Essential question: What is brain-based learning and how can it inform problem based learning and differentiation?
According to Jensen (2009), geneticists say that up to 30-50% of behavior in an individual can be explained by genetics. This leaves 50-70% that is explained by environment. Children in poverty are especially susceptible to adverse environmental circumstances. A nice acronym to remember risk factors affecting those children in poverty is EACH:
So how can we help all students?
"Brain-Based Education is the purposeful engagement of strategies that apply to how our brain works in the context of education."-Eric Jensen
Brain-based learning is quite complex. Our brains work in such a fascinating way, and no 2 people will react to the same situation in the same way. So how can teachers use this information in their classroom? Some things we cannot change, but there are things we can do to try to help. Jensen (2009) suggests the following:
This made a lot of sense but my next question became what does this look like in a classroom?
I found a great article titled Energy and Calm: Change It Up and Calm It Down! by Desautels (2016). She explains that our brains are wired to put survival above all, including learning. This makes total sense as you have to be alive to actually learn. She says "research repeatedly shows that quieting our minds ignites our parasympathetic nervous system, reducing heart rate and blood pressure while enhancing our coping strategies to effectively handle the day-to-day challenges that keep coming." So how do we do this? Either through quieting strategies (Controlling breathing, closing our eyes and using other senses to feel an object, visualization, or listening to sound) or brain breaks (these are times where no new learning should take place). Our brains need breaks and this is a key aspect of brain-based learning.
What else can we do in our classrooms?
Teaching social and emotional skills can also be key. According to Weissberg (2016), "social and emotional learning (SEL) provides a foundation for safe and positive learning, and enhances students' ability to succeed in school, careers, and life." Not all students come to school knowing how to interact with others. This means as teachers we need to give them skills so group work and classroom interactions will be positive. This is huge will PBL because the whole idea is that collaboration must take place. If students don't have the skills to collaborate then PBL will not be successful. There are also many other benefits that Weissberg outlines:
So all of this is great but none of it relates to content that needs to be taught. In 4 Ways to Promote Growth Mindset in Project-Based Learning Parsons (2016) discusses how we might change our perceptions as teachers and in turn create an environment where students thrive. There are 2 types of mindsets: fixed mindset and growth mindset. In a fixed mindset students give up easily and don't take on challenges. Growth mindset promotes the opposite. Below is a great image from Parsons article.
So what are the 4 ways to promote growth mindset?
Desautels, L. (2016, February 23). Energy and Calm: Change It Up and Calm It Down! Retrieved March 11, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org
Jensen, Eric. Teaching with Poverty in Mind : What Being Poor Does to Kids' Brains and What Schools Can Do About It. Alexandria, VA, USA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development (ASCD), 2009. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 8 March 2016.
Jensen, Eric. Teaching with the Brain in Mind (2nd Edition). Alexandria, VA, USA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development (ASCD), 2005. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 8 March 2016.
Parsons, C. M. (2016, March 03). 4 Ways to Promote Growth Mindset in Project-Based Learning. Retrieved March 11, 2016, from http://gettingsmart.com
Weissberg, R. (2016, February 15). Why Social and Emotional Learning Is Essential for Students. Retrieved March 11, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org