Brain based learning with the senses, hearing, vision, AND smell, touch, and taste in the classroom

With all the advantages of a brain compatible learning environment and with how easy it would be to transform a regular classroom into a brain compatible environment, it is baffling why most classrooms are still stuck in the traditions of the pioneers. With all the research showing that students learn best when they are not stressed, being taught in accordance to their gender, able to get up and move, using all five of their senses in the learning process, and given information with relevance, emotion, and context, there should be more classrooms that work in this way than there are. Many classrooms are still set up in a way that cause stress with high stakes testing, do not address the problems of the students, force students to sit still for long periods which bores students. With a few simple changes, students would be able to learn much more efficiently than they do today.

There are different types of stress a student might encounter and each one effects the student differently. The two types of stress are good stress and bad stress. Bad stress has a negative effect on the learning process. When a student is feeling bad stress, their brain goes back to previously learned behaviors that they know work instead of trying the new behaviors they being taught. The student also will have a harder time understanding the lesson because they are less likely to pick up on the subtle details, such as facial expressions, hand motions, and feelings associated with the lesson that may have helped them string the new information together. Most likely because of the lack of ability to pick up on the subtle details, the student will also have a harder time committing the new information to memory. Another problem with bad stress is that it limits the student's ability to use higher order thinking (Jensen, 2008). In contrast, good stress encourages students and helps their performance. When a student is experiencing good stress, they do not feel threatened, but rather like there is a challenge ahead of them and that they have the ability to rise to the occasion and succeed at whatever the challenge is. These good feelings allow the student to become engaged in the learning process, retain the new information better, use their higher order thinking skills, grasp the subtle details that may help them later on, and test the new information they are being taught instead of using what they previously knew (Jensen, 2008).

Stress is always present in students and adults, it is how the stress is dealt with and what is causing the stress that makes it good or bad. As with many classrooms across the United states, Johnny is relying on test scores to pass his math class. He has been having a hard time grasping the new lessons and putting them into work on his tests. The teacher is now telling him that if he does not pass this upcoming exam, he is not going to be able to move to the next grade level with the rest of his class, and he will be held behind. Johnny goes home that night and feels like he is not going to be able to pass this next test. He does not sleep well because he is worried about the test in the morning. He tries to study, but only becomes frustrated and gives up trying to do the problems because he feels he will not understand it anyway. The environment he has encountered is now full of bad stress and because of these feelings, Johnny is most likely not going to pass this test and will be held back. In a brain friendly environment, Johnny would need to be treated differently. When the teacher noticed that Johnny was struggling on the tests, instead of waiting until there was one test left, they might have had Johnny eat lunch with them for a few days while getting extra help on the problem at hand. The teacher could have gone back to when they noticed that Johnny was just starting to have trouble and work on problems that they know will challenge him, but that in the end, he is capable of doing. This challenge would engage Johnny in the learning experience and help him retain the new information. After a couple days, Johnny might be caught back up to the rest of the class. The teacher should also look for signs that Johnny is having a stressful day. If he seems irritable, tired, or just not quite the same as he normally is, the teacher could take Johnny aside and see if there is anything they can do to help. For the class as a whole, the teacher could play Mozart or some other form of music to help the students relax before teaching the lesson. Music is one way of relaxing the brain and relieving some stress to help students learn (Chipongian, 2011).

Another effect on learning is gender, as in male brains and female brains are wired differently and learn better using different strategies. Male learners are better at learning when activity is involved. They are also better with spacial tasks than their female counterparts. Males tend to have a better working vocabulary and are also better at forming and maintaining habits. Males can also stay focused for a longer period of time than their female counterparts. Females on the other had have better fine motor skills and are better at multitasking. Females tend to be better at recalling where objects were in an array of objects and tend to be better at learning language and picking up subtle clues in language (Jensen, 2008).

Keeping in mind the differences in gender, a teacher might be able to tailor their lesson so that it can reach both genders equally. A language example that might help both genders learn and retain the lesson equally as well would be a lesson focusing on where the emphasis went on words in the language. The teacher could hand out maracas or another musical instrument in class that the students could, shake or bang on the syllable of the word that they thought needed the emphasis while they were saying the word. This lesson works for females because they are good at picking up the subtle cues in language and may not need the spoons, but it grabs their attention and keeps them listening to the words for those subtle cues. It also gives the female a second task to focus on. For the male learners, the musical instruments are a physical activity that they can manipulate. It also emphasizes the emphasis in the word to make it less subtle and easier to pick up on. This becomes an aid for the students because during the test, they can tap out the words they are trying to put accents on.

