Did you know that your brain is always changing? This is referred to as neuroplasticity or brain plasticity — it refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. This “plasticity” means actual plasticity — your brain literally changes, and can strengthen existing neural connections and build new ones throughout your life (Hsaio, 2013).
Because of plasticity, the brain is so able to change and grow (on a physical, brain-level) that we can almost literally connect ideas together more strongly. So learners can understand new things, and continuously make connections between ideas. This ability to strengthen connections between ideas serves to further carve out so-called “paths in the woods,” which become more clearly visible and easy to follow when they are traveled more often.
Teachers, students, and pretty much anyone should know about this! Partly because it’s so interesting, but also because understanding this can help us realize that we really can always learn/grow/improve. If you think about it, this very idea is fundamental to good teaching (which demands an awareness of every student’s ability to grow and learn). But it’s also interesting when you think about students’ ability to learn, and for teachers hoping to strengthen connections between ideas for their students.
Perhaps just as importantly, this understanding would also theoretically improve teachers’ techniques and skills, because they would be more intimately aware of how students best learn. For instance, good teaching practices would support the building of connections between ideas (Dehaene et al., 2010), which would allow neural connections to be strengthened — this then makes the knowledge more readily retrievable (and more genuinely learned).
So, knowledge of brain structure and function of the nervous system enhances teachers’ awareness of growth mindset, faith in students’ abilities to grow and learn, and teaching techniques, overall improving the quality of teaching.
We can also make a connection between student engagement and neuron firing rate. A teacher may intuitively know to try to make his or her classroom comfortable, interesting, and relevant to learning, but may not understand why it is so important; a stimulating classroom environment can have a positive impact on a student’s learning and brain development.
References: Dehaene, S., Pegado, F., Braga, L. W., Ventura, P., Filho, G. N., Jobert, A., Dehaene‑Lambertz, G., Kolinsky, R., Morais, J., Cohen, L. (2010). How learning to read changes the cortical networks for vision and language. Science, 330 (6009), 1359-1364.
(Image of nerve cells in the brain is from DIY Genius.)