Friday, April 24, 2009

Judy Willis - Your Brain Owner’s Manual

A nice post from the Psychology Today blogs by Judy Willis, of Radical Teaching.

Your Brain Owner’s Manual

When you know how some things work, you get more out of them, adapt them to new uses, and use them more efficiently. It's more fun to fly a plane, sail a boat, or ride a mountain bike when you use what you know about how these things work and apply that knowledge to the new options you discover through your new knowledge.

I can't promise that you'll be doing brain surgery, treating neurological diseases, or writing books about how the brain learns best after reading a brain owner's manual, but you will learn how to physically change you own brain and help your children or ageing parents do the same. Intelligence is not fixed and what you do, think, hear, read, practice, visualize, taste, and smell all change your brain.

NEUROPLASTICITY - Practice Makes Permanent
Neuroplasticity is the most exciting and motivating brain fact. Neuroplasticity refers to physical changes in your brain that result from your thoughts, environment, the emotions you feel, and the things you do. These brain changes are predominantly in the connections between your neurons. The more a network of neurons that holds a memory (information or procedural memory) is activated the stronger it becomes. When you return to a memory or repeat an action enough, new connections form such as dendrites and synapses. The existing connections (axons) that carry information from a neuron to the next even acquire more layers of myelin that act like insulation on an electric wire. This increased myelin means the electrical impulses of the memory travel faster and more efficiently because the electric charge is more protected from leaking out.

When I changed careers from a neurologist to a classroom teacher I started looking at course curriculum and was surprised in the "Decade of the Brain" that very little was taught about the workings of the brain, whether in health class, science class, or even in my own and other graduate schools of education.

Since becoming a teacher, I've been teaching my students, first in elementary and now in secondary school, about their own brains for almost a decade. They can't get enough of it. (I wish it were as easy to get them excited about adding fractions.) It is neuro-LOGICAL to want to know how your body's most powerful tool actually works and how you can change it to amp up the horsepower like Tim the Toolman, on the television show Home Improvement, or set it to a new default state so at rest it is calm and alert instead of frazzled and stressed out. It turns out to be a matter of strengthening the circuits used the most so practice makes permanent!

Go read the whole article.

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