The brain changes in response to experiences. That is a powerful statement. It speaks directly to the high level of neuroplasticity in our brain structure. Our brains are pliable. Experience changes the way we process data. We are often unaware of this powerful tool that teachers have in their toolkit. Now is the time for us to become intentional. Just like we have made teeth brushing part of our daily routine, so too must we make the power of brain breaks part of our teaching routine.
The study of epigenetics has gained a lot of traction over recent years. Epigenetics is all about how genes are organised. It is the study of how our behaviour and environment can cause changes to the way our genes work.
Mothers, for example can turn on or turn off the genes in their babies. Gone are the days when we debated whether it was nurture or nature. It is almost always both. Our genes inherited from our parents must guide our development, but our experiences, especially in early childhood, rearrange the epigenetic marks that govern the way that the genes are expressed. These markers govern how and the way in which the genes release the information they are carrying.
Brain research supports the use of energising brain breaks. The brain requires certain things in a school environment. It desperately needs oxygen, glucose, specific neurotransmitters, certain neuromodulators and a whole lot of nutrients.
Sitting in a desk in a resting, sedentary position may not deliver sufficient oxygen for cognitive demanding tasks.
Try this breathing activity video with your class.
When glucose is consumed in moderation in the learning space, it rules attentiveness, supports data processing and enhances memory. Glucose acts as a glue for memory. Glucose is also released from the liver in the form of glycogen when we are physically active.
During brain breaks and energisers, there is typically a short term increase in the monoamines, dopamine and epinephrine. They may have widely differing effects on the brain. Classroom fun will increase dopamine, but excitement, urgency and risk taking will increase norepinephrine.
The three big neuromodulators in the classroom are:
Testosterone. – which is produced during competitive activities
Serotonin – which is produced during cooperative and collaborative activities as well as calming activities.
Cortisol – which is produced during stressful activities. Energisers should avoid triggering cortisol – the stress Neuromodulator.
The biggest nutrient required in the classroom is BDNF – brain derived neurotrophic factor. This nutrient is released when we exercise. It is like fertiliser for the brain. It produces branching of the dendrites creating a better opportunity for memory storage.
Hydration is good, but avoid pushing students to drink water. Make water available and remind students to remain hydrated.
Energisers are supported by research from: Cognitive science, Applied physiology, Neuroscience.
Exploit the power of brain breaks in every lesson to enhance the long term memory of your students. Much of the training provided to Keller Partner Schools involves tips and ideas to implement brain breaks throughout the school day.