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How Your Brain Learns and Remembers © 2014 Diana Hestwood Minneapolis Community & Technical College  What happens inside your brain  Brain-friendly ways.

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Presentation on theme: "How Your Brain Learns and Remembers © 2014 Diana Hestwood Minneapolis Community & Technical College  What happens inside your brain  Brain-friendly ways."— Presentation transcript:

1 How Your Brain Learns and Remembers © 2014 Diana Hestwood Minneapolis Community & Technical College  What happens inside your brain  Brain-friendly ways to learn better  How homework helps your brain  How emotions affect learning and memory Permission granted to individual instructors to use and reproduce for their own classroom.

2 Standing vs. Sitting  8% more oxygen reaches the brain.  20% more norepinephrine (memory “fixative”) is released in the brain.

3 Extremely Complex Topic  Summarize findings that affect our interactions with students in class  How do we apply this information?

4 Assume uninjured, “normal” brain  For students with special needs, see the bibliography for resource books.

5 Part One (1, 0+1, 3-2, I)  What happens inside your brain when you learn something new?

6 This is your brain…  Brain cells are called neurons.  You are born with at least 100 billion neurons.  Dendrites (fibers) grow out of the neurons when you listen to/write about/talk about/ practice something.

7 Inside the human brain  100 billion neurons (brain cells)  Each neuron may have 10,000 connections to other neurons.  A great example of scientific notation: (1 X 10^11) (1 X 10^4) = 1 X 10^__ or one _______________ connections

8 Micrograph of a Single Neuron

9 Learning is natural!  Neurons know how to grow dendrites, just like a stomach knows how to digest food.  Learning = Growth of dendrites.  New dendrites take time to grow; it takes a lot of practice for them to grow.



12 Connections form between neurons.  When two dendrites grow close together, a contact point is formed. A small gap at the contact point is called the synapse.  Messages are sent from one neuron to another as electrical signals travel across the synapse.

13 Neurons have many connections.  A single neuron can have over 10,000 connections. Each connection site on this neuron has been stained yellow.

14 Practice builds strong connections!  Special chemicals called neurotransmitters carry the electrical signals across the synapse.  When you practice something, it gets easier for the signals to cross the synapse. That’s because the contact area becomes wider and more neuro- transmitters are stored there.

15 Practice builds faster connections.  When you practice something, the dendrites grow thicker with a fatty coating of myelin.  The thicker the dendrites, the faster the signals travel. The myelin coating also reduces interference.

16 Myelin increases processing capacity.  Myelin insulation allows neurons to recover faster after signals are sent and get ready to send the next signal more quickly.  Thus, myelin gives brain cells the equivalent of “greater bandwidth” and increases their processing capacity by 3000 percent.


18 Practice builds double connections.  With enough practice, the dendrites build a double connection.  Faster, stronger, double connections last a very long time. You remember what you learned!


20 Short-term memory is VERY short!  If you learn something new and do it only once or twice, the dendrite connection is very fragile and can disappear within hours. Within 20 minutes, you remember only 60%. Within 24 hours, you remember only 30%. If you practice within 24 hours, then practice again later, you remember 80%.


22 Make the most of practice time…  You grow dendrites for exactly the same thing you are practicing.  If you listen or watch while math problems are solved, you grow dendrites for listening or for watching.  If you actually solve the problems yourself, you grow dendrites for solving.

23 The dendrites this toddler is growing are for what skill or concept?


25 Take a break… Wish we could bounce around like these two, but since we can’t, let’s do: –10 toe raises –Stretch high –Hang low

26 Part Two (2, II, 1+1, 3-1)  What are the most important points for me to remember?

27 Major Points to Remember, #1  You are naturally smart, because …

28 You are naturally smart, because …  Your brain knows how to grow dendrites just like your stomach knows how to digest food.  Think about a baby who learns to speak in its native language without any special classes or training!

29 Major Point #2  You must do something active (explain, solve, draw, write, etc.) in order to learn, because…

30 You must do something active to learn, because…  Dendrites grow ONLY when you are actively doing something.  No one else can grow dendrites for you!

31 Major Point #3  Dendrites cannot grow in a void. They can only grow …

32 Dendrites cannot grow in a void.  New dendrites can only grow off of what is already there. New skills must connect to, and grow off of, previously learned skills.  If you do not have the necessary dendrites in place, new material will seem to go “right over your head”.  So, start with a math course that matches your skill level.

