Taken from: Currents (vol. 11, issue 1, September 2005)
This summer, two Junior School teachers attended the Michael Gurian Institute for a workshop entitled "Boys and Girls Learn Differently!" with fifty other teachers from around the nation and abroad. For four days, they focused on studies of the brain as it relates to teaching and learning. Returning to campus, they summarized these pointers to share with colleagues. We thought parents might be interested, too!
From teachers Mark Eliashof (6th grade) and Max Nu’uhiwa (3rd grade):
The following list of facts about the human brain comes from what Mike Gurian calls "nature-based theory" about learning. According to Gurian, we need to pay attention to the biology of brain development and acknowledge human nature when setting up a learning environment.
- A typical toast and cereal breakfast, loaded with carbs, can make a child’s brain groggy and make it difficult to focus. A higher protein, lower carb diet promotes learning.
- When a student is under stress, the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, increases in the brain. Cortisol interferes with learning. For example, if children fight with their parents before school, causing stress, cortisol may interfere with that student’s learning at school. How do girls typically deal with this stress? Being more verbal, girls tend to use their words by talking with friends. How about boys? They typically need physical activity to reduce cortisol levels.
- During middle school years, when boys are lower in the social pecking order, stress hormones go up and learning goes down. As teachers and parents, we need to identify such children to help them reduce their stress levels and improve their learning.
- Is too much TV bad? According to research, for every hour of TV a child between the ages of 1 and 3 watches daily, the risk of an attention disorder by age 7 increases 10%. This is not because of the content, but because of the unrealistically fast pace of the visual images on TV which may alter brain development.
- During elementary school, boys are more interested in objects and things, girls in people and relationships. Boys tend to build high towers and then knock them down, girls build low and expansive. What about their stories? For boys, they involve excitement and action, with little concern for victims. For girls, they involve human dynamics and concern for victims.
- The average attention span of a person under the best conditions is seven minutes! Attention is regulated by the hippocampus of the brain, which acts like an executive secretary, sorting and filing information.
- The hippocampus gets overwhelmed easily, so there is the need to focus/break/focus/break, so the hippocampus can rejuvenate.
- To help children pay attention to the things we want them to learn, we need to provide their brains with “brain breaks.” These can be short activities, providing novelty, that allow the brain to shift gears and refocus on learning when the break is over.