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Engaging young minds: Part two

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By Huw Thomasheadteacher and writer

The second part of Huw Thomas’ series, discussing how understanding the way our brains work can help motivate learning.

Illustrated head and cogs

Take a trip round your brain. The walnut-looking cerebral cortex scrunches a surface area the size of a school desk into a space the size of a head. The two halves, or hemispheres, are made up of specific lobes, areas that perform certain functions. Tap the back of your head – just inside there are the occipital lobes, mainly involved in seeing. The temporal lobes, just beside your ears, deal with sound. The left side mainly deals with language, the right side with non-verbal sound. The parietal lobe, at the top, deals with spatial thinking and some aspects of recognition.

We’re all geared up to see, hear, take in information and, at the front of the brain, just behind your forehead, the frontal lobes do the higher level of thinking, reasoning and making sense of all this information.

You’re entering…

Learning involves crossing a divide, described by Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky as the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) – the gap between the things a child could do independently and those which they could do with support from adults or peers. Enquiring minds step into that zone where they:

  • think ahead. Our brain uses what we know to figure out what we learn, so provides opportunities for children to speculate, estimate and guess at what lies ahead in their learning;
  • draw on things they already know. To find the number between 1 and 100 with the highest number of multiples they will use knowledge of multiplication and reverse functions;
  • encounter something new. It’s worth asking at the start of a lesson: what will be new here? Even a lesson of revision should contain some new slant on the subject matter.

Provoking thinking

Puzzles, problems and just strange images and ideas can provoke thinking. Anything that makes children think twice is worth toying with, stimulating enquiring minds. One fun way to play with these features of an enquiring mind is through optical illusions. And check out Ian Gilbert’s ‘Thunks’ – provocative and fun!

Illusions

Optical Illusions come about because the brain approaches new information with a load of ideas about what it expects to see.

The Ponzo Illusion plays with the way we think those two lines going almost vertical are going off into the distance – so the horizontal line at the top feels further away, and so must be longer. But is it? Measure and see at: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ponzo_illusion.gif

The same game is played in Terra Subterranea: members.lycos.nl/amazingart/E/30.html

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