Care and Feeding of a Brain

I’ve been reading a lot lately about brains.  It all started with a recommendation to read John Medina’s Brain RulesMedina lists 12 rules to maximize your brain potential at work, school, or home.  Over the next couple of years, I discovered two more compelling sources that describe new brain research.  One is Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.  This book draws from numerous neuroscience reports and psychological research done by Carol Dweck, a highly respected Stanford University psychologist, and author of Mindset.

Because paper and ink (or Kindle) books are never enough, and for those with shorter attention spans (you know who you are), there is also an online exhibit from the Science Museum with lots of interesting slides.  Each of these sources presents significant implications for the care and feeding of brains.

As a biology and physiology teacher, examining how the brain works forms the basis of several classroom lessons.  But it’s more than that.  Let’s face it: brains are just fascinating, and there is still so much we don’t know.  Some of the more interesting or surprising things I’ve learned are:

  • Physical exercise helps you think and builds brain power.  (Medina)
  • Male and female brains ARE different! Don’t you want to know how? (Medina and Science Museum)
  • Anyone who tells you they can multitask is lying; it’s just not possible.  While some may be more adept at switching gears, the brain can only attend to one thing at a time. (Medina)
  • Telling a kid he is smart de-motivates him to attempt new tasks.  Convince a child that she is a hard worker, and she will deliberately challenge herself to learn harder material. (Bronson and Merryman)
  • IQ testing has never been a good indicator of ability, because it is based on faulty research. (Bronson and Merryman)
  • All kids lie.  Not too surprising, but the reasons they lie may surprise you.  And if you think you have a good mental lie detector, think again.  (Bronson and Merryman)
  • Intelligence is not fixed.  Neurons are making new connections in your brain as you read this!  (Dweck)
  • You are either a learner or a non-learner, depending on whether you think you can learn. (Dweck)
  • You can grow your brain-power at any age. Additionally, teachers can motivate students to be learners by fostering a growth mindset. (Dweck)
  • Brain growth is a lifetime process:  Infants and children form an amazing number of new connections between neurons. Teenage brains undergo “pruning” in which unused neuronal connections are broken.  As an adult, every time you encounter something new, neurons form new connections. (Science Museum)

8 thoughts on “Care and Feeding of a Brain

  1. Interesting stuff! And yes, I know I should get more exercise. The brain is willing, but the body resists. Or is it the other way around???

    And I totally agree about the multitasking thing!

  2. Learning new forms of exercise or a new sport must be doubly rewarding, right? My brain can be overly optimistic about what my body can deliver. Especially true when exercising…the body resists the brain’s plan. The brain has to be a strong take-charge manager.

    • I’m not sure the differences are as far apart as Venus and Mars, but they’re significant. Aside from structural and genetic differences (the Y chromosome has a fraction of the number of genes that a female’s second X chromosome has), males tend to react emotionally by reading the gist of a situation, while women remember emotional details.

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