For example, rats placed in a cage with other rats only had the brain development shown on the left [see below]; however, rats that had not only other rats, but also physical stimulation and a variety of differentiated toys, had the brain development shown on the right.
“Which synapses remain and which are pruned depends on whether or not they carry any traffic,” said Armstrong. “When you stimulate the brain you make sure as many synapses as possible stay active, because if synapses are not used, then just like bus routes that attract no customers, they go out of business.”
That’s why, said Armstrong, many leading education experts recommend implementing high-order thinking skills into the classroom, which include critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration.
“Try to incorporate lots of different types of learning into the classroom—visual, auditory, etc., and use them in together as often as possible to reach and stimulate most of your learners,” noted Armstrong.
Another piece of advice to create good classroom stimulus is to try and make connections to new learning.
For instance, asking students to memorize CIA JFK TV SRO ASAP would be easier than to ask them to memorize CI AJF KT VSR OAS AP, because activating prior knowledge helps the brain make connections.
“The brain wants to make sense out of its world,” said Armstrong, “so help it out. Every encounter with something new requires the brain to fit the new information into an existing memory category or network of neurons. If it can’t, the information will have no meaning.”
Armstrong also developed these five questions educators should ask when considering differentiated instruction:
Of course, there are also some classroom practices that can help de-stress students and minimize the production of cortisol, noted Armstrong.
For example, the amount of time students spend learning should be through a “pulse” learning patterns, which Armstrong described as focused learning interrupted by breaks of two-to-five minutes for diffusion, or processing of information.
“For focused activity, young learners should have no more than 5-10 minutes before diffusion; adolescents 15-20; and adults 20-25,” she said.
Finally, perhaps one of the most effective ways to reduce students stress, but perhaps one of the most overlooked, is to take an interest in the students.
“I had a student who was struggling, kind of not participating and was very quiet, but really started to change and take an interest,” described Armstrong. “When I left for a new school, the student wrote me this letter, thanking me for asking him how he was feeling when he was sick. Such a simple thing; I didn’t even remember asking him, but it’s important to understand that human connection, and the care that can come from a teacher, can make all the difference.”