Improving Brain Fitness and Function

Brain fitness and functioning is something we can work on every day through the ways we think, the structures we use to focus, and the kind of thinking we do. Duncan Todd and I had the pleasure of attending a conference in October hosted by the Learning and the Brain organization. We were among hundreds of educators from around the world learning about brain science as it pertains to learning and how this can help us to educate ethical citizens and problem solvers.

Our learning vision of “Deeper In and Further Out” was affirmed in many of the keynote addresses and workshops. Here at HDCH we want our students’ learning to go deeply into meaningful engagement with the content and further out into the community as we build on what it means to love our neighbours in all areas of life and learning. Over and over at the conference speakers spoke about deep learning being connected to purposeful, relevant work in which students are able to make connections across disciplines. They spoke of success and struggle being interwoven; students engage more deeply with work that is challenging as opposed to surface level thinking tasks. Students learn deeply by asking and working on answers to questions that are complex and not ‘google-able.’ As well, many speakers spoke of transformative learning taking place when meaning becomes connected to civic action. Based on what we heard, it was affirming that project based learning is a helpful pedagogy as we continue to push our learning deeper in and further out. Project based learning was widely used by the educators at this conference, and referenced by many speakers as a way to provide deeper learning experiences connected with meaningful tasks and audiences.

The research on brain effectiveness and fitness is vast. Some of the main takeaways we had included ways to improve brain fitness and strategies to help with focus.

Dr. Sandra Chapman is a brain scientist who has focused her research on helping people improve their brain functioning. Through her research she has discovered that our brain fitness is constantly in flux and our habits are either strengthening or weakening our brain’s performance. Studies show that where the blood flows, the brain grows. Certain ways of thinking increase blood flow as discovered through MRIs during brain research. The kinds of thinking that improve brain function and blood flow in the frontal lobe of the brain include: innovative thinking, deep integrative thinking, single tasking, building emotional intelligence, and thinking in which you are intrinsically motivated.

Dr. Chapman also compared our brain’s functioning to a battery. When we sleep our brain gets charged, and each day we choose how we spend the effectiveness of our thinking. When we multitask we burn through our battery of quality thinking much quicker than by single tasking. As it turns out, research also shows that we make more mistakes when multitasking and often take longer to complete tasks than if we’d single tasked them. The quantity of information we take in each day is another factor in our brain effectiveness battery. The act of evaluating and sorting information – say reading a twitter feed and deciding which articles to click on – uses brain power similar to the act of focussing on and reading the article itself.

Duncan and I will be discussing this topic further and in more detail at the upcoming “Voice” conversation following the Membership Meeting tonight (Monday, May 1) starting at 7:30pm. Come on out to learn more about the connections between learning and our brains.

Christy Bloemendal