I am working on (and shall be over the summer holidays) an online MOOC – Mathematical Mindsets, run by Jo Boaler.
If you haven’t come across Jo before, find her on the Twitter, google her or read her books. I love her methods for maths and the way she links them with growth mindsets.
I intend publishing some of my work here.
In my first piece, Jo shared three pieces of research onto brain growth with us and asked us to share our feelings about how this should impact schools.
Taxi Driver Evidence.
“You may have seen me show the evidence from London black cab drivers who have to undergo complex spatial training, at the end of which, they have a significantly larger hippocampus in the brain. At the end of being taxi drivers, when they retire, the hippocampus shrinks back down again.”
Taxi driver response:
This research shows that a brain that is being used develops and grows and that when the brain is not being used it regresses to its initial state. So in school I guess this means that we need to keep children thinking about their maths. The children who probably end up thinking about their maths are the mid-ability ones upwards who, if we are not careful are fed a diet of ‘more of the same with bigger numbers’. These are the children who are ‘high fliers’ who then plateau in their maths learning.
We need to use real-life challenging problems and investigations and games with all learners to ensure brains keep growing.
Half-Brain Case-study. “You may also have seen me show the girl who had half her brain removed. The doctors expected her to be paralyzed for many years or even for her whole life, but she shocked them by regrowing the connections she needed in a really
short space of time.”
This research shows that the brain is a wonderful thing which scientists are still understanding…slowly in some cases.
In school we need to encourage our children to make connections within their brains to ensure that they keep developing. Brains don’t get full! We need to share this learning about re-wiring of brains with the children so they come to associate hard learning with something like a gym visit or fitness training – a development; and improver.
Stanford Case Study: “They brought 7 to 9-year-old children into the labs at Stanford, and half of them had been diagnosed as having mathematics learning disabilities, and half of them hadn’t. And they had these children work on maths under brain scans.
And lo and behold, they found actual brain differences. And the children diagnosed with learning disabilities actually
had more brain activity than the other children, more areas of their brain were lighting up when they worked on maths.”
Stanford response: Initially, this research seems to show that pupils who are thought have learning disabilities are working harder to keep up with (and by definition be not as good at maths as) their peers. Their brains are working harder, which means they will feel more tired during a maths lesson, be more stressed and require more breaks. We need to think in schools how we treat these children who are working harder, and it’s certainly not good enough to say X is not good at maths. It also suggests that schools need to find time to work closely with our ‘poorer maths attainers’ to get an understanding of where there learning is and to give them strategies to learn and develop their maths. – In an ideal world this can be done through group work and talk partners also.