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Brain Questions to ask about Curriculum

Orange Leaders
Orange Leaders Thursday April 12, 2012
<? echo $type; ?> Brain Questions to ask about Curriculum

We had a great response to our blog and infographic about Sticky Teaching, so I read a book where some of those ideas originated from called, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina. I was curious about which things would also apply to our church and ministry worlds.

It turned out there was quite a lot—and I couldn’t put it down! I’ve come up with some questions to ask yourself as you look at or even create curriculum to make sure it really matches up with what brain research says helps us learn best.

Basic Research: There are two powerful features of the Brain.

  1. It can function as a database.
  2. It can improvise and apply what it knows to real life.

* Any learning environment that deals with only one of these ignores half of our ability and potential. And it’s ultimately doomed to fail.

Key Questions to ask:

  1. Does this curriculum emphasize a lot of facts, with more knowledge as the goal, or does it lean toward transferring of information or application?
  2. What ratio are you looking for—information to application? What would happen if you just got one without the other?
  3. Think about something you know a lot about it—how did you learn it? In more of a classroom setting or while doing it in the real world?

Sticky Teaching Rule #1 – Repetition is very important, because most learning doesn’t happen instantly but over time, even years!

  • Repeat the same thing intentionally, but space it out over a period of time.
  • Strategically cycle through key information, coming back to it over the years.

Key Questions to ask:

  • What things are repeated or emphasized each week in this curriculum? Is there a page or place where I can see this at a glance?
  • Is the learning focused on one main thing or thread? Can it be summed up in less than a minute?
  • When people leave, if you asked them what they just learned, would they be able to tell you? What about a few hours later or even a few days?
  • Knowing that people don’t come every week and that we hear things differently the second time or at different stages of life, does this curriculum ever repeat itself and some of its core content?

Sticky Teaching Rule #2 – Our brain is designed to learn in a constantly changing and interactive environment.

  • Research shows that we need the opposite of what most schools, churches and workplaces provide in order to really learn and grow.
  • More than 50 percent of our brain’s thinking resources focus on visual cues, and using more than one of their senses always leads to more retention.
  • The things in our environment that catch and hold our attention have a better chance of being remembered.

Key Questions to ask:

  • Does the curriculum help you think through how to create the best learning environment—using more than one of your senses?
  • Are the presentations multimedia—not just relying on someone to talk, but also using visuals and even tangible objects to get their point across?
  • Are there suggestions on how to regularly change things up to grab their attention—from creating sets or decorations, to using relevant music or videos and practical ideas for volunteers to make them more successful?

Sticky Teaching Rule #3 – If you want others to learn something, how it’s shared matters a lot.

  • Plan in 10-minute modules, focusing on one core concept that you can unpack in less than one minute, then spend the next nine unpacking the main idea further.
  • Our ability to learn something is related to how safe we feel, which is often directly related to our relationship with our teacher and emotions.
  • The best teachers get to know each child and how they learn best, so that eventually they know what motivates them and if they really understand.

Key Questions to ask:

  • Does this curriculum not only focus on one big idea, but does it unpack it and make it easy for me to use all the pieces during different times of the week?
  • Are building relationships and honestly sharing key considerations of this curriculum? If we use this, how will it help our people connect and open up?
  • Is there a set aside time and discussion or open ended questions each week in this curriculum for people to get to know each other better?
  • Is there variety in the kinds of activities to keep kids engaged even though they are motivated to learn in different ways?

I can’t wait to hear what you think. Is this research helpful? What other questions do you ask as you look at or create curriculum?

If you’re interested, I looked at this research and asked myself these questions about our elementary curriculum, 252 Basics. You can see the related blog about this, here.

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