Brain Compatible Classrooms and Schools: Considering the Physical Learning Environment and its Impact on Education

By: Ryan Wlodek, Ph.D.

The physical learning environment impacts how students feel, hear, and see, all of which have ramifications on student learning.  Key environmental conditions to consider in a learning environment include student seating and classroom temperature. 

Seating can impact cognition and stress level because it may contribute to musculoskeletal issues.  In addition to the physical implications of seating, stress can also be generated based on seating position and other related variables such as access to the teacher and materials, lighting conditions, temperature and noise. 

The design of chairs can have an effect on musculoskeletal issues.  Seating arrangements can also enhance or hinder student learning depending on instructional needs.  Seating and physical arrangement of classrooms can also be designed to encourage pro-social behaviors.  This may include collaborative zones and quiet zones so that students can engage in varied learning activities. 

Temperature and ventilation also have an impact on student learning because the brain is sensitive to temperature fluctuations.  Temperature can impact cognition and learning by influencing levels of neurotransmitters which may lead to emotional and behavioral issues.  Typically, classroom temperatures on the cooler side have a more relaxing affect compared to warmer temperatures.  This does not include extreme cold or hot temperatures.

Educators can promote brain-based learning environments and improve student learning by designing and adjusting schools and classrooms so they physically support and create optimal learning conditions.  Seats need to be of high quality so they do not contribute to musculoskeletal issues.  Seating arrangements should be flexible so they meet the needs of individual learners.  Classrooms should not be too cluttered and have multipurpose use in mind.  They need to support physical movement, discussions, direct instruction, reflection, activities, etc.  Temperature as well as air flow should be adjustable in learning environments.

Copyright © 2020 By Ryan M. Wlodek All Rights Reserved.

Social Interaction: A Critical Brain-Based Strategy that Facilitates Learning and the Development of Social Skills

By: Ryan Wlodek, Ph.D.

The human brain is inherently social and is physically altered through social interactions and experiences.  It is necessary to consider the effect social experience has on the brain because students spend much of their time at school and they are influenced a great deal by their experiences at school.

Appropriate amounts of social interaction have positive effects on student learning.  In contrast, social isolation can be detrimental to student learning.  Typically, social interaction in the classroom is facilitated through structured opportunities for students to collaborate.  Those opportunities include cooperative group learning strategies such as think-pair-share, group projects, and reciprocal teaching.  It also includes unstructured social time in classrooms.  Taking into consideration social interaction on a school-wide level, it is important that opportunities exist for students to interact with others through cross-grade-level buddy programs and tutoring, assemblies, and team activities.  

Cooperative group learning provides underlying lessons on cooperation with others and supports 21st Century Learning.  Group as well as individual accountability can help to develop positive interdependence.  Cooperative group learning supports teamwork, responsibility, and provides students with opportunities for face-to-face interactions.  Interactions with others are necessary to learn social skills and provide teachers with opportunities to teach students social skills.

Copyright © 2020 By Ryan M. Wlodek All Rights Reserved.

Physical Movement: A Key Brain-Based Strategy that has Positive Impacts on Learning

By:  Ryan Wlodek, Ph.D.

There are strong connections between physical movement and improved cognition, learning, and memory.  Physical movement has an effect on the whole body including the brain.  Physiologically, movement stimulates a wide variety of brain regions as well as increases heart rate which increases blood flow.  With increased blood flow, oxygen and nutrients to the brain are increased and waste products eliminated.  

Physical movement helps to involve students through active learning.  Students do not just sit and get information; rather, they actively participate and involve more senses while they learn.  Activating more senses is attributed to increased attention as more neural resources are needed to process the information. 

Movement, from a brain-based perspective, has multiple positive impacts on learning.  It helps students pay attention and focus, incites appropriate emotions necessary to assist the brain with learning, and has a positive impact on learning and memory.  The effects of movement can also be positive for special-needs learners.  

Educators can capitalize on the positive effect movement has on the brain and optimize student learning by strategically incorporating instructional methods that deliberately integrate movement.  Movement in the classroom can be as simple as providing stretch breaks or having students momentarily stand up.  These actions will have an immediate impact on blood flow and force students to activate a wider variety of brain regions.  Other ways to incorporate movement in the classroom include building models, creating and building devices, hands-on experiments and projects, the use of manipulatives and tools, acting, creating artwork representations of concepts, etc.  The supporting role movement has on cognition, learning, and memory also provides evidence for school-wide programs such as recess, physical education, extracurricular courses, and field trips.  

Copyright © 2020 By Ryan M. Wlodek All Rights Reserved.