John Medina, developmental molecular biologist and author of “Brain Rules: 12 principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School,” gave a lecture at Pierce College Puyallup on April 26.
With approximately 285 people in attendance, the event was sold out. Medina compelled the audience to consider the way the brain reacts to information and organizes. He explained how certain aspects of our circumstances can be modified for peak brain performance.
Medina was asked to speak on the general topic of how brain sciences might influence the way people are educated, using his book “Brain Rules” as an organizing framework.
With light-hearted skepticism, Medina explained that we actually don’t know very much about the brain. Though he believes education is all about brain development, he stated that even if we knew everything about how the brain works, people in the sciences and people who teach for a living simply don’t get together very often.
“One reason I wrote ‘Brain Rules’ in the first place, was to explain how we can be looking at the exact same pieces of information and have wildly different interpretations of what’s going on,” Medina said. “Another reason I wrote ‘Brain Rules’ was an attempt to do some myth busting.”
Medina established some truths about the brain by incorporating tested, concrete evidence of conditions the brain has for optimum performance.
“The human brain was designed to solve problems related to surviving in an outdoor setting, in unstable meteorological conditions and to do so in constant motion,” Medina said.
Following the guidelines established in his book regarding attention span and how he believes teachers should formulate their lectures, Medina divided his presentation into three segments: infants with their imitation and language, elementary and secondary students and college students and the strange case of sleep. He used his attention-keeping strategy from “Brain Rules” by breaking up his speech into 10-minute blocks of information and using illustrations.
Though Medina went through his information quickly, he elaborated on each point and gave specific examples that came from his knowledge and experience.
In the first segment of his lecture, he posed the question of what do we know about how babies process information. His conclusion explained through humorous anecdotes and his personal experience, was that kids have active brains. He explained the complexities of a baby’s sophistic predisposition and how as humans, they’re born natural explorers.
In part two of his lecture, Medina addressed brain tendencies at the elementary and secondary ages.
Medina explained that the way parents raise their children plays a significant role in how they see themselves and whether or not they’ll succeed or fail in a high-pressure academic setting.
“Whether they thrive fully depends on how they react to their failures,” Medina said. “And how they react to their failures depends on you—their parent.”
Medina elaborated fixed mindset, parents tend to praise their children for things they have no control over, such as praising them for being smart. Then when they fail, they conclude that they are not smart.
With a growth mindset, however, the focus is instead on applauding success because of their effort. It’s about affirming them for their elbow grease, not praising them for getting a trophy.
In the third segment of his lecture, Medina addressed college students and the strange case of sleep.
Though it is unknown exactly how many hours of sleep each person requires, Medina explained that the sleep cycle is as important as the learning cycle during the day.
“As anyone knows who has slept with anyone else—people are active when they sleep.” Medina said.
Medina termed the system of learning while sleeping, “offline processing” citing specific case studies done on rats that were tested while they were sleeping and also awake noting that both cycles were vitally necessary in the most effective learning cycle.
“Brain scientists and education systems don’t get together very often, but if they did, we might turn the entire system upside down,” Medina said.
Using examples from his book, Medina explained how we all have a force in our bodies that wants to keep us awake all day and night and another force that is trying to make us fall asleep. For those of us who disobey our bodies, we fight the afternoon sleepies. He explained the importance of taking optimum 26-minute naps for best performance during the day.
“The perfect time to take a nap is 12 hours past the midpoint of your previous nights sleep” said Medina. “For example, if you go to sleep at midnight and wake up at 6 a.m., take a nap at 3 p.m.”
Everyone in attendance seemed to agree with his categorization of larks as early chronotypes, who function best in the mornings and owls or late chronotypes, those who are most productive at night.
“If I had an unlimited budget and few bureaucratic restraints, I’d change the system,” Medina said repeatedly.
He explained how teachers with late chronotypes should be matched with students who have late chronotypes for a successful learning environment. Bosses with late chronotypes should be paired with employees who have late chronotypes, and businesses should be open at all hours.
Medina delivered his message of how the brain works effectively with anecdotes and personal experiences to support his arguments.