Creates and maintains school-wide and classroom environments that are safe, stable, and empowering.
One of the final tasks we were asked to engage in to round-off our Human Development class was really quite simple; it was the re-taking of a “Neuromyths” quiz as a means to jump start our thinking about from where we came, in terms of background knowledge of everything related to the brain and learning, to where we traveled in just nine short weeks. Perfect, I thought. I have an opportunity to redeem my miserable pittance of a score; dare I admit to receiving an initial score of 16 out of 32 correct answers on my first go? Rookie mistakes they were, every last one of them. Imagine my surprise when after nine weeks of intensive reading, pondering and writing about everything related to brain-based research possible, that my score crept up a mere four points. Four points! Clearly some thoughtful self-analysis of what I’ve learned and what is still a bit murky for me in the realm of neuroscience is in order.
Myths I busted!
While I didn’t successfully bust all of the myths in the neuromyth quiz, I was able to bust five. As an educator, perhaps the most significant myth that I have been able to see beyond deals with the idea of hemispheric dominance, in other words, the myth that some of us are “left brained” or “right brained”. This is an excerpt from my Week 2 Discussion response that initially addressed my original misconception:
While Wolfe (2010) confirms that it is true that hemispheric specialization does occur, “…for the most part, the left hemisphere of the brain governs the right side of the body and the right hemisphere governs the left” (p. 45), we are not dominated by either. According to Sara Bernard’s article Neuro Myths: Separating Fact and Fiction in Brain-Based Learning (2010) the confusion between separately function brain hemispheres stems from a misunderstanding of “surgically disconnected” (Myth Busting, para. 2) brains that have been studied by scientists. While certain things like emotions, speech, determining context and even the ability to perceive melodies are hemispherical (Wolfe 2010), the misconception of dominant left or right-brain individuals is clarified by noting “the specialization of each hemisphere develop to their fullest when they are informed by the opposite hemisphere. The two halves of your brain work together in a beautifully coordinated partnership” (Wolfe, 2010, p. 48).
These questions are myths that I was able to successfully bust through taking this course.
- Question 1: We use our brains 24h a day. True
- Question 3: Boys have bigger brains than girls. True
- Question 6: When a brain region is damaged other parts of the brain can take up its function. False
- Question 8: Differences in hemispheric dominance (left brain, right brain) can help explain individual differences amongst learners. False
- Question 28: Short bouts of co-ordination exercises can improve integration of left and right hemispheric brain function. False
Still Neuromyths…or Still Debatable?
While I won’t address each misconception I somehow still held on to, I will take a look at a few items that are still debatable in my mind, but these are still questionable for a good reason. Indeed, perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned during this course is that research into the brain is ongoing and debatable, depending upon who is conducting and/or interpreting the research. What I know today may change tomorrow. The key is being informed and open to a restructuring of what we know to be knowledge.
Question 29 from the neuromyths quiz is a case in point. According to the neuromyths quiz, it is true that “There are sensitive periods in childhood when it’s easier to learn things” yet this assertion is indeed, debatable. In fact, I addressed this point in both my discussion response and blog entry from Week Three of this course. This is an amended excerpt from that entry titled “There’s a Rattle Under the Hood“, posted on January 15, 2013, detailing the continued controversy on this point:
But, I also harbored many misconceptions about the brain and learning. We only use 10% of our brains? Hogwash, according to Sara Bernard’s article Neuro Myths: Separating Fact and Fiction in Brain-Based Learning. The most important learning takes place by the time we are three years old? Another neuro-myth busted by Bernard’s article. We are either left-brained or right-brained learners? This is simply not the case.
Another point of discrepancy, I believe, is Question 19 “Environments that are rich in stimulus improve the brains of pre-school children”. According to the neuromyths quiz, this is a false statement, but according to some brain-based researchers, this is not necessarily correct. This is an excerpt from my blog entry titled “Tools of the Trade” posted January 22, 2013:
Bransford et al. (2008) point out “…the quality of information to which one is exposed and the amount of information one acquires is reflected throughout one’s life in the structure of the brain” (p. 94). This point is support by Hammond et al. (2001) “Reinforcements from the environment and the nature of feedback from significant others can stimulate or undermine great effort” (p. 11). As teachers, we see this every day as we notice the difference that a supportive parent or guardian that takes the time to model and provide appropriate feedback can make to a young learner.
