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Brain plasticity

In the FutureLearn course The Science of Learning, Paul Howard Jones (Professor of Neuroscience and Education, University of Bristol) explains that throughout our lives, the brain always remains ‘plastic’. This means that the way our brain functions, and even the shape and size of its various parts, can change as a result of experience, and that includes educational experience.

For example, the size of a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is involved in memory of facts and figures, has been shown to predict the ability of children’s arithmetic skills aged 8-9 years (Supekar et al., 2013). Studies have shown the size of the hippocampus can increase in response to a range of learning experiences (Wenger and Lovden, 2016), such as learning navigation skills (Maguire et al., 2000) or intensively studying a new language (Martensson et al., 2012).

Many learners feel their brains limit their potential and prevent them from learning. However, increasing student’s awareness of brain plasticity can change the way they think about their ability, not as something that’s fixed, but as something that they themselves can develop. In a highly-cited study, this awareness has been shown to improve academic outcomes (Blackwell et al., 2007) and resilience (Paunesku et al., 2015).

Tip: For more information on how to support all students to become better learners, drawing upon the latest ideas and research in educational neuroscience and psychology, have a look at the Science of Learning. This course looks at how different regions of the brain become involved in learning, and what this means for the types of decision you make as a teacher for optimizing your students’ learning.

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Differentiation for Learning

National STEM Learning Centre