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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.