Movement also effects how students learn. An active student has many advantages over an inactive student. Activity improves blood flow to the brain which gives the brain more oxygen and more energy to process new information. Exercise can also relieve bad stress which helps students learn. Exercise also releases brain boosting hormones along with hormones that help solidify new information into long term memory. Exercise also helps prevent depression by relieving stress and allowing the student to have an outlet for negative feelings (Jensen, 2008). The last benefit of childhood exercise is not so much academic as it is live improving, but keeping exercise in the curriculum for students helps set the students up to live a healthier life style by having them connect good feelings to movement so that as an adult, they are more likely to want to go for a walk or the gym and keep physically fit than if they have lead a sedentary childhood (Kurkova, P. & Scheetz N. & Stelzer J., 2010).

Optimally, a school's curriculum will include some form of physical activity, such as physical education, but with time constraints being placed on schools these classes are being eliminated from the curriculum in order to make room for the classes that the government has deemed important. With these cuts, the students are expected to get their exercise at home, but many parents do not have the time to ensure that the child is in extracurricular activities or that they are at least getting out to play after school. A teacher should keep this in mind in the case that physical education is cut from their school's curriculum or if their students seem to be having a day that they are not absorbing any new information. A teacher may be able to work some movement into their lesson for the day which will help get blood flowing to the student's brain and release the hormones that help the students remember. A way the teacher could do this in a science class learning about different types of trees would be to take the class on a nature walk and have them collect different leaves to look at and identify which tree they came from. The students could then talk about the different leaves they collected. In a normal classroom, the teacher may have just brought the leaves in to study at the desks or even just shown pictures on the board or projector, but in a brain compatible environment, the teacher would know how important movement is to a student and would look for ways to work it into the lesson they are teaching.

Another major influence on learning is the senses. The brain takes in information from the senses to form a working picture of what is going on. Most of the incoming information is discarded after fifteen to twenty seconds unless it is relevant or interesting to the student. All learners learn is slightly different ways relying on different senses (Jensen, 2008), so the more information is coming in through the senses, the more likely it is that the student will find a piece of that information relevant or interesting and give it a second look which will help the information be committed to memory (Chau, 2011).

A typical lesson plan is usually made up of a lecture and some writing on a board at the front of the room. This engages two senses, sight and audio. This is a good start, but there are three other senses that are not being utilized by the teacher and if the teacher is just using a board to write on at the front of the room, the visual sense is not being utilized as effectively as it could. If the teacher wants to make a real impact on students learning about the position of rainforests on a global map, the teacher could turn the lesson into a hands on complete sensory experience. A brain compatible environment uses as many sense as possible and though some lessons are difficult to get all the senses involved in, the rainforest lesson would not be. The teacher could divide the class up into different continents to work on as a group. Each continent would have different rainforests on it with different plant life. The teacher could bring in sticks, pete moss, flowers, fruits, fake animals and other things that would be found in each rainforest. The groups of students would then be allowed to construct a rainforest on their continent where the rainforest belonged while snacking on the fruits that would be found their and listening to and engaging in a discussion about the rainforests. The students would be using their sense of touch as they manipulated the things found in the rainforest, their sense of smell because they would be smelling the fruits and mosses, their sense of taste as they were snacking on the fruits, the visual sense as they got to see a rainforest being put together before their eyes, and auditory senses as they discussed what they were learning. A teacher familiar with the brain compatible environment would know that a complete sensory submersion creates the best environment for students to learn in.

A student is more likely to remember information if it is relevant, sparks emotion, and has context. Relevance is the physical action of two neurons connecting in the brain. The way this happens is if the student already has something stored that the new information connects to. Talking to a class of first graders about the physics math problems involved in launching a rocket ship is not going to work because they have no base to connect the information to. The information is useless and will be lost on them. Emotion is also important to getting a student to retain new information. Emotions tell us what we believe and what is important to us (Jensen, 2008). Again, giving a lecture on something that does not matter to student, such as teaching kindergarteners who have never experienced a natural disaster about what the national guard does, is not going to get the student to remember because they do not have any emotions tied to what is being discussed. Lastly, the information needs to have context. Context helps the brain to organize the new information more efficiently. The brain is designed to find patterns in incoming information which helps the brain connect the new information to previously stored information (Jensen, 2008). A negative example would be trying to teach a color blind student that an apple is red. If the student does not know what red is, they are not going to be able to understand using the color to describe an object. On the other hand, if you are teaching a normal student that an apple is red like the block is red, they will be able to store the new information under the same heading, so to speak, of red.

