Learning Matters

Monday 14 Oct

When undertaking the research that informs many of the decisions we make at Living Faith, we focus significant time on the area of neuroscience. Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system. It is a multidisciplinary branch of biology that combines physiology, anatomy, molecular biology, developmental biology, cytology, mathematical modeling and psychology to understand the fundamental and emergent properties of neurons and neural circuits. It offers educators extraordinary amounts of information about learning, and how we learn best.

Neuroscience tells us that:

  • learning involves changing the brain
  • the most effective learning involves recruiting multiple regions of the brain for the learning task
  • for optimal learning to occur, the brain needs conditions under which it is able to change in response to stimuli (neuroplasticity) and able to produce new neurons (neurogenesis)
  • moderate stress on the brain is beneficial for learning, while mild and extreme stress are detrimental to learning
  • adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise encourage robust learning

These findings influence the way we approach learning tasks and experiences for students. If students’ brains experience a low degree of stress, they don’t learn effectively. However, if their brains experience high stress, this can set their system into fight-or-flight mode so there is less brain activity and learning cannot happen. Interestingly enough, being in an uncomfortable physical environment is enough to place students’ brains into high stress mode. This information has heavily influenced the way we approach the physical learning environments across the school and the furniture that populates them.

It’s interesting to note that not all people react the same way to an event. The production of cortisol in response to an event varies significantly between individuals; what constitutes moderate stress for one person might constitute mild or extreme stress for another. So, for example, cold-calling on individual students in a large-group setting might introduce just the right amount of stress to increase some students’ performance, but it might produce excessive stress and anxiety for other students. For this reason, our teachers implement a range of strategies across their classrooms to engage students’ brains in the moderate stress necessary for great learning to take place.

One of the greatest influences neuroscience has had on our approach to learning is around the research that shows that complex thought processes are more beneficial for learning because they involve a greater number of neural connections and more neurological cross-talk. Our curriculum approach that focuses on project-based learning, combining subjects together around challenges and problems and the combination of tasks that require both skill and knowledge development reflect this cross-talk, stimulating a variety of areas of the brain and promoting memory.

- Rebecca McConnell, Director of Learning & Innovation