Neuron-O-Bot says....

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1 Learning becomes more meaningful when students can apply what they learn in one area to another area. The units follow a storyline and an integrated approach is used to help students make connections in their learning. Integrated thematic learning helps the brain organize thoughts, information, and experiences.
“ The enormous size and strict separation of secondary curriculum areas do little to help students find time to make relevant connections between and among subjects. Helping students to make connections between subject areas by integrating the curriculum increases meaning and retention, especially when students recognize a future use for the new learning.” (Sousa, 2006)
2 The brain is always attending to something but not necessarily to what we are teaching and, if students are not attending and are not engaged, learning will not occur. The brain attends to that which is new, unexpected, or emotional. The opening to this unit uses novelty to draw student attention to the objectives of the unit. The use of sound, visuals, and movement also encourage students to attend. See more information on the importance of novelty by going to the following links:
3 Sharing the project requirements, guideline, and scoring rubric in advance helps students know what will be expected of them. This reduces stress and confusion and allows them to self-assess their progress toward goals. “Preparing, distributing, and discussing written rubrics can incorporate the brain-friendly process of patterning and goal-directed learning.” (Willis, 2010)
4 The anticipation guide is used at the beginning of this lesson to activate prior knowledge about robots. This tool is often used before reading assignments but it can be just as effective at the beginning of a new unit of study. It helps students make connections to what is known and it helps teachers assess where their students are in their understanding of a new topic. The brain learns best when new information is connected to that which is familiar or known.
5 Many of the lessons open or close with a review activity. The brain can hold small amounts of information in working memory but it will soon be forgotten unless we do something to commit it to long-term memory. Review is an excellent way to strengthen long-term memory networks. Varying the way review is done adds interest and addresses different learning styles.
“...auditory and visual rehearsal occurring during learning increase working memory’s interactions with long term memory, raising the probability it will be stored. There is almost no long-term retention of cognitive concepts without rehearsal.” (Sousa, 2006) If information is not stored in long term memory, it cannot be recalled for future use.
6 Think-Pair-Share gives students time to think about their learning and compare their understanding with a partner. This reduces the stress students often feel when called upon for a quick answer in front of the class. When students are under stress the emotional area of the brain blocks further learning. Think-Pair-Share also helps students consolidate and rehearse their learning making it more likely to be stored in long term memory.
7 Learning logs and journals are used throughout the units to help students think about what they have learned. These writings help students organize their learning, review concepts, and identify gaps in understanding. (#3- Memory is Not Static)
8 Our brains are social and we have an innate need to relate to others. Cooperative learning activities and team settings give students opportunities to work and learn together in a structured setting. Emphasis is taken off competition and placed on cooperation. This allows students to learn from one another, connect to what they know, and build neural networks.
9 There’s no better way to wake up the brain than to engage students in high interest, hands-on, small group activities. Students are motivated by challenge and that motivation pushes the brain to search for connections needed to problem-solve. In the process of working with others to analyze, predict, and problem-solve, new connections are built. Learning makes sense, confidence grows, and students are more likely to be excited about learning.
10 “Using the physical learning system to learn new information, understand difficult concepts, and develop new skills is as important as demonstrating what you learn through imitation or creative expression.” (Given, 2002) In this example, movement is used to help students understand programming language.
11 Evaluation is on-going and includes a variety of evaluation tools such as checklists, rubrics, quizzes, self-evaluation, learning log entries, observation, and conferencing. This type of evaluation system provides students with useful feedback that guides their learning and increases motivation. (Brain Target 6)
12 Brainstorming the answers to questions before the activity helps students link the background knowledge of others to their own background knowledge. The resulting connections in the brain deepen understanding and increase confidence.
13 Students want to be involved in activities where they’ve experienced success. Without some success, interest is eventually lost and learning will not occur. The brain reacts to repeated failure by shutting down. For the culminating activity, students in the audience are encouraged to give positive feedback and ask a question. This encourages the presenter to want to build on the experience in the future and it keeps the audience actively involved in listening.
14 The brain is a pattern seeker. It makes sense of new learning by linking it to existing neural pathways. If there is nothing to connect to, the brain will discard the information and it will soon be forgotten.
