Applying Brain-Based Learning Information to the Digital Classroom

Applying Brain-Based Learning Information to the Digital Classroom


Upon doing my research I have come across multiple sources that use the same concepts to describe what brain-based learning is and how it can be used. Light will be shone on these areas, then we will depict on how to apply these notions in the digital classroom.

Definition of brain-based learning:

Basically it is instruction based on research that has been done in the field of neuroscience that relates to how are brain learns naturally. This idea is in conjunction with what we know about brain structure and function during our development throughout life.

This way we can construct a biological framework that will explain behaviours that repeat. This type of learning focuses on making connections with real life experiences. There are some educational concepts that are reoccurring in the current research I have studied that encompass this type of learning and the go as follows:

  • mastery learning,
  • learning styles,
  • multiple intelligences,
  • cooperative learning,
  • practical simulations,
  • experiential learning,
  • problem-based learning,
  • movement education.


Also there are some corresponding principles that occur and they go as follows:

1. The brain is a parallel processor. It can perform several activities at once.

2. The brain perceives whole and parts simultaneously.

3. Information is stored in multiple areas of the brain and is retrieved through multiple

memory and neural pathways.

4. Learning engages the whole body. All learning is mind-body: movement, foods, attention

cycles, and chemicals modulate learning.

5. Humans’ search for meaning is innate.

6. The search for meaning comes through patterning.

7. Emotions are critical to patterning, and drive our attention, meaning and memory.

8. Meaning is more important than just information.

9. Learning involves focused attention and peripheral perception.

10. We have two types of memory: spatial and rote.

11. We understand best when facts are embedded in natural spatial memory.

12. The brain is social. It develops better in concert with other brains.

13. Complex learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by stress.

14. Every brain in uniquely organized.

15. Learning is developmental. (Caine)



There are also three established techniques involved with brain-based learning that have evolved from the above principles and they go as follows:

  • Orchestrated immersion: Learning environments are created that immerse students in

a learning experience. Primary teachers build a rainforest in the classroom complete with

stuffed animals and cardboard and paper trees that reach to the ceiling. Intermediate

teachers take students to a school forest to explore and identify animal tracks in the snow

and complete orienteering experiences with a compass. Junior high teachers take a field

trip to an insurance company to have students shadow an employee all day. High school

teachers of astronomy have students experience weightlessness by scuba diving in the

swimming pool.

  • Relaxed alertness: An effort is made to eliminate fear while maintaining a highly

challenging environment. Teachers play classical music when appropriate to set a

relaxed tone in the classroom. Bright lights are dimmed. Vanilla candles are used to calm

students and peppermint scents are used to stimulate the senses. All students are

accepted with their various learning styles, capabilities and disabilities. A relaxed

accepting environment pervades the room. Children are stretched to maximize their


  • Active processing: The learner consolidates and internalizes information by actively

processing it. Information is connected to prior learning. The stage is set before a unit of

study is begun by the teacher preparing the students to attach new information to prior

knowledge so the new information has something to “latch onto.” (Jensen, Caine)


Now we have the foundation on what the current research says about brain-based learning, it is now time to apply this knowledge to the digital classroom. Oddly enough there are 12 guiding lesson design principles that take all of the above information into account. I will use each step and relate it to how I would use it a digital class format.

Principle 1.

  • Rich, stimulating environments using student created materials and products are evident on bulletin boards and display areas.

Applying this principle to a digital classroom could be as simple as designing a web page for the class that was created with the help of the students in a group work scenario.

Principle 2 and 3

  • Places for group learning like tables and desks grouped together, to stimulate social skills and cooperative work groups.  Have comfortable furniture and couches available for casual discussion areas. Carpeted and areas with large pillows who prefer not the work at a desk or table.
  • Link indoor and outdoor spaces so students can move about using their motor cortex for more brain oxygenation.

With a digital class you could make use of laptops or any mobile device and continue with group learning in a comfortable environment. You could use this opportunity to maybe go on a field trip. Each student having a mobile device (smart phone, table, and laptop) would make the project very feasible. This would be great for a museum trip, have a specific task for the students and have them actually work together and do the project in the museum via the mobile devices in the comfortable areas provided. You could make it like a scavenger hunt of sorts using clues within and outside the museum.

Principle 4:

  • Safe places for students to be where threat is reduced, particularly in large urban settings.

In the digital classroom this just comes down to providing a classroom environment where safety is the first priority. Establishing rules where bullying in either physical or cyber form will not be tolerated in any shape or form. Create a family environment.

Principle 5:

  • Variety of places that provide different lighting, and nooks and crannies.  Many elementary children prefer the floor and under tables to work with a partner.

Make use of your school grounds, have your students utilize every area that is permissible by administration. Having portable devices will make your classroom be one of your choice. Good weather, go outside!

