The Physical Side of Learning

Modern technology provides us with a new understanding of how we learn. Recent developments in technology such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) have expanded our knowledge of how the brain works and been influential in the development of new theories of learning and intelligence.  Through this understanding we are redefining intelligence and using it to develop classroom applications intended to provide better learning opportunities for all students. 

The brain is generally thought of as consisting of three major parts: the brain stem, the limbic system and the cortex.  The brain stem controls life functions, such as breathing and heart beat, the limbic system is thought to be the center of emotion and the cortex contains the neural networks that allow reason.  The parts work through electrochemical processes that distribute both chemicals and electric charges through a vast network of tubes which extend throughout the brain and body.  Scientists believe that learning happens through the growth of additional neural network connections created when electrical current passes along nerve cells (neurons) and is enhanced by chemicals (neurotransmitters) which are discharged into gaps between neighboring cells (synapses).  When a particular pathway is used, additional connections are created that ease the future use of the same neurons.  The process is similar to that of water wearing channels that eventually grow into rivers.

If, as scientific research indicates, learning consists of the development of these neural networks, then the challenge is to enhance this growth through education. Several theorists have advanced hypotheses about this.   David Perkins believes that there are three types of intelligence.  Neural intelligence, with which we are born, varies by individual and allows the processing of information at different rates.  Experiential and reflective intelligences are open to change and experience causes neural connections to develop as we reflect on past knowledge and learn new through our senses.  Howard Gardnerís theory of multiple intelligences exists at different levels in the neural networks at birth but experience and reflection enhance them.

In the brain based classroom the role of the teacher changes from purveyor of information to one who creates an environment in which all of the senses are enhanced to allow experience and reflection to occur. 

It is not the purpose of this unit to create neuroscientists of teachers, however, a basic knowledge of how the brain learns is important to enable the teacher to offer the best possible learning environment for all students.


1.  Readings:  Jensen chapters 3,4,5,6 & 7

    The Brain at

    (explore the website)

     Understanding the Human Brain at

     How the Brain Learns: The Brains Behind the Brain by

      Marcia DíArcangelo

     Your Childís Brain by Sharon Begley

2. Readings: Explore for further review several of the

   websites listed in the Unit 3 web resource list.

3. Action Assignment:  You have been furnished four lesson plans (lesson plans are from the ProTeacher website at  Read each of the lesson plans and select one for comment.  Does the lesson plan you selected reflect what we know about how the brain learns?  What senses would be used during the learning process?  Which parts of the brain would be involved and what learning process would occur within the brain.  Apply what you have learned about the brain and learning and discuss what changes you might make to the lesson plan to make it more compatible for brain based learning.  Post your response in a short summary in the discussion forum.

Unit 3 discussion:  Read the postings of other students in the discussion forum.  Select two postings and respond to them offering constructive and helpful comments.  Select postings that do not have more than two responses so that all students receive comments on their summaries.  You may respond to additional summaries as well.  Be sure to continue to check back for responses from your instructor and other students and reply to those responses.

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