33 Major Point #4  Dendrites take time to grow, because…

34 Dendrites take time to grow, because…  It takes a lot of practice for dendrites to grow.  This is why you do homework.  This is why trying to cram everything into your brain the night before a test doesn’t work.

35 Major Point #5  Mistakes, with feedback, are essential and good, because…

36 Mistakes are essential, because…  Making mistakes, and getting feedback so you can correct them, allows you to check the accuracy of the connections in your brain.  Be sure to get feedback quickly so you don’t practice the wrong thing and build a strong, but wrong, connection!

37 Major Point #6  Emotions affect learning and memory! Let’s see how it works…

38 What can emotions do to you?  Anxiety floods your body with adrenaline (“fight or flight”).  Adrenaline makes it hard for the neuro- transmitters to carry messages across the synapses in your brain.  That causes “blanking out” on a test.

39 How can emotions help you?  Endorphins make you feel calm.  Your body produces endorphins when you relax, exercise, laugh, or learn new things.  If you practice producing calming hormones, it will help when you are under stress.

40 Learning Something New  When engaged in learning, the brain secretes endorphins! So it feels good to learn!

41 Part Three (3, III, 1+1+1)  So what does all this mean for me?

42 Use dendrite theory to answer these questions…  I understand what’s going on in the lecture just fine. But when I get home and start on the homework assignment, why am I lost?  I attend class and do all the homework and feel like I understand everything. Then why do I just “blank out” on the test and can’t do anything?

43 Can you answer these?  Why should I do all this homework? It’s just the same thing over and over.  I work full time. Can I do homework only on weekends and still pass the course?

44 More questions…  I’ve been absent for a week but there’s a test tomorrow. Can I cram it all in tonight?  Why can’t I take this math course even if I haven’t passed the prerequisite course (or gotten a high enough score on the placement test)?

45 Please form groups of 4 or 5 people. Select a recorder, who will write down: –The group’s name –Which question(s) you are answering –What you would say to a student (who has heard the basic brain information) Select a spokesperson to make a 1-minute report to the whole group. Select a timer; finish work in 10 minutes.

46 So what should you do?  Start with the right math course; the skills build from one course to the next. Take the rest of your math courses one at a time, in order.  Do some of the homework as soon as possible after class, before you forget.  Try to practice math every day.  To manage anxiety, learn simple relaxation techniques such as slow, deep breathing.

47 More things you can do…  Make sure you are actively DOING something when you study. Make study cards. Draw pictures or diagrams. Solve lots of problems; check your answers. Check your understanding by explaining how to do a problem to another student. Create a practice test for yourself. Work it in the same amount of time you’ll be given in class.

48 New Vocabulary  neuron  dendrite  synapse  neurotransmitters  myelin  adrenaline  endorphins

49 Enjoy using your brain! The end.

50 Brain-Friendly Teaching Techniques What you do in your classroom DOES make a difference.

51 Someone who teaches math  Is very smart  Is nerdy  Has no social life  Is serious all the time  Has no sense of humor  Doesn’t know how to have fun  Has no fashion sense  Uses a pocket protector

52 Students form an opinion within the first 5 minutes.  My simple, favorite, brain-friendly technique for starting the first class day on a positive note is … (drum roll)

53 Introduce yourself individually to students; shake hands.

54 Why is this brain friendly?  It’s different; the brain pays attention.  It feels good.  It models respectful, cooperative behavior and risk taking.

55 Brains hate B.O.  Boring  Ordinary

56 Paying attention…  After 8-10 minutes of similarity, the brain stops paying attention and goes on autopilot.  Make some change in the environment to alert the brain’s “secretary,” the reticular activating system.

57 The reticular activating system is responsible for:  Attention; it screens out the routine stuff.  Arousal; change is noted and the brain is alerted to begin thinking again.

58 The change in environment can be small.  Turn off the PowerPoint.  Include an unexpected slide.  Move to a different place in the room before continuing your lecture.  Ask students to stand up for a minute and hand in papers, do ten toe raises, etc.

59 Students make and use a crib card on tests.  3x5 card, both sides, in own handwriting  Special arrangements for students with physical disabilities  Use class time to work on first one; show examples of good cards  Turn in card with test; spot check and return to students

60 Allow students to rework test errors for half credit  Select multi-step problems.  Students must recopy problem and show all solution steps.  Use some class time to get started.  Earn back half of lost points; maximum of 25 of 100-point test.  Did not artificially raise course grades.

61 Did this solve all of my teaching problems? NOOOO… but it sure helped!

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