Educators educating Educators

Jul 23

February 14 Neuromyths

Since the “Decade of the Brain (1990-2000),” the field of educational neuroscience has received much attention. Yet as all things relating to the brain, the field of neuroscience is complex and accurate transfer of research finding to the classroom is often difficult at best. This gap between neuroscience and education has enabled many misconceptions about scientific finding to occur and a rapid proliferation of so-called “neuromyths” to occur.

These were defined as “a misconception generated by a misunderstanding, a misreading, or a misquoting of facts scientifically established (by brain research) to make a case for use of brain research in education and other contents.” A recent study investigated the prevalence of neuromyths among teachers

Following is a discussion of five neuromyths found in Edutopia, Neuro Myths: Separating Fact and Fiction in Brain-Based Learning by Sara Bernard, 1/30/2014

Myth Busting

Some of the biggest neuro myths, or misguided beliefs about neuroscience that have invaded the general psyche, include the following:

  • The brain is static, unchanging, and set before you start school. The most widely accepted conclusion of current research in neuroscience is that of neuroplasticity: Our brains grow, change, and adapt at all times in our lives. "Virtually everyone who studies the brain is astounded at how plastic it is," says Kurt Fischer, founding president of the International Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) Society and director of the MBE graduate program at Harvard University.

  • Some people are left-brained and some are right-brained. "This is total nonsense," says Fischer, "unless you've had half of your brain removed.” This may have emerged from a misunderstanding of the split-brain work of Nobel Prize winner Roger Sperry, who noticed differences in the brain when he studied people whose left and right brains had been surgically disconnected.

  • We use only 10 percent of our brains. This is also false, according to Fischer and a slew of scientists across the globe. In fact, brain imaging has yet to produce evidence of any inactive areas in a healthy brain.

  • Male and female brains are radically different. Though there may be subtle differences between male and female brains, there is absolutely no significant evidence to suggest that the genders learn or should be taught differently. This myth might stem from a misinterpretation of books such as The Essential Difference: Men, Women, and the Extreme Male Brain, which focused largely on patients with autism.

  • The ages 0-3 are more important than any other age for learning. Even though the connections between neurons, called synapses, are greatest in number during this period, many of the published studies that have to do with teaching during these "critical" time periods involved rats and mazes, not human beings.

This is the original list from Neuromyths in education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers, Sanne Dekker, Nikki Lee, Paul Howard-Jones, and Jelle Jolles, Frontiers in Psychology, October 18, 2012

C = correct; I = incorrect

1. We use our brains 24 hours a day (C).

2. Children must acquire their native language before a second language is learned. If they do not do so neither language will be full acquired (I).

3. Boys have bigger brains then girls (C).

4. If pupils do not drink sufficient amounts of water (=6-8 glasses a day) their brains shrink (I).

5. It has been scientifically proven that fatty acid supplements (omega-3 and omega-6) have a positive effect on academic achievement (I).

6. When a brain region is damaged other parts of the brain can take up its function (C).

7. We only use 10% of our brain (I).

8. The left and right hemisphere of the brain always work together (C).

9. Differences in hemispheric dominance (left brain, right brain) can help explain individual differences amongst learners (I).

10.The brains of boys and girls develop at the same rate (I).

11.Brain development has finished by the time children reach secondary school (I).

12.There are critical periods in childhood after which certain things can no longer be learned (I).

13.Information is stored in the brain in a network of cells distributed throughout the brain (C).

14.Learning is not due to the addition of new cells to the brain (C).

15.Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (e.g., auditory, visual, kinesthetic) (I).

16.Learning occurs through modification of the brains’ neural connections (C).

17.Academic achievement can be affected by skipping breakfast (C).

18.Normal development of the human brain involves the birth and death of brain cells (C).

19.Mental capacity of hereditary and cannot be changed by the environment or experience (I).

20.Vigorous exercise can improve mental function (C).

21.Environments that are rich in stimulus improve the brains of pre-school children (I).

22.Children are less attentive after consuming sugary drinks and/or snacks (I).

23.Children rhythms (“body-clock”) shift during adolescence, causing pupils to be tired during the first lessons of the school day (C).

24.Regular drinking of caffeinated drinks reduces alertness (C).

25.Exercises that rehearse coordinated of motor-perception skills can improve literacy skills (I).

26.Extended rehearsal of some mental processes can change the shape and structure of some parts of the brain (C).

27.Individual learners show preferences for the mode in which they receive information (e.g., visual auditory, kinesthetic) (C).

28.Learning problems associated with developmental differences in brain function cannot be remediated by education (I).

29.Production of new connections in the brain can continue into old age (C).

30.Short bouts of co-ordination exercises can improve integration of left and right hemispheric brain function (I).

31.There are sensitive periods in childhood when it’s easier to learn things (C).

32.When we sleep, the brain shuts down (I).



In case you get bored with the lazy days of summer and want to get a jump preparing for the coming school year, I added to Stuff4Educators a section called How to Study Better based on research from Harvard Medical School that highlights four science-backed ways towards better learning (Hint: drop the highlighter). Additionally, I posted a YouTube video under exercise from the Dana Foundation that won the Northwest Emmy award called Exercise and the Brain that explores the benefits of exercise on the brain and learning. Finally, some books that I have read this past year and found to be stimulating are listed.