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Article of Interest - Education

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Bridges4Kids LogoUsing Brains as a Guide in Class
by Sarah Larson, The Intelligencer, March 31, 2004
For more articles like this visit http://www.bridges4kids.org

 

At Laura Erlauer Myrah's Wisconsin elementary school, teachers don't start class behind their desks.

Instead, they are in their doorways, shaking students' hands and patting their shoulders, chatting about weekends and activities and birthdays.

In the well-to-do Minneapolis suburb of Edina, the high school has pushed back its start time from 7:25 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., based on medical research - and a plea from the Minnesota Medical Association - that showed that teenagers' natural sleep patterns of late-to-bed, late-to-rise make early morning learning nearly impossible.

And in Texas, language teachers at Wichita Falls schools developed new ways to teach vocabulary and language to pre-kindergarten to second-grade students. Five years later, those children outperformed the state average in reading scores by 3 points on state standardized tests.

In all three examples, teachers took what researchers know about how the brain works and applied it to their own classrooms.

On Tuesday, more than 110 area teachers, administrators, social workers and home-schooling parents heard those techniques and more at a conference organized by the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, a regional education agency that works with the county's 13 school districts.

Ted Davis, who organizes the IU's professional development workshops, said the conference grew out of requests from school districts themselves.

"They said to us, 'In order for us to be effective and keep up with the best practices, we need to get information on the cutting-edge brain research into our classrooms," Davis said.


Myrah, the keynote speaker, is intimately familiar with the topic. She wrote the newly published book "The Brain-Compatible Classroom: Using What We Know About Learning to Improve Instruction."

It may seem like a no-brainer, but it actually is a revolutionary concept, Myrah said, because education in this country is not always learner-friendly.

Take most high school classes. Many teachers still rely on straight lecture and written worksheets and tests to impart and assess knowledge, Myrah said.

Yet, research has shown that retention improves the more involved a student is in the learning process. Students remembered only 1 percent of what they saw or did on a worksheet, but 30 percent of what they saw in a physical demonstration and 75 percent of what they did themselves, she said.

Plus, research has shown that the average adult's attention span is only 20 minutes, maximum, and teachers can expect one minute of concentrated attention for every year of a child's age. That means 8-year-olds are with you for eight minutes, she said, and 14-year-olds for about 14.

After that, said presenter Michael Kuczala, forget it.

"The brain is always paying attention," said Kuczala in a workshop on improving learning by incorporating movement into lessons. "Just not always to you."

    

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