Opening the Black Box of the Brain


Why is it necessary for educators to study the brain?
  • it's the focus of our daily work; we need to understand how it works to be able to teach it
  • the better we understand the brain, the better we'll be able to educate it
  • understanding how the brain works will help teachers critically analyze "the vast amount of neuroscientific information" available
  • teachers need strategies to help struggling learners

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Structure and Function of the Brain=

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What tests/scans are used to learn about the brain? What are the major differences amongst these tests/scans?
  • PET (Positron Emission Tomography Scan) - allows scientists to picture the anatomical areas that become active while a person performs various mental tasks; subject is injected with radioactive glucose and when certain areas of the brain are stimulated through mental activity they will use more of the radioactive glucose. Areas that use the highest amount of radioactive glucose show up on the scan as white, red, and yellow. Areas of lesser use glow green, blue, purple. Note: gives a good picture of overall activity in the brain but doesn't show the specific area in which the activity occurs.
  • fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technology) - primary goal is to show not only structures of the brain but also neural activity. When the subject is asked to engage in an activity the parts of the brain that are responsible for that activiy causes certain neurons to fire. More blood flows to these areas; the oxygen in the blood changes the magnetic field so the radio signal emitted becomes more intense. The fMRI scanner detects and measures these changes in intensity and produces a computer image of them. Note: Cannot capture the must faster fluctuations in electrical activity that occur when neurons communicate with one another.
  • Electroencephalography (EEG) - used to measure the moment-to-moment changes in neuronal activity by measuring the electrical signals created by the oscillations of neurons. Sensors placed on the scalp can detect impluses passing from the brain through the skull and scalp. When people are very alert they exhibit a higher number of brain wave oscillations. This is an important tool for studying epilepsy and sleep physiology. It is also useful in education-related issues like language processing.