Posted by: Dave Moursund
Tagged in: Hippocampus
This IAE Blog entry is about stress and attention—two important issues in teaching and learning.
On Tuesdays this term I attended a cognitive neuroscience seminar. Today’s topic was stress. We know a lot about stress and how harmful it is. For example, we know that stress affects one’s immune system, and thus decreases resistance to various diseases. We know that in children whose hippocampus is still developing, high levels of stress somewhat inhibit growth of the hippocampus. This strongly affects learning. There are many other examples.
We also know that, on average, stress levels for kids growing up in low SES (socioeconomic status) environments have much more stress than those growing up in middle or high level SES environments. This research helps to explain poor school performance of children raised in poverty.
A variety of successful interventions are available to counter stress. Roughly speaking, we get by far the greatest “bang for our bucks” when we intervene with younger children.
Children experience stress at school, at home, and in other aspects of their everyday lives. For example, a child may be bullied at school or home. This can strongly affect learning . (IAE Newsletter, August 2012).
The University of Oregon is a world leader in its research on attention. Current research is leading to interventions that help to improve student attention. This, in turn leads to greater success in school performance. (It also reduces stress on teachers!)
The following information about attention is quoted from http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~moursund/Math/brain_science.htm#Attention.
The brain is continually receiving input from both inside and outside of the body. Research suggests:
- Much of the input is processed at a subconscious level (Estimates are that 98% of brain activity is at a subconscious level.)
- The brain is designed to filter out (deal with at a subconscious level, perhaps ignore) the vast majority of external stimuli. Only a small amount of external stimuli are brought to one's conscious attention.
- There has been a lot of research on attention. (Michael Posner from the University of Oregon is a world class expert in this area.)
- Many students find ICT to be "attention grabbing." More specifically, computer programs can be written so that they grab and hold the attention of students. Very few teachers can effectively compete with the attention grabbing and holding power of computers.
- We now have data that suggest elementary school students spend more time playing computer games and using the Internet than they do watching television. This seems supportive of the observation that the computer is attention grabbing and attention holding. This observation and the previous one point to the need for our educational system to figure out how to make effective use of ICT in instruction.
As research continues to provide a more solid foundation for interventions, our informal and formal educational systems are increasingly being faced by the challenge of how to provide wide scale interventions with a reasonable level of fidelity. For example, how does one educate teachers and parents so they have the knowledge and skills to implement the research-based interventions that are known to have a good level of success?
Today’s newly graduated precollege teachers and new parents (on average) are woefully ignorant in their knowledge of brain science. This presents our informal and formal educational systems with a very large and important target of opportunity.
You are part of our educational system. Ask yourself, “What am I doing to take advantage of the opportunity and to help implement some of this steadily growing collection of results on good interventions?”
What You Can Do
My recent Google search on attention education produced about 635 million hits. There is a lot of theoretical, applied, and personal opinion literature on this topic.
It is easy to tell yourself or your students to "pay attention." However, these are not very successful approaches. Think about ways that you use to get yourself to focus your attention. Then think about what you can do to help your students learn to focus their attention. Experiment with your students to learn what works well for you and them. This is an example of action research. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/all-educators-are-engaged-in-the-scholarship-of-teaching-and-learning.html
Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications
You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications. Click here to begin. Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.
Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.
Here are some examples of publications that might interest you.
An intact human brain is naturally curious and creative. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/an-intact-human-brain-is-naturally-curious-and-creative.html.
Brain Science. See http://iae-pedia.org/Brain_Science.
Cognitive Development. See http://iae-pedia.org/Cognitive_Development.
Increasing wait time is often a good way to improve learning. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/increasing-wait-time-is-often-a-good-way-to-improve-learning.html.
Mirror Neurons. See http://iae-pedia.org/Mirror_Neurons.
Neuromythologies (brain science mythologies) in education. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/neuromythologies-brain-science-mythologies-in-education.html.
Research on how exercise improves brain functioning. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/research-on-how-exercise-improves-brain-functioning.html.
Some things brain science research tells us about learning and doing arithmetic. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/some-things-brain-science-research-tells-us-about-learning-and-doing-arithmetic.html.
Test anxiety and use of non-test methods to measure learning. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/test-anxiety-and-use-of-non-test-methods-to-measure-learning.html.
The discipline of Educational Neuroscience. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/the-discipline-of-educational-neuroscience.html.
The reading brain: Two chapters from the book "Mind, Brain, and Education." See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/the-reading-brain-two-chapters-from-the-book-mind-brain-and-education.html.
IAE Newsletters (August 2012). Reducing school bullying behavior. There are two IAE Newsletters on bullying. Retrieved 12/5/2012 from http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2012-95.html and http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2012-96.html.