Learning Connections

Research has proven over and over again that the brain works best when many different areas are simultaneously activated together. Without integrating subjects and allowing students to engage in the process of learning, we as teachers are simply transmitting information, and focusing only on developing few areas of the brain —mainly language processing and memorization. When we allow students to learn through storytelling, for example, instead of the mere act of lecturing, they can form an emotional connection to the material, and thus will be able to understand and retain the information much better. Vittorio Gallese, one of the key members who discovered mirror-neurons explains that:

“when we read fiction or see a movie or a play and even when we see a painting, we map these fictional humans’ actions, emotions, and sensations onto our own brains’ visceral, motor, and sensory representations. That accounts for our emotional experience