The “Roadmap” gives students the “big picture” of what they’ll be learning. By seeing the “Roadmap” in advance, students are able to understand how the lessons are organized, how the activities are related to the overall objectives, and what will be expected of them. The discussion activates prior knowledge, reduces stress, and prepares the brain to seek connections. At the end of each lesson, the students are brought back to the “Roadmap”. This helps them review, confirm understanding, and build on what has been learned. (Brain Target 3)
15 The brain organizes information in categories. Data charts and other graphic organizers are visual representations of the way information can be categorized to make it easier to understand and remember.
16 Each brain is unique. We respect this uniqueness and promote the mastery of learning goals when we provide students with multiple ways to manipulate new knowledge. (Brain Target 4)
17 “Lecture continues to be the most prevalent teaching method in secondary and higher education despite evidence that it produces the lowest degree of retention for most learners.” (Sousa, 2006) Going over information superficially and quickly does not build the strong neural connections needed for long term memory. Life-long learning is most likely to occur when students are able to apply content, skills, and processes to tasks that require them to engage in problem-solving and higher-order thinking skills. When students are given opportunities to use knowledge in a meaningful way, they examine concepts more deeply. This enables the brain to use multiple systems of retrieval and strengthens and expands neural connections.
18 Students review concepts and deepen their understanding of the content when they’re asked to predict test questions and/or prepare a test to give to other students. This type of rehearsal strengthens connections in the brain and increases the likelihood that content will be remembered.
19 Students demonstrate their leaning through a culminating project that involves teamwork and active participation. Learning is connected and meaningful and, therefore, the brain is more likely to store the information in long term memory where it can be built upon in future learning experiences.
20 Existing neural networks in the brain are activated when students share what they know, understand, or believe to be true. In this activity student input on the definition of a robot is valued by putting their words or phrases on the board for consideration in the formation of a whole class definition. Discussion of this nature creates a deeper understanding of what a robot is. Students have ownership in the resulting definition and are more likely to remember it.
21 “Teaching is guiding and facilitating the formation of neural connections in the student’s brain.” (Wolfe, 2001) In this problem solving activity, the teacher serves as a facilitator. Groups or teams use what they already know to problem-solve in a new situation. This enhances the growth of neural networks in the brain and deepens understanding. The brain is social in nature and the team setting gives students an opportunity to share learning with others. We also know that the brain is controlled by emotion. The team experience is less threatening to most students since cooperation replaces competition. Read more about the role of emotion in “The Current Impact of Neuroscience on Teaching and Learning” by Judy Willis (in Sousa, D.A., Editor. (2010). Mind, Brain & Education)
22 For the brain to respond and learn it must be actively involved in the learning process. The use of sticky notes encourages students to interact with the text, make connections, and evaluate their comprehension.
23 Neural networks are strengthened when students are able to share their thoughts in literature circles. Students adjust their understandings and build on what they know by interacting with others. In this social, non-threatening environment, students are also more motivated to contribute their ideas.
24 The arts provide a way for students to connect learning to other areas of the brain. When more areas of the brain are involved, it is easier to recall stored information for use in future learning experiences. (Brain Target 5)
25 The brain responds to novelty. In these lessons, graphic novels are used to motivate students to actively read I, Robot and then create a sequential art summary of one of the short stories in the collection. The high interest activity requires critical thinking skills and integrates ELA with technology and the arts.
26 Debate is another example of the use of novelty to capture the brain’s attention and motivate students. The integration of ELA with robotics enhances the growth of neural networks in the brain and deepens the understanding of content.
27 Staging a debate on a high interest content related topic (in this case robotics) has the following brain compatible features:
  • Novelty
    Students are attentive and motivated.
  • Curriculum integration
    Learning makes sense when students see how skills in one area are needed in another area. When they can make connections among curricula areas, they also gain a broader, deeper understanding of the content.
  • Small Group Learning Environment
    This type of learning environment is less threatening and allows students to increase neural connections by considering the ideas of others and linking them to what they already know. Research suggests that students learn better when allowed to interact in small, social settings. Working in small groups also reduces the risk of failure. When experiences are positive, students are encouraged , motivation is high, and students continue learning.
28 The debate planning sheet helps students review debate roles and procedures and assists them in organizing their thinking before the actual debate. It also serves as an assessment tool for teachers to monitor understanding and progress and provide feedback. The ongoing feedback reduces the chance of failure and increases the likelihood of a successful learning experience.