Sunday, 4 Aug 2013

4 August 2013:  Our emerging understanding of the brain’s ability to establish efficient networks of information has implications for teaching and learning, delegates to the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) annual research conference will hear tomorrow.

Researchers and practitioners in neuroscience, psychology and education are gathered in Melbourne from today for Research Conference 2013, on the theme How the Brain Learns: What lessons are there for teaching?

Speaking ahead of the conference, presenter Professor John Pegg from the University of New England said, “For optimal learning to occur, the teaching agenda should represent the reality of working memory and neural functioning.”

That reality, research shows, is the 100 billion neurons contained within the brain, each of which links with around 10 000 other neurons to create neural networks that store information.

Professor Pegg will tell delegates that learning occurs because of ‘neuroplasticity’ – our ability to build neural networks either by taking existing neural networks and adding further connections to them, or combining separate neural networks into a larger network.

The implications of neuroplasticity for teaching and learning will also be explored at the conference by international speaker and author of The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, Barbara Arrowsmith-Young.

“Simply put, neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change structurally and functionally in response to stimuli,” Ms Arrowsmith-Young said.

“In order to harness neuroplasticity for practical purposes, we need to understand what research has shown to be important factors leading to both positive brain changes, such as active engagement, and to negative neural changes, such as chronic stress and anxiety,” she said.

The role of experiences and environment in shaping the networks in the brain will be discussed at the conference by visiting academic at Harvard University and senior analyst at the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, Dr Bruno della Chiesa.

“As an adult, one million billion connections link the 100 billion neurons in the brain. But only 10 per cent of the connections already exist at birth. The other 90 per cent are developed during the lifetime,” Dr della Chiesa said.

Dr Michael Nagel, author of In the Beginning: The brain, early development and learning, will explore the complex interplay between genes and experience on brain development.

“Healthy brain development is fostered through regular routines and consistency, opportunities to consolidate learning through repetition, hands-on interactions and activities, novel ways to learn through exploration and experimentation, exposure to rich, interactive language and most importantly, positive, reliable and supportive relationships,” Dr Nagel said.

Research Conference 2013 takes place in Melbourne from 4 to 6 August.

Further information is available from www.acer.edu.au/research-conference   

Download the full conference proceedings from www.acerinstitute.edu.au/files/Research2013.pdf

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