Neuroscience for kids in Australia is calming for classrooms


The human brain is the ‘organ for learning’[1] and as such it would be expected that teachers, as the facilitators of learning, should be taught neuroscience at University as it relates to child brain development. Unfortunately most preparatory programs do little to educate teachers on the transformative connections between neuroscience and learning and development in children. It has now been over 3 decades since researchers proposed the idea of a ‘neuroeducator’ – who would have a place in schools after thorough training in disciplines relating to psychology, neuroscience, and learning sciences and still today most teachers are unaware of the benefits educational neuroscience can have on their students’ academic and social outcomes and their own fulfilment.[2] Neuroscience for educators and parents provides an understanding of how students' brains actually work - and by using that knowledge, positively influence classroom education.

What is educational Neuroscience?

Educational neuroscience is not only a way to improve, explain or analyse teaching, but is far broader; it seeks to explain how students learn and how learning alters the brain and then apply these findings in the classroom.[3] Educational Neuroscience has been described as having three primary themes[4]:

Educational neuroscience differs from other neuroscience branches such as cognitive neuroscience because it extends beyond the basic sciences and into the social and applied sciences.[5] In this respect educational neuroscience doesn’t just stop at making theoretical discoveries, it actively seeks to integrate them into a more improved educational practice. Applications of neuroscience into the classroom include recommendations for reading, language, numeracy, attention and memory, as well as the effect of emotion, stress, and sleep on neuroplasticity in children. Practical applications for the classroom that, by supporting student wellbeing and building resilience, help to create a positive learning environment and more emotionally aware children.

Educational neuroscience operates using the philosophy that the whole is greater than the sum of parts. No child is an island, and neuroscience programs focused on child brain development utilise interdisciplinary collaboration in order to give a holistic integration of teachings. Think of buzzwords like integrate, interdisciplinary, join, collaborate, blend, bring together, work together, synergy, combine, merge, and overlap when you think of what educational neuroscience seeks to do.

Neuroscience uses technical jargon and complex methods that are often unfamiliar to those outside of the scientific community. This means that it is essential for neuroscience programs to make the technical literature more accessible to educators who may not have had advanced training in the biological sciences.[6] Neuroscience for Educators teaches the techniques that can easily be used in the classroom to form grounding, safe relationships with students and model the behaviour that encourages positive relationships with each other.

What is Neuroplasticity and how does it affect children?

The brain is constantly changing and growing new connections in response to experiences. Research has demonstrated that teaching students about how their brain works (in particular, that the brain is plastic and can develop new capacities with effort and practice) makes a big difference in how constructively children deal with mistakes and setbacks and how motivated they are to persist until they achieve mastery. To understand the implications neuroscience has for educators, especially in the area of social and emotional learning, Neuroscience for Educators seeks to identify a number of 'neuro friendly' principles to help kids build 'better' brains. Participants will reflect on their own teaching practice, considering the impact of the school environment and their own interactions and communication on students’ developing brains.

How Neuroscience is combating the stress in the classroom

Unfortunately, chronic and immediate stress is extremely common in classrooms around Australia for students and teachers alike. The human brain is a remarkable organ and evolutionary processes have left us with a highly developed pre-frontal cortex that is constantly evaluating threats and seeking out problems and an amygdala that has difficulty differentiating between stressful situations. Children's brains are still developing and they need help to regulate their emotions as information cannot reach the higher parts of the brain if the lower parts are dysregulated and focused on overcoming stress. Educators must be able to identify children suffering from stresses and adequately provide a calm environment conducive to their learning. It can be easy to forget that some students may not know where their next meal is coming from or if they are getting enough sleep. Neuroscience helps educators and students switch from stressful reactions to positive actions to help facilitate a rewiring of the brain’s circuitry.

1 Hart, L. A. (1983). Human brain and human learning. Oak Creek, AZ: Books for Educators.
2 J.K. Fuller, J.G. Glendening, The Neuroeducator: Professional of the Future, Theory Pract. 24 (2) (1985) 135–137.
3 P. Howard-Jones, S. Varma, D. Ansari, B. Butterworth, B. De Smedt, U. Goswami, Laurillard, M.S. Thomas, The principles and practices of educational neuroscience: comment on Bowers (2016), Psychol. Rev. 123 (5) (2016) 620–627.
4 Feiler, J. B., & Stabio, M. E. (2018). Three pillars of educational neuroscience from three decades of literature. Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 13, 17-25. 
5 S.R. Campbell, Educational neuroscience: motivations, methodology, and implications, Educ. Philos. Theory 43 (1) (2011) 7–16.
6 K.B. Stafford-Brizard, P. Cantor, L.T. Rose, Building the bridge between science and practice: essential characteristics of a translational framework, Mind Brain Educ. 11 (4) (2017) 155–165.

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