Brain-based Research

There’s a reason why Debra Viadero named her article Brain Trust. A trust is designed to keep something of high value safe until its time for use is ready. Much like a trust set up to care for the financial needs of a person, the human brain works in a very similar fashion. The same can be said for David Sousa’s article, Is all the fuss about brain research necessary? The brain is a very mysterious and complex organ that is the root of all we say and do in life. Why let something that accounts for such a large portion of what makes us who we are continue to go undiscovered and remain a mystery? It’s a part of our bodies that we can’t live without, and the more we know, the more we can capitalize on that.

Brain Trust and Is all the fuss about brain research necessary? remind us of a very essential root of education that is often so taken for granted that it becomes overlooked. The brain is the main source of our emotional, psychological, biological, and academic attributes. If you sit and let that sink in for a moment, you’ll realize just how incredible a concept that is. One small, wrinkly little organ that we use everyday is the source of our human essence. It’s what makes us cry at sad movies, discover that we enjoy suspense novels, understand algebra, quicken our heartbeats when danger is near, and perform many of the millions of tasks we do daily without even realizing that we’re doing them. It’s truly a remarkable organ. As educators, we have a great deal to gain from our continued and constant research on the brain and how it functions. As teachers, we are partially responsible for the care of that wrinkly little organ, and the distribution of information to it through our chosen profession.

Viadero reminds us that our brains are constantly working and learning from before we are even born. It makes sense that we should care for and investigate something that we obviously rely so heavily on. Rather than taking a solidly behavioral and psychological approach to learning, Viadero suggests that pure biology, understood through the technological advances that have made it possible to obtain and understand this information, can tell us so much about how we function. For example, the level of glucose in the brain has quite a bit to do with learning potential. The brain uses glucose at each cell connection as a source of energy. By age 4, Chugani found, a child’s brain uses more than twice the glucose that an adult brain uses.

Between ages 4 and 10, the amount of glucose a child’s brain uses remains relatively stable. But at age 10, glucose utilization begins to drop off until it reaches adult rates at age 16 or 17. (Viadero, 1996) This suggests how absolutely important the formative years of a child’s life are. Armed with this knowledge, educators can assist in utilizing these very crucial years to help maximize the potential in every child. Technology will help us understand more about how the brain actually functions so that we can capitalize on that knowledge to build better students. Since technology plays such a very important role in many people’s lives, it only makes sense that the use of technology such as MRI and PET scans will help us to discover more about ourselves. The ultimate irony is that the inventions designed to probe the human brain and discover how it works were invented by just such a brain. Once again, biology and technology work in harmony as a symbiotic relationship.

The absorption of information into the human brain is by no means an easy task, so the job of teaching is therefore very arduous as well. Human beings are like snowflakes; no two are alike. The way that people think, learn, and perceive information is as unique as the individuals themselves. As the world and people change, the teacher’s approach to giving information needs to change too. Sousa states, “what most teachers learned about the brain was based largely on behavioral psychology. In recent years, advancements in neuroscience have produced a wealth of more detailed information about the inner workings of the human brain.” Technology that is fast paced, easy to use, and readily available has drastically cut down on the patience factor of many people, not just students. It makes sense that as the world evolves in this manner, so must we. Education would be at a tremendous loss to ignore this issue. Sousa selects his words very carefully when talking about seizing this opportunity. He states that what we need is a shift in the way educators think about the brain. We shouldn’t consider utilizing technology to improve learning as a chore, we should consider it as a necessary transition following the natural ebb and flow of the journey of life.

As human beings, not just specifically educators, it’s extremely important to continue to investigate what makes us tick. Once we have discovered the many things about our own bodies that make us work, the possibilities are endless.

References

Sousa, David A. Is The Fuss About Brain Research Justified? Education Week,
December 16, 1998. Retrieved online at: http://www.edweek.org/ew/1998/16sousa.h18 on 9/4/03.

Viadero, D. Brain Trust. Education Week, September 8, 1996. Retrieved online at:
http://www.edweek.org/ew/1996/03brain.h16 on 9/4/03.

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