Principle 6:

  • Change displays in the classroom regularly to provide a stimulating situations for brain development.  Have students create stage sets where they can act out scenes from their readings or demonstrate a science principle or act out a dialogue between historical figures.

For the digital classroom this can go back to the class web page (schoology/blackboard). Have the boys be able to create the background, choosing their favourite sports teams could be an example. The next week have the girls change it again; you could use groups as well.

Principle 7:

  • Have multiple resources available.  Provide educational, physical and a variety of setting within the classroom so that learning activities can be integrated easily.  Computers areas, wet areas, experimental science areas should be in close proximity to one another.  Multiple functions of learning is our goal.

This can be related to using different types of programs for your student’s projects. Do not only use Microsoft word; use a multiple of different resource like piktochart, moviemaker, or different mind mapping tools. There are countless choices available.

Principle 8:

  • Flexibility: This common principle of the past is relevant.  The teachable moment must be recognized and capitalized upon. Dimensions of flexibility are evident in other principles.

In the digital classroom flexibility can be just as simple as being open minded to what students really want to learn. This is an essential focal point of brain-based learning; a student’s input and experience is a necessary element for this approach.

Principle 9:

  • Active and passive places: Students need quiet areas for reflection and retreat from others to use intrapersonal intelligences.

In the digital classroom for a group project this would be a time for self and peer evaluation. Have the students go to a quiet area with their mobile devices and have them self-evaluate their performance as well as the others in their group. As a teacher you would need to create the proper digital forms necessary. Also, make sure every student has a portfolio in which to put these evals digitally.

Principle 10:

  • Personal space: Students need a home base, a desk, a locker area.  All this allows learners to express their unique identity.

In a digital class room that provides tablets or laptops make sure they have their own. Or when using the class software make it so they can personalize their own avatar.

Principle 11:

  • The community at large as an optimal learning environment: Teachers need to find ways to fully use city space and natural space to use as a primary learning setting.  Technology, distance learning, community and business partnerships, all need to be explored by educational institutions.

Have your class collaborate with another digital class for a group work project. This should be done more than once because of the ease at which this can be achieved.

Principle 12:

  • Enrichment: The brain can grow new connections at any age.  Challenging, complex experiences with appropriate feedback are best. Cognitive skills develop better with music and motor skills. (D’Arcangelo)

Have a chess tournament going with in the class when spare time is available. After a game have them evaluate their and each others performance. There are a multitude of sites that can provide this platform.


The digital class is one that is opening the world to the students. Combining brain-based learning with digital capabilities is an exciting frontier. I really enjoyed applying brain-based learning techniques to the digital classroom. There are so many possibilities.





Planning a Learning Unit for Four Different Levels of English Language Learners (ELLs) In One Class

Next semester I will be teaching a fourth grade unit on short stories and within my class of English Language Learners (ELLs) there will be a variety of ability. ELL’s abilities can be defined by using the “6 stages of language acquisition.” My classroom structure is immersion based and the level of my students is quite high. As a result of this we will be talking about the last four stages on the language acquisition scale. My unit objectives will focus on vocabulary building, reading strategies, and styles of literature.

My lowest level student is in the stage known as “speech emergent”. She has around a 3,000 word vocabulary, can speak in simple sentences and write brief stories on personal experience. Upon reading the various short stories I like to implement a strategy know as guided interaction. ( I will lead the conversation by asking questions in an ordered discussion forum.(turn by rotation) For my lower level students I will simplify my questions when it is their turn. An example I would use for this situation would be to ask “Which short story did you like best?’ It keeps them involved in the discussion and it is within their ability. Another example could be, “Who was the author of the detective story?”

The next student is a “beginning fluency” stage ELL, which means they can deal in social situations with minimal errors. For this student I will increase the difficulty level of the question when it is their turn and ask them something similar to this: “What is your favorite story and why did you like it better than the others.” This situation will still be utilizing the guided interaction strategy.

My next student is an “intermediate fluency” stage ELL, which means they can communicate fluently but are confused by certain unknown expressions and have a vocabulary of around 6,000 words. While still implementing the guided interaction I would ask them to talk about the detective story we read and give there definition of what a detective is and does. This will also help reinforce the lesson objective of vocabulary acquisition.

My final student is an “advanced fluency” stage ELL, which means they are near-native in their abilities. For this part of the lesson I will concentrate on the objective of reading strategies and implement another teaching strategy know as explicit instruction. (Effective Instructional Strategies for English Language Learners in Mainstream Classroom, by Susan Wallace)Here I will instruct the class to write another ending to the detective story while working in pairs. I will purposefully pair students of lower ability with ones of higher. I will reinforce the style of literature being developed and also reinforce the use of creative vocabulary. I will start the readings of the different endings with my pre-selected pair of the speech emergent and advanced fluency ELLs. Each will read a sentence at a time helping with the atmosphere of inclusion.

