Learning & the Brain Conference
By Minjae Bae, Teacher
Discoveries about how brain development affects learning have much to offer teachers. This February, head teacher Kitti Pecka and I were among the many educators, researchers and clinicians attending a conference on this subject in San Francisco. Public Information Resources Inc. organized this Learning & the Brain conference, which focused on applying brain research to the classroom. The conference offered a plethora of sessions, many featuring respected speakers from the field of brain research.
John Medina, Ph.D., the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University and an affiliate professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine, spoke about how exercise, memory, sleep and stress influence learning. He said that although some stress is good for learning, the more out of control a person feels, the more likely stress will impede learning. Chronic stress will eventually damage the hippocampus (the area of the brain essential for learning and memory), crippling the ability to learn and recall information.
Medina also described the negative impact artificial sweeteners can have on brain function. These cannot be processed by most young children and can cause severe hyperactivity in others.
On the other hand, one positive factor for brain function is movement. Medina has conducted research that indicates that just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise two or three times a week increases executive function (a set of cognitive abilities that manage and regulate such tasks as priority-setting, organization, decision-making and time management) anywhere from 50 percent to 120 percent within four months.
Another presenter was Christine Carter, Ph.D., a sociologist and the executive director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, who spoke about how parents can raise socially and emotionally intelligent children. Emotional
literacy is the ability to be able to read, understand and respond appropriately to personal emotions as well as to the emotions of others. Her research showed that children who are better at regulating their emotions are better at soothing themselves when upset, thereby shortening their experience of negative emotions such as anger and fear. They have fewer infectious illnesses and can better focus their attention on tasks. Emotional literacy fosters resiliency, and these children are better able to relate to people and form stronger friendships. She says, “It is one of the best predictors of school performance and career success, better even than IQ.”
We learned valuable information at the conference. We returned to the classroom grateful to have had the opportunity to expand our knowledge in ways to help families and young children.ways that can help families and young children.