions of different parts of the brain, we can address brain based learning from the approach of psychology, technology and neurology. 

However, eagerness around brain based learning can lead to false conclusions. As previously stated, it isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” teaching strategy; instead, it is small ways that educators can change and develop their teaching methods to work closely with the biology of the human brain.

Brain based learning will not improve student performance overnight. It will not drastically affect every struggling students’ grades. 

It will take time, as well as trial and error, to find what strategies and methods work best for certain students and different classroom environments. Some students will react positively to some methods; others will react negatively, or not at all.

Brain based learning has shown positive effects on a diverse variety of students across barriers of race, gender, age, and ability levels. 

In this changing world, with new technology appearing at our fingertips every day, learning has changed, and therefore teaching also must evolve to keep up with this rapid pace of change.

Using fresh teaching approaches based on the functions of something as old as humankind itself – the brain – educators can create timeless teaching techniques that are flexible and adaptive, just as the brain is too.

References

Julie Schoen Reviews my ebook Benefits of Brain Based Learning

The Benefits of Brain Based Learning and Why Every Teacher Needs to Rethink How They Teach, by Julie Schoenpublished on Medium

By keeping The Benefits of Brain Based Learning in your “toolkit”, you commit to the idea that there is a smarter, healthier, more effective way to actually teach the students in your classroom. And, in doing so, your role as a teacher isn’t just relegated to the one-dimensional realm of “giver of information”. Instead, you become an invaluable mentor, someone who your students will remember, and thank, for years to come.

10 Easy Brain Based Learning Strategies to Engage Students

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About the author: 5000 Credits 10000 Credits 15000 Credits 20000 Credits PRO Badge sylvias Visit My Stall
I am a K-12 Australian Teacher, with 25+ years of teaching experience. My Honours research investigated how teachers succeed in teaching English in a TEFL context. Originally from the UK, I lived and worked for 15 years in the Pacific Islands. During that time I was Principal of a school for 5 years, training teachers, teaching a class, and building a school from the ground up. I'm now back in Australia teaching and having fun!
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