Effective Instructional Strategies for English Language Learners in Mainstream Classroom, by Susan Wallace


Special Education Referral Process in Ontario, Canada

To get this information I interviewed a special education teacher that has also worked in the field as an administrator and homeroom teacher for the Lanark Board of Education.

Questions to people responsible for special education referrals.

  • Question #1 – How is a student identified for special education referral?

For a student to be identified for a special education referral there are a couple of requirements that need to be satisfied. Either a teacher or a parent can start this process. A teacher can reflect on past tests, daily reports, and the overall behaviour of the student in question. If there are definite short comings that are causing the student to regress or become stagnant a referral can be made. If a parent has concern about their child they can write a signed letter that will begin the referral process.

  • Question #2 – Who takes responsibility for the progress of the child before and after the referral?

Before a referral is even made collaboration between the special education teacher, the homeroom teacher and parents are present. This is to ensure that a referral is necessary or not.

After a referral has been made there is a very specific process that follows. The people involved are: principle or vice principle, special education teacher, homeroom teacher, psychologist, and parents. Also, I was informed that if some students have the proper maturity levels they are permitted to take part in these recorded and documented meetings.

  • Question #3 – What is the school administration’s directive for special education?

Referred students that have yet to be identified are in collaboration with either a vice principle or principle. They will be in contact with the students, teachers and parents throughout the entire process. They are also a part of the IEP construction. Generally there are meeting once a year that the vice principle or principle attend to see if the IEP goals are being met, but if there are noticeable problems these meetings can occur as much as three times a year for an individual student.  The administration level is very involved with special education referrals, identifications and follow ups.

  • Question #4 – What provisions are made for students identified for special education?

First, Lanark county students that have been identified as special needs students are qualified to receive a laptop that will stay with them until they finish high school. Second, if they have problems writing they have the option for an oral test. Third, they will be accommodated with an E.A. (educational assistant) that will assist them within the classroom environment. In some cases they are also allotted time outside the classroom for one on one teaching. Fourth, if they have trouble writing they can have the opportunity to use a scribe. Fifth, calculators maybe permitted if a specific disability is present. This is just a small list of available provisions because with laptop capabilities there are many new software programs that are being developed specifically to help students with special needs.

  • Question #5 – What is the level of parent involvement in referral process and special education?

My interviewee said that it is a high level of involvement that is necessary and required for the process to run optimally.  While going through the identification process there will be recorded and documented meetings with required attendance. He also said at these meeting there can be outside sources present as well. An example of this was something referred to as Open-door councillors, which are present if a student has been physically abused, also child welfare services will be present if they are associated with the student. Any outside sources are present during this process.

Question for a homeroom teacher.

  • Question #1 – How do you identify a student for special education?

Most of this has been covered in previous questions but there was more information given about the process I would like to address here. Once a student has been identified for a referral there will be a number of tests given outside the classroom to help with identification process. Some of the academic tests mentioned were the WRAT test (wide range achievement test), the Key math test, and the Woodcock reading comprehension assessment test. An education psychologist will administer tests of this nature to aid in the specific identification of the special need at hand.  He also mentioned that just by looking at test scores you can do a personal evaluation and recommendation if the student is achieving at grade levels below the norm. Once a student has been identified it is imperative that IEPs are followed, and this is something he stressed because some students have IEPs that are not identified.

  • Question #2 – What are the signs of a struggling student?

Any recorded achievement levels that have been documented are usually the first sign, also tiredness, not being active and behaviour patterns with other children on the playground and in the classroom. One thing he did say to be careful about is to make sure that a student is not just being lazy; this can cause a lot of unwanted paper work, time, and cause problems with teacher-parent relations.


  • Question #3 – Are there alternate methods of instruction tried out before referring the student for special education? If yes, what are they?

In the master’s program I am currently taking I learned about RTI levels and modifications that are made before the referral. This is something that has not yet been implemented in the in the Ontario educational system. So these answers are a bit more general than an American teacher would respond.  Seat positions were one simple way to help a student, bring them closer to the front so there will be fewer distractions. Have them sit beside a gifted student, and also communicate with the parents where their student is having difficulties and provide extra work accordingly.



I think any type of assistance that is designed to help a student progress with their schooling is one that is necessary for our educational systems.  The issue is how to implement them in the most optimal way. I like how referrals in Ontario are being made but there is definite room for improvement. We need to look at how Finland is using special education in their system. It is a structure that relies on identifying as early as possible. In Ontario I feel that valuable time is being lost due to the fact that recognition and referral occur when the problem has become far to evident. I also like how the American system uses different levels or RTI for the referral process. I can see though how time can be lost in this evaluation as well. Time is of the essence when it comes to providing proper education for students with special needs. We need special education teachers from around the world to collaborate and design a program that would be optimal for all. I think opinions and structures from across the globe all have insights that can help attain this goal.