Learning on Our Minds: Brain Based Classroom applications


brain based learning

Brain-based learning theory is guided by the assumption that “research in neuroscience should guide learning and assessment.” (Gulpinar, 2005) Much of brain-based learning (or BBL) theory stresses the importance of environment and learning climate and engaging students by reducing stress and getting them to a state of “relaxed alertness.” Here is where you can find our overview of brain-based learning theory.

According to Dr. Leslie Wilson who taught graduate courses on BBL for many years at University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, not all teachers are graduating with a knowledge of BBL theory or how to implement it. Wilson says that the U.S. K-12 educational system has remained relatively unchanged since the 1890s, with little of the newest research on BBL being implemented across a wide swath.  Here are Dr. Wilson’s tips for optimizing learning.

So, how does a teacher, with no BBL training implement some of the practices in his or her classroom? Dave Lockett, the principal of the Jefferson School for the Arts, a charter school that integrates the arts into the learning of all subjects (check out this YouTube video about the school), says that many of the classroom practices developed since the school became a charter school six years ago are based on brain-based learning theory.

Creating a Learning Environment

Lockett says that the incorporation of music into classroom activities is one way to activate the brain. Research has shown that humans physiologically react to music with heartbeats matching the tempo of music. (That’s probably why it’s easier to workout to Lady Gaga than Kenny G!) For a revved up classroom with a lot of participation, look for music at about 180 beats per minute. For a more calming effect, choose music with 90-100 beats per minute.

Other atmosphere considerations can include temperature, lights (for example, blinking lights hanging around a classroom can be distracting) and students’ hydration. Wilson says, “Water is the best neural conductor and that in order to have those neurons firing properly students need to be well hydrated. Water fountains are now placed in many elementary class rooms. Older students are allowed to bring water to class. Denying kids access to fountains and water used to be the rule, and machines dispensed sugary drinks – no more!”

Learning by Teaching

Another way to incorporate BBL into the classroom is to have students engage with and teach each other new concepts rather than sitting in their desks listening to a teacher drone on and on. Lockett says that in Jefferson’s classrooms, students are often asked to discuss a question/concept with a partner before the teacher asks who knows the answer. He says after a bit of discussion, the number of students willing to participate and answer questions increases from 30 percent to about 80 percent. Students also do better on tests when they have learned by quizzing each other on the subject matter.

Taking a Brain Break

One final tip for incorporating BBL into the classroom is the importance of “settling time.” Brains need breaks in order to incorporate information learned and connect the neural networks. Much of this is done during REM sleep, however with the disturbing trend of schools reducing or eliminating music, art, P.E., and recess, children are getting far less settling time than they did in the past. The decrease in these activities is often due to regulations that force instructors to teach English, math, science, social studies, etc., for so many minutes per day that they simply don’t have time for the other subjects anymore. Many of these changes came on the heels of the No Child Left Behind Act, but Lockett predicts that educating without settling time will cause test scores to drop.

A key principle to remember is that students should always be engaged in their education. No one ever learned anything sitting at a desk, staring into space. Variety and student involvement are necessary for maximum learning.

Additional sources:

Gulpinar, M.A. (2005). The principles of brain-based learning and constructivist models in education. Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice, 5(2), pp. 299-306


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Emily Vietti


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