Brain Food!

What I read:
Willis, J. (2006)Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning: Insights from a Neurologist and Classroom Teacher.Alexandria, VA:ASDC.

I’ve read lots and lots of articles and books on how our brain works (or doesn’t!) but this one is different! It is written by a classroom teacher who previously practiced as a neurologist!! This powerful blend of neuroscience and education makes for some great reading – the author has a friendly, engaging manner and you don’t need to have a medical degree to understand the text. The pure science is contained in “Gray Matter” sections that give your brain a break but that you can just as easily skim/skip if you want to get to the classroom applications.

Classroom examples of how to enhance brain-functioning are also including. Nothing too earth shattering here but it does give new meaning to “research based.” For example, in Chapter 1 on Memory, Learning, and Test Taking Success (which can be viewed online) the author talks about the need for the brain to have “syn-naps.” This word play on synapse (the gap between nerve endings) is a brain-friendly way to remind teachers that after repeated release of neurotransmitters from a nerve ending (such as in an intense class involving complex material which might take the form of lecture!) the brain quite frankly needs a rest! These breaks are important for retention of information, but they also help to maintain a positive emotional state (no fidgeting!).

I also enjoyed Chapter 3: How Stress and Emotion Affect Learning, particularly the sub-heading “Where did the joy of learning go?” I have a real connection to that this year as my niece has started first grade and I can already see her love of writing change as she has been gifted with a teacher consumed by the need for perfect hand-writing. (More on that on my writing blog!) This chapter has some great connections to the adolescent learner as well – and would be great to share with middle school teachers!!

The last chapter (there are only four) deals with Assessments That Build Dendrites. Again – the strategies aren’t anything new but the connection to how the brain works is powerful and there is a nice section on my favorite subject – rubrics!!

The book also has a nice glossary in the back if you tend to confuse your amygdala with your hippocampus (I don’t of course – I was just looking for a way to get those words in!)

I would recommend this book for anyone looking to build classroom connections to how the brain works. It is a quick and easy read that helps to make some nice connections (with an online study guide from ASCD available as well!))

Google for Educators

I just finished reading Alife Kohn’s new article around research (especially research related to homework) and my musings keep turning into anti-Rush Limbaugh rant. I put down that article and read a great chapter about writing – so while I beat my rant into submission, I wanted to pass along a great resource. I’ll warn that I’m a Google junkie (adore gmail – don’t know how I lived without it – but the new Yahoo! E-mail ain’t too shabby) but I think they’re really going in the right direction with this new site: Not only do they collect some of their better services into one location, they offer instructional examples, and training and certification. I can’t wait to become Google certified! (certifiably Google?)