Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Fitness & Learning

“Exercise is medicine,” claims researcher John Ratey (2007). Exercise impacts the brain, both at the system and cellular levels, and promotes new cell growth within the brain. Additionally, according to Ratey, exercise positively influences:
  • attention and motivation
  • impulsivity
  • mood
  • the ability to overcome learned helplessness
  • norepinephrine levels (neurotransmitter associated with mood, self-esteem, and perception)
  • serotonin levels (neurotransmitter associated with mood, impulse control, and learning
  • dopamine levels (neurotransmitter associated with memory, attention, and problem-solving)
  • beta-endorphins associated with stress and pain management
  • brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein released during exercise, that promotes the growth of neurons and synapses
Ratey, whose book SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain will be released in January, also cites research showing that schools with daily physical education programs have higher student achievement. They key, stresses Ratey, is the school’s emphasis on physical fitness rather than athletics. Fit students make better students.

(Oh, and fit teachers make better teachers, too!)

Give this some thought on that afternoon walk or run!

More information can be found at Dr. Ratey's website: www.johnratey.com.

Ratey, J. (2007, Nov.). SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Presented at Learning and the Brain: Using Brain Research to Enhance Cognitive Abilities and Achievement.

Creating a Motivating Learning Environment

In his presentation “Mindsets for School Success: Effective Educators and Resilient, Motivated Learners,” Dr. Robert Brooks identified characteristics of motivated learners and of teachers who foster motivated mindsets. I’ve combined his ideas into descriptions of a classroom environment that fosters motivated learning.

The motivated learning environment:

  • features a teacher who is supportive and available, is not judgmental or accusatory, and can be described as a “charismatic adult”—one from whom the learner “gathers strength”
  • fosters the belief that the ability to learn is based largely on the learner’s attitude and effort—that learners have a “sense of responsibility for their own learning”
  • fosters the belief that learner effort will result in learning
  • accepts mistakes as a part of the learning process and helps learners understand that mistakes are expected and accepted
  • features a teacher who believes that from birth every child wants to learn and succeed
  • features a teacher who recognizes that all students are motivated, but some are dominated by “avoidance motivation” as a means of self-protection
  • features a teacher who asks, “What can I do differently to help this student become more helpful and successful?” when dealing with learners dominated by avoidance motivation
  • honors each learner’s “islands of competence” while nurturing additional growth

Dr. Brooks suggests teachers give themselves the following daily reminder: “Today may be the day I say or do something meaningful in a child’s life.” He also suggests teachers reflect on the following:

  • Would I want anyone to say or do to me what I have said or done to this child?
  • What do I hope to accomplish?
  • Am I saying or doing things in a way that students can understand what I am attempting to communicate?
You can find a series of articles entitled “Creating Motivating Environments” at his website: www.drrobertbrooks.com.

Brooks, R. (2007, Nov.). Mindsets for school success: Effective educators and resilient, motivated learners. Presented at Learning and the Brain: Using Brain Research to Enhance Cognitive Abilities and Achievement.