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Neuroscience & the Classroom: Making Connections

Introduction: The Art and Science of Teaching Course Overview

Welcome to Neuroscience & the Classroom: Making Connections. This is a course for committed educators genuinely eager to engage in new ideas about learning and to use these ideas to invent solutions to problems they and their students encounter. It is a course for experienced teachers, rookie teachers, aspiring teachers, student teachers, administrators—anyone who wants to understand more about how students learn.

The goals for this course are:

  • To foster an understanding of the unity of emotion and thinking and learning.
  • To help educators connect brain research to classroom practice and school designs.
  • To illustrate the benefits of collaboration between researchers and teachers so that research informs what happens in the classroom, and what happens in the classroom informs research.
  • To recognize and strengthen two roles of the teacher:
  1. Teacher as designer who creates the context for learning (environment, lessons) and who is able to take the perspective of learners.
  2. Teacher as researcher who treats student responses as data that reveal the effectiveness of lessons and that provide information for the next step in the learning process.

This course provides insight into some of the current research from cognitive science and neuroscience about how the brain learns. The major themes include the deep connection between emotion, thinking, learning, and memory; the huge range of individual cognitive strengths and weaknesses that determine how we perceive and understand the world and solve the problems it presents us; and the dynamic process of building new skills and knowledge. The course invites you to examine the implications of these insights for schools and all aspects of the learning environments we create for our children—teaching, assessment, homework, student course loads, graduation requirements. It is not a course that offers easy answers or proposes teaching methods that can be universally applied. Rather, it provides new lenses through which to view the teaching and learning challenges you face and invites you to discover your own answers to your own questions. If you want a brief preview of where we hope the course will take you, read the sidebar “Analyzing Classroom Problems through New Lenses.” (Unit 6)

The greatest benefit of this course is that, instead of providing simple answers or “tricks” or teacher-proof lesson plans, it treats you as a professional capable of finding your own answers to the specific teaching challenges you face in your particular circumstances. The course focuses on how learners learn and invites you to consider how teachers teach. As a result, you will become more skilled at inventing teaching strategies to improve the learning of your students.

Along the way, the course offers you an important opportunity to revisit the experience of being a learner. It will remind you of the ways in which your students struggle with new material. In the language we use in this course, you will be “building new neural networks” for understanding and for applying ideas and principles that emerge from the research you study. To get the most from this experience (and from the course), we urge you to become conscious of your own learning—the struggles, the misunderstandings, the moments when ideas gel, the need to revisit a new idea repeatedly, your emotional responses, the conditions under which you do your best learning, the effort required—the whole messy, non-linear process. To this end, you may find it useful to keep a journal of your learning: thoughts, feelings, observations, and insights.

Series Directory

Neuroscience & the Classroom: Making Connections


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation. 2006.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-815-7