Look up to the heavens on a crisp, clear, dark night and while gazing upon the stars, know that the awe and wonder felt can only be compared to the experience one might have as the brain reveals itself.
Thinking about the complex nature of our brain with its multifaceted functions, involving abstract outcomes and unfamiliar interactions stretches the limits of our imagination. Trillions of simultaneous neural actions are working together in unique harmony. These connections create a vast interwoven labyrinth of electrical and chemical pathways with orchestrated explosions and purposeful connections responding to a plethora of perpetual activity in an elaborate symphony that defines our very being. These interwoven, ever changing neural pathways sculpt the way one views, connects, and functions in the world. They shape our learning, but how we learn also shapes these pathways. Every brain is unique. It is the organ that gives us our individuality and our identity. It makes us, who we are, the fingerprint of our thinking. Although daunting, one cannot help but be drawn to this complex organ, the rememberer, controller, interpreter, organizer, assessor, and creator inside our very own head.
We live in an exciting age, a New Age Renaissance, the Age of Neuroscience, reshaping every facet of society. The forward thinking cultures of medicine, communication, science, and technology are exploding with new understandings, creating a highly active, dense network of shared ideas and insights. Cutting edge technology is revolutionizing neuroscience, providing tools that enable study of unchartered territories resulting in groundbreaking discoveries. Medical breakthroughs offer relief to brain related illness and injury involving the spinal cord, chronic pain, Parkinson's, ALS-Lou Gehrig's disease, Alzheimer's, Traumatic Brain Injury and finally, a glimpse of hope for the lost and forgotten victims, profoundly suffering with mental illness.
Furthermore, these findings are reshaping the culture of education, a profession devoted to fostering a love of learning and the acquisition of knowledge. Teachers can use advances in neuroscience to guide their instruction and classroom culture. Developments in neuroscience can be applied in the classroom to improve the ways students learn and provide insight into the way we teach and how we reach. Ultimately, we want our students to know how to think, and become independent, innovative problem solvers. In order to do this, students should to be aware of their own thinking and must understand the metacognitive skills necessary to develop it. Most students have very little knowledge about the brain's anatomy and its functions as they relate to the cognitive domains. These domains have varied levels of complexity involving many of the brain's anatomical functions. In addition, a student's cognitive flexibility, the ability to change ones mental states as needed, is a major component in one's ability to create and generate novel ideas, and develop them; a new measure of intelligence. As students learn how the functions of their brain work together, they will discover their personal power over how they learn and be encouraged to stretch their own accepted limits. In addition, when one is conscious of how one acquires knowledge, than one can improve it by employing metacognitive skills. As in learning to ride a bike, or drive a car, skills are learned best when taught directly and explicitly.
I designed this unit to teach students the anatomy and cognitive functions of the brain through engaging, hands on activities. An evolutionary journey of development will highlight the roots of our brain's anatomy, functions, and cognition, offering students a perspective and appreciation for the way this extraordinary organ has developed. As a result, students will understand the significance of our most recently acquired anatomical feature, the cerebral cortex. Distinguishing us as a species, the cortex brought consciousness and our ability to make decisions, plan, evaluate, and create; our higher level complex thinking. Students will construct a clay model of the brain as they learn its anatomy and major functions, discovering how these systems relate to learning. As students realize how these cognitive systems determine their own thinking both anatomically and functionally, they will be empowered to exercise their cognitive skills and engage in thinking that is more complex. A focus on the structure and function of the neuron will develop an understanding of its complex nature. Simulations of neural connections and electrical pathways will help students understand how messages move between neurons and will demonstrate how memories are made and recalled. As students explore memory processing, they will come to understand that these systems collectively produce our ability to think and learn. Creating, evaluating, analyzing require different mental states which can be controlled and changed. With this understanding, students will learn to exercise cognitive flexibility adapting as necessary to the needs of a particular situation, stretching their mental limits propelling them forward, as thinkers, innovators, and creators breaking through the once accepted limits of their own mind.