This same blog entry also causes some doubt as to whether Question 13 of the neuromyths quiz is actually false or really a matter of interpretation, “Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (e.g. auditory, visual, kinesthetic)”. According to Hammond et. al. (2001) “Learners have processing differences that influence how they handle visual, aural, or kinesthetic information” (p. 12). While I am open to critiques of Garner’s theory of “multiple intelligences” including visual and kinesthetic are perhaps best described as traits, if one considers the potential that learners process information visual information differently from say auditory, then I believe that the answer could be true. I know that I have a much easier time processing information if I can read it, highlight it, type it…basically anything to do with text-based material. I do not recall aural information as readily because I have not interacted with the ideas in a textual format.
These are the other neuromyths that I scored “incorrectly” on the second time around. As I look back over the questions and my discussion responses and blog entries, I can see where I made some mistakes and where I am still looking at varying research.
- Question 7: The left and right hemispheres of the brain always work together. True
- Question 12: Information is stored in the brain in a network of cells distributed throughout the brain. True
- Question 20: Children are less attentive after consuming sugary drinks and/or snacks. False
- Question 22: Regular drinking of caffeinated drinks reduces alertness. True
- Question 23: Exercises that rehearse co-ordination of motor-perception skills can improve literacy skills. False
- Question 24: Extended rehearsal of some mental processes can change the shape and structure of some parts of the brain. True
Question 5: It has been scientifically proven that fatty acid supplements (omega-3 and omega-6) have a positive affect on academic achievement.
I’m not really sure that I have an explanation for this one (correct the first time, incorrect the second go around) other than I am stubborn in my erroneous belief that fish oil is a good thing. I really think it comes down to a newfound love of preparing and eating fish, so I’m convinced that something that tastes so amazing just must be good on many levels, including the brain. Besides, the fish-oil supplement I take is coconut flavored so that alone is enough to keep my coming back for more.
The projects in this class were numerous, rigorous and relevant. I thoroughly enjoyed reading and preparing for the two Brain Rules presentations that created from John Medina’s book. I think that reading Medina’s Brain Rule #12: Exploration created a strong foundation for my framing of the thinking I’ve engaged in this quarter. Through reading this chapter and preparing my presentation I was able to move from thinking about not only how the physical functioning and structure of the brain influences learning, but really, the idea that humans from the moment of birth are wired to explore, and that exploration is a manifestation of a love of learning. I was able to consider how my practice encourages or dampens students’ natural proclivity for intellectual growth; this chapter provided sustenance for my educator’s soul.
The personal impact that working on my Old/New Rules project had on my growth as a learner was no less profound. It was through the researching, but more importantly, the final structuring on this project that I gained another level of confidence in learning. I was able to let go, just a bit, of my fear that whatever I put together isn’t going to be “good enough”. I was able to go a non-traditional presentation route (I didn’t write a ridiculously too long paper) that forced me to boil my thinking down to the essential important elements of my topic and more importantly, I had to trust that what I created was representative of my effort and thinking. Though seemingly inconsequential, by not writing a research paper and challenging myself to learn a new online web 2.0 application I grew as a learner.
In the End
This is one of the best courses I’ve ever taken both educationally and personally. It was engaging, relevant, rigorous and open to the direction that I wanted to take my learning. I felt supported yet guided and I’ve learned so much even if my neuromyth quiz doesn’t necessarily provide tangible evidence. With a strong base to work from, I’ll keep a close and skeptical eye out for neuromyths that impact education.
Bernard, Sara. (12/01/10). Neuro Myths: Separating Fact and Fiction in Brain-Based Learning. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/neuroscience-brain-based-learning-myth-busting
Bransford, Brown & Cocking. 2008. Mind and Brain. In The Jossey-Bass Reader on the Brain and Learning. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
Darling- Hammond, L., Austin, K., Orcutt, S., & Rosso, Jim. (2001). [Episode#1 Introduction Chapter]. In How people learn: Introduction to learning theories. (pp. 1-22).
Medina, John. 2008. Brain Rules. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.
Rayl, Kim. 2013. EDU 6655 Human Development. Retrieved from https://kimberlyraylbportfolio.wordpress.com/category/edu-6655-human-development/
The Jossey-Bass Reader on the Brain and Learning. (2008). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
Wolfe, P. (2010). Brain Matters (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.