Brain Rules

There is much that we do know about how people learn and much that we don’t know. When I first began in the field of childbirth education, learning styles were an important component of my education. Now they have been debunked. In search of something on learning that was based in science, I came across the 2008 book, Brain Rules, by John Medina. Dr. Medina is a developmental molecular biologist (whatever that means) at the University of Washington in Seattle. He has a gift for making science about the brain understandable, entertaining, and relevant to the field of teaching and to everyday life.

His book describes 12 “brain rules” that should be considered when developing an educational program, school system, workplace, or home that promotes learning and creativity. Most of the rules are popular (adults can only focus for 10 minutes at a time) or even common-sense principles (getting enough sleep aids brain function), but Dr. Medina explains why the rule or principle is rooted in actual brain physiology. Early in the book, Dr. Medina describes himself as a “grumpy scientist” and states that each of his points is supported by research that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal and then successfully replicated. For each of his 12 “brain rules,” he describes the brain physiology for that rule and then illustrates the rule with examples, stories, and case reports. The case reports often involve patients who have extraordinary abilities and disabilities caused by damage to some part of the brain.

Although I have certainly heard each of the 12 “rules” before in other contexts, I did learn a lot about why each of Dr. Medina’s “rules” is so important. I understand why I should change gears every 10 minutes during a lecture; why I need to provide time for students to reflect on new information and to apply it to their own lives; why repetition is so vital to memory; why it is necessary to trash all those PowerPoint slides with bulletpoints; and why I need to take the time to exercise more and to allow myself an occasional nap. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and recommend it to any teacher, parent, or anyone who would like to know more about how his or her brain works.

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