The New Science of Learning. Teachers Build Brains with Neuroscience

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Peter Barnes
Learning Difficulties, Brain Science, Fast ForWord, Learning Capacity, Maths, Podcasts

Teachers do much more than just teach - they build student brains. 

This is the message from Dr Martha Burns, professor of communication sciences and disorders at Northwestern University, in a podcast episode on The Learning Capacity Podcast.

Dr Burns discusses the new science of learning, and how it involves educational neuroscience and understanding individual differences in children. 


"It also involves technology, interaction, game playing, getting to learning a different way, and making it more interactive, more motivating", she says. The new science of learning incorporates all of these disciplines and allows educators to understand every single student and to focus on how each of them learns.

It allows teachers to understand students individually and think about the learning capacity of each student.

In the podcast discussion Dr Burns also covers:

  • What is learned through game playing - it builds the brain's right hemisphere, the source of social skills.
  • Left hemisphere skills - reading, mathematics, geography, all sorts of sciences - these involve symbols.
  • The concept of number (called "number sense") and how symbols are important for this.
  • Education is brain building - it is designed specifically to develop the student's capacity to use symbols. 
  • Students who are struggling to learn - how educational neuroscience can help.
  • Parents who worry much too early about skills that are going to mature later in their children's brains.
  • Brain networks for maths and music.
  • Second language learning.
  • The "how" of teaching & the "what" of teaching
  • The value of practicing what a student has learnt over and over again to get faster, more efficient and more effective at it.
  • The neurochemistry of learning: 
    • Dopamine, the Save button of the brain's computer
    • Acetylcholine, vital for attention
    • Norepinephrine, the novelty brain chemical, which is produced when something is new
  • The importance of stimulating the brain with the kind of information it needs to build itself to do well in the world.
  • How the vocabulary of high school students is almost perfectly correlated with the size of the symbol part of their brains.