As an educator you know it when you see it – that moment when your students are having so much fun, are so engaged and so motivated that their learning seems effortless. It’s what we all strive for everyday, but achieving it is harder than it looks.
Read more to learn about:
- What the science of the brain and learning tells us about the importance of dopamine.
- Four brain-based learning strategies to motivate and engage your students.
- Resources for further learning.
As someone who works with young people, you can sometimes feel like they aren’t listening to a word you are saying. Even though you have created the perfect lesson plan or activity, it seems everything is going in one ear and out the other. What gives?
There is probably more than one reason why your students aren’t hanging on to your every word. After all, distractions abound. But when it comes down to it, there’s one thing that can make or break your students’ memory: a little thing called dopamine.
What is dopamine?
To scientists, dopamine is a neurotransmitter – a chemical messenger that helps the transmission of signals in the brain. It affects brain processes that control movement, emotions, and the ability to experience pleasure and pain.
But to anyone who works with young people, dopamine is best understood as the brain’s reward system. When students experience something they enjoy – like going on an adventure with friends, or discovering a tasty treat in their lunch box – dopamine is released in their brain. Even learning something new triggers these feelings of euphoria, but only if its something really engaging and awesome.
How does dopamine affect learning?
Our brains are wired to find learning fun! Think about it: every time we are interested and engaged in a subject, our brain gets a shot of dopamine. The feelings of pleasure that follow makes us want to keep learning, exploring and pushing ourselves to find out more.
In other words, dopamine rewards behaviours – like learning – that promote the survival of our species.
But what’s more, dopamine not only motivates us to learn, but it also helps us retain new information. Dr. Martha Burns, a neuroscientist and leading expert on how children learn, calls dopamine the “save button”.
When dopamine is present during an event or experience, we remember it. But when it’s absent, nothing seems to stick. The more interested we are in an activity, the more dopamine is released and the better we remember it.
Information is constantly streaming in and out of our brains. That we know. So the trick is to find a way to filter out distractions, and get students to focus on what really matters – the activity at hand.
How can I use brain-based learning strategies to motivate and engage my students?
USE HANDS-ON LEARNING
When young people are engaged in hands-on learning they are actively engaging all five of their senses as they explore and learn. This information will naturally will take precedence over whatever else is happening around them. Their brains will make that information top priority over all other sensory input. Ultimately, they will feel more enthusiastic and engaged, and their dopamine levels will skyrocket.
LEVERAGE THE POWER OF NOVELTY
Simply put, novelty is anything that is new to us. The way that children naturally gravitate to a new toy, even when familiar toys are present illustrates how novelty makes us happy by rewarding us with dopamine.
USE THE SATISFACTION OF SHARED EXPERIENCE AND ACHIEVEMENT
Working together, problem-solving, pooling knowledge and skills and taking risks are great ways to get dopamine working to support interest, engagement and learning.
GO FLY A KITE
The combined power of hands-on learning, novelty and shared experiences helps student not only learn and remember more, but helps students develop the confidence, curiosity and perserverance necessary to excel in school, and beyond. They become learners for life!
We have seen so many times how the experience of decorating, assembling, and flying their own Kite inspires and engages everyone who uses our Kite Kits, making memories that last a life time.
Knowing this is simple brain chemistry doesn’t make it any less magical to us though.
READ & LISTEN
Learn more about the science of brain-based learning
This podcast on STEM Everyday featuring guest Bonnie Kirkley is focused on brain science and STEM learning. STEM Everyday #214
- Make brain breaks a regular part of your routine.
- Celebrate wins.
- Create a class playlist. Your own personal experiences will confirm that music makes us happy, and leverages dopamine to support learning.