My Little Genius

Eric Jensen

Eric Jensen, author of Teaching with the Brain in Mind, considers learning to be what the brain does best. His application of brain research and how it affects teaching and learning has directed him to surprising findings on how we think of the brain today. The brain, an organ which weighs just three pounds in an adult, is changed with each new stimulation, experience or behaviour that it encounters.

The human brain is about the size of a grapefruit. It is made up mostly of water, fat and protein and contains an estimated 100 billion cells. Its cells are responsible for information processing and converting chemical and electrical signals back and forth across neurons. Each enriching experience that a child is exposed to causes the neurons to pass information to other neurons through an electrical pulse. Learning starts with some form of stimulus. As stimuli are passed from neuron to neuron, they create branch-like extensions known as dendrites.

When the brain receives new information, the dendrites grow outwards from the cell body, seeking other dendrites. They form a connection to other dendrites by way of a thinner extension called an axon.

The axon has two essential functions: (1) to conduct information in the form of electrical stimulation and (2) to transport chemical substances. The covering of the axon, known as myelin, develops around well-used axons. As myelin is added to axons, it increases the speed of electrical transmissions and reduces electrical interference, causing the brain to become more efficient. This electrical transmission travels along the axons at up to 120 metres per second.

The amount and quality of experiences a young child is exposed to has a direct association to the development of dendrites, axons and myelin, thus affecting the development of the child’s future abilities. Researchers widely accept the theory that 50% of this wiring of the brain happens by five years old, while 80% is completed by age eight.

Parents may be surprised to learn that the development of the brain is correlated to the process of learning, not the answer or solution. As children work through a problem, the brain rewires itself. As a result, Eric Jensen states, “Educators have a significant moral and ethical responsibility for enhancing or limiting the lifetime potential of a human being. Will those hours be spent nurturing a better brain or literally narrowing the boundaries of that potential?” The answer is easy, for Eric Jensen suggests, “Let’s all enrich our children like crazy.”

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