Hacking Your Student’s Brain for Education

Anyone Can Do It!

If you have read my 10 Educational Commandments, then you will know that I truly believe that just about anyone can be an educator, from the elementary school janitor to the esteemed academic thinker.

This is a topic that often comes up when it comes to homeschooling and parents, or “non-professional” educators, taking on the responsibility for their student’s education. There are so many parents who are terrified of the idea of “messing up” by not being a trained teacher. Well I hate to break it to you, but there are some “trained” teachers who are absolutely terrible at their jobs. 

Wouldn’t you rather give your child the chance of you messing up with love while actually caring about what happens to them, or chancing that a stranger is going to put as much love and attention toward your child as you would?

Well, let’s talk a little bit about what people with education degrees in public schools know that you might not about how to teach.

girl in pink and white crew neck t shirt holding brown notebook

It isn’t so much the idea of how to teach that we learn during our training as professional educators, but the way the brain works and how to hack it for different students. The way we teach is supposed to be unique to every individual teacher, and those of us who love what we do view teaching as an art form. Consider each lesson for example; instead of thinking about the information being conveyed, think of the way the information is given to you. 

It is the way the teachers paint their words across the room and into their student’s brains that makes teaching an art.

So once you understand that each teacher is unique in their presentation of information, then how is it that there can be so many effective teachers out there? It’s the fact that we understand how the brain works. We understand how those assignments in those sequences allow the student to get the most out of the information we are presenting to them.

We will now discuss some methods you can use to begin hacking your student’s minds so they get the most out of each lesson you present.

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Create an Environment Conducive to Learning

All teachers and homeschooling parents know that the process of teaching can be chaotic and even messy (especially with small children). That of course is part of the fun of learning. 

What that does NOT mean is that you shouldn’t be organized when it comes to your classroom or learning area. To be honest, proper learning cannot happen in a disorganized environment. A student’s mind cannot focus on what you are presenting to them if there is a mess or distractions everywhere. However, there are things you can do today to begin fostering a healthy learning environment for your students. 

For instance, It is always good to keep the students’ books, writing pads and study materials in one place. When they enter the room they will immediately know where to grab their things. 

Eventually, they will learn to do this subconsciously, leaving their brain free to focus on other things, like a warm up assignment or shaking out the wiggles. 

Another great thing you can do for the students is create what I call a walk-in routine. When I taught high school, I would have my students sign the role sheet near the door as they entered. They then had to go to a file drawer to pull out a folder with their name on it that had the day’s assignment inside. It only took about a week for them to follow this routine without me having to tell them what to do.

This did 2 things: it allowed the students to establish a routine within my classroom, as well as an expectation to work at their own pace on the material being presented to them.

children sitting on brown chairs inside the classroom

Routines are also insanely important for your classroom. They let the student know that there are RULES TO FOLLOW. As long as the rules are always enforced and are reasonable, the student can feel safe in the classroom and can then focus their attention on you, the teacher.  This is one of the reasons that so many homeschooling blogs and other accounts will focus so heavily on the concept of a homeschool routine or rhythm, because students of all ages really do thrive on those routines.

When there is a routine in place, both in and out of the educational setting, it allows for student’s minds to run on autopilot and makes them more open to taking in new information presented to them.  When a student feels stable in their learning environment, they are able to actually learn instead of just recall facts.

The Importance of Moving Around and Hands-on Activities at All Grade Levels

Despite what you might hear to the contrary, all children love to move around and it’s usually a healthy thing when they do. Physical movement allows the students to release stress built up during the day so they can then focus more on learning. It has also been linked to brain development, memory retention, and creativity.

This does not mean that the students should be running around the classroom with absolutely no order. However, structured physical activities with rules for behavior can do a tremendous amount of good.

Of course, movement activities should not be used 100% of the time, nor should the student be expected to simply sit at his desk all day every day. The amount of time between scheduled physical activities should be able to increase as the students get older, but it is an important factor at all grade levels. I mean, they literally sell desks for use in the corporate world that are attached to treadmills, so why don’t we think that kids with twice the energy of adults need to get it out throughout the day as well, right?

When you feel the need to switch things up, consider some type of hands-on activity. Having students study or work on something that involves their hands will always be more engaging than merely listening to the teacher talk about it. 

Kinesthetic activities have been known to improve a child’s cognitive and motor abilities as well as increase their self-confidence. Some schools, mostly elementary schools, have even implemented “movement breaks” where the kids can walk around the room or do some yoga, but movement is required of all students who are able. This seems to be working as overall test scores for these schools have gone up consistently since the implementation of these breaks.

There are many things you can try to get your students going. For example, you can have them create puppets and then perform a puppet show in front of the class (arts and crafts is also important for bolstering a student’s creativity). Role-playing is also a great way to get students out of their seats. Have them write a script with a partner based on the topic of the day and then tell them to perform the script in front of the class. This works very well with middle and high school students. 

Promote Debate and Collaboration

No other technique might promote more active learning and participation than having the students discuss with each other what they’ve learned. 

Sounds good, right? Let’s go deeper.

In many classrooms, students only listen to the teacher give a lecture and rarely have to participate. During these types of classes, the only concern a student has is to not fall asleep during class. 

Making the students active participants in their education is one of the best ways to get information and topical concepts to stick for the long term.

When students have to debate each other or work together, they have to think more carefully about what they’re going to say and find evidence to defend their point of view. They have to listen attentively to their peers and learn how to agree or disagree respectfully. Most importantly, they are forced to consider more than one perspective.

As we all know, challenging your own preconceived notions on topics, especially in today’s world, is SO important, and this starts at the very beginning of a person’s educational life.

The simplest activity to get the students talking to each other is Think-Pair-Share. Assign partners and then ask the students an open-ended question, or one where they cannot simply answer with “yes” or “no”. Give the students a few minutes to think and then have them share their answer with their partner.

If you’re homeschooling, we highly suggest teaming up with at least one other homeschooling family in your area. This way you can do these group activities to help your students understand the concepts even better and be able to convey their thoughts in a more cohesive way for others.

Then there is Peer Instruction. Students interact with each other to answer a question posed by the teacher. This is also important when a student is having trouble understanding the material. Instead of the teacher attempting to explain again, have one of your students try to “teach” his partner.

This is great for helping them reinforce what they already know. The simple truth is that sometimes a student can learn something easier from their peers than the instructor, and it also helps cement the concepts for the student doing the peer teaching.  A win win all around!

Start “Chunking” Today

You might have heard the old rule of thumb that the human memory can hold around seven pieces of information. Unfortunately, this concept is now outdated and new research says it’s more like two or four pieces. This is compounded by the fact that the hippocampus (the area of the brain that holds information) can easily be overloaded, especially if students are learning very complex material.

The truth is that many teachers stuff their lessons with too much information too quickly trying to fit as many state and federal standards into a lesson as possible. When this happens, the student’s brain is not allowed to actually take anything in and nothing is learned.

When it comes to basic education, the old adage that “slow and steady wins the race” is totally true. Remember, the goal is to impart topical information, wisdom and skills to the students, not simply to make them good at recalling facts for a standardized test.

woman in red shirt holding pen writing on white paper

If you think that the subject matter you are teaching might be difficult for the students, chunk your lesson into shorter segments (up to 8 minutes per chunk). If the students have a good understanding of the material, the chunks can be longer (up to 15-20 minutes) before giving a break.

During a break, the students can be allowed to go over what they have learned or ask the teacher questions. You can also give them a lighter activity to do until the next chunk.

This process is especially beneficial when reading long texts. By giving students breaks in between, they can more easily retain vocabulary, attempt to paraphrase what they have read so far, or try to explain the text to a partner. 

All in all, hacking your student’s brain is all about basing your teaching approach on real, peer-reviewed research on how the mind actually works. This type of learning is great for building memory and retention, as well as helping with comprehension of information. Hacking your student’s brain also ensures that what they learn isn’t immediately forgotten as soon as they exit the classroom and instead it stays with them for years to come.

Which student hack technique would you like to try?  Which one(s) do you already use?  Let us know in the comments.

Want more brain hacking hacks?  Let us know in the comments so we can continue to create content you need and want.

If you liked this article, please also check out our article on how to get your students to think critically.

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