Creating relevance in a lesson would be creating an environment where the student can connect to the information being learning. Where teaching first graders about the math involved in launching a rocket ship is irrelevant and likely to be forgotten, teaching them about space by showing them a rocket launch and pretending to be astronauts is relevant. Most first graders know what the moon is so starting the lesson by talking about the moon will help the students connect the next part of the lesson to information they already know. The teacher might be able to talk about what it is like on the moon, how there is no oxygen, and no known life. The teacher could then move onto other planets and their moons and what it is like on them because the students would be able to connect the planets to the known planet earth and the moons to their known moon. This information is now relevant to them.

Creating emotion is another important part of creating a brain compatible environment. A teacher needs to make sure that the students feel something about the information. Learning decimals to the hundredth can be a lackluster lesson if the teacher does not help the students feel something about the information. Part of feeling something is to make it relevant to the students, like the moon. This could be done by setting up a store and having the students shop with pretend money. The teacher could then start purposely getting some of their addition wrong and charging the students more than they should have or having to raise the product prices all of a sudden because they are giving back too much change and the store needs to make more income. In a situation like this, the students would be able to buy less of what they wanted in the store and are likely to get angry at the teacher for changing the prices or not giving them the correct amount of change. The teacher has just succeeded in getting students' emotions involved. The students are now going to feel their belief that it is important to know how to count change as a cashier, but also as a shopper so that they know they are not getting less than what they deserve. In a lesson like this, context will be embedded. The context would be the patterns involved in the math and in the shopping experience. The students will most likely have experienced shopping with their parents at one point or another and seen the exchange of money for goods. This part of the experience will further define for them what is going on. Instead of thinking that three dollar bills are more than one five dollar bill, the information telling them that the number on the bill is more important than how many bills they have will be stored in this area. It will also be connected to their understanding of different numbers and math processes like addition and subtraction.

Two other strategies a teacher might use to help students retain new information are role playing and cues. Cues are things like mnemonic devices that help trigger memory (Thorne, n.d.). Role playing is acting out what is being taught. These are important to have access to in a brain compatible learning environment because they are more examples of keeping things relevant, interesting, active, and in context.

A brain compatible environment, tied all together keeping in mind stress levels, gender, movement, senses, relevance, emotions, and context, would look much different than a typical classroom in the United States. The students would most likely not be being graded much on high stakes tests that only create negative stress in a classroom, but more on how they were learning and able to discuss information in the class. The class would most likely begin with music and stretching to help get blood flowing and the students relaxed, so there would be an area designated for this activity because it would be a fundamental part of class. The class would also have changing, interesting displays that would pertain to the new information being taught that day. They would be something that would catch the students' eyes and keep their attention for more than the typical fifteen to twenty seconds. The desks may be arranged in an area of the room, but students would most likely be able to walk around and stretch when they wanted to. Some students may be sitting at their desk, but others might be standing or in another part of the room all together. To help keep stress levels down, the students might have also decorated their area around their desk the way they want so that it feels like their own. The classroom would probably not smell like a typical classroom either because the teacher would be changing the odors in the class to help the students remember information. There would probably be a good number of art supplies, manipulatives, and other tools that are uncommon in typical classrooms. For acting out lessons, there may be a part of the room that is set up as a stage, even if it is just done with laminated black paper on the floor and paper curtains. Students would look comfortable and at home in the environment and be engaged in the classroom instead of falling asleep on their desks.

There are many advantages to a brain compatible learning environment because the brain learns better under certain circumstances. Things like stress, gender, activity, the senses, and emotions have a great impact on how students learn. If a teacher takes these things into account, they can better prepare students for the life ahead of them along with being able to better utilize the time they are given for each lesson.


Chau, M. (2011). Connecting Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences Theories, retrieved January 13, 2011 from

Chipongian, L. (2011). Can Music Really Enhance Brain Function and Academic Learning?, retrieved January 6, 2011 from

Jensen, E. (2008). Brain-Based Learning 2nd edition, Corwin Press

Kurkova, P., Scheetz N., Stelzer J. (2010). Health and physical education as an important part of school curricula: A comparison of schools for the deaf in the czech republic and the united states. American Annals of the Deaf 155(1), 78-95. Retrieved August 18, 2010, from Project MUSE database.

Thorne, G. (n.d.). 10 strategies to enhance students’ memory. Center for Development and Learning . Retrieved on January 20, 2011 from

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Ellen Page 5 years ago from Indiana

I completely agree with you- classrooms should change with the times. Kids are studying just to pass the standarized tests and move on without ever really learning the material. Kudos for a well-written and relevant article!

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