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How Does Neurological Research Inform PreK-12 Curriculum and Instruction?

As neuroscience reveals more about how young learners develop a cognitive understanding of curriculum, more teachers want to bring neurological ideas into the classroom to connect more effectively with students and improve learning outcomes.

The Master of Science (M.S.) in Curriculum & Instruction – Effective Practitioner PreK-12 online program from Emporia State University offers graduates a chance to delve deeper into how the brain works and encourage critical thinking, problem-solving, and student engagement in the classroom.

Neurological Insights for Differentiated Education

Teachers have a common goal: Reaching and motivating students of all abilities, including neurodivergent learners whose learning style and brain development deviate from the neurotypical student. If an educator is well versed in neurological concepts, they are more capable of effectively teaching children with learning disabilities, attention disorders, mental illness, neurological disorders, or on the autistic spectrum, according to a 2022 article.

Co-author of Uncommon Sense Teaching: Practical Insights in Brain Science to Help Students Learn Dr. Barbara Oakley. She argues that teachers should understand the difference between declarative and procedural learning pathways and the process of adding new information to long-term memory. For example, one student may excel in the declarative pathway where the brain intentionally recollects information and events as facts. Another student may learn through procedural pathways, where the brain uses complex patterns to understand how to solve a math problem or accomplish a task through acquiring motor skills and habits.

While a school’s curriculum may emphasize only one system of learning — where students clearly and declaratively explain the step by step way they reached a conclusion — teachers should show that both ways of learning are equally valuable, Oakley says. “We are hurting students who learn well procedurally,” she notes in an Edutopia article. “This type of learning is often difficult or impossible to explain.”

Oakley notes it is crucial to give students a chance to exercise both muscles. Peer teaching, where students verbally talk through lessons and teach each other facts in their own language, is one way students can learn declaratively. On the other hand, students need opportunities to practice their procedural skills — such as typing lessons or solving Rubik’s cubes — and should have the opportunity to work on those capabilities in the classroom.

The Impact of Neurological Research on PreK-12 Education

Researchers have taken a strong interest in applying neurological concepts in educational environments, especially by teachers who have completed coursework on brain development in children. Some researchers have sought to combat “neuromyths,” or the misconceptions arising from misquoting scientific research on the brain. These myths have sometimes driven controversy among some educators who believe that neuroscience knowledge is too far removed from their day-to-day interactions with students, according to a 2022 Educational Psychology article.

Some researchers have begun to find ways to close the gap between teachers and the scientific knowledge that could better inform their instructional strategies. A group of Texas researchers also sought to understand how teachers view and incorporate neuroscience ideas into their daily classroom management.

A 2021 study published in Educational Psychology surveyed 14 non-science teachers who completed a three-week graduate course on foundational concepts in neuroscience. The survey revealed that regardless of what subject or grade level they taught, teachers found educational neurological concepts helpful for organizing their lesson plans and informing their pedagogical choices in the future. Those concepts included the idea that learning should involve cognitive processes like reasoning and communication and students can intake the same content but learn the skill in entirely unique ways.

One teacher turned those concepts into action by asking students to turn to a partner and verbalize what they observed from the lesson. She then asked students to share with the class what they believed happened during the activity. “Every time I use it, they surprise me with their answers — their ability to notice certain things,” the teacher told researchers. “I think they won’t notice this, but they do.”

Apply Neuroscience Concepts With Emporia State University

Emporia’s online M.S. in C&I – Effective Practitioner PreK-12 program introduces educators to neurological concepts that help them provide personalized learning for students. Rising educational leaders complete the Student Behavior and Neurologically Informed Practice course, where they learn how to design socially, emotionally, and physically safe learning environments for students and staff using neurological research, mental health concepts, and other sources of knowledge.

Graduates of the program have the tools to model and teach healthy social interaction patterns and connect with students to improve their learning outcomes.

Learn more about Emporia State University’s online Master of Science in Curriculum & Instruction – Effective Practitioner PreK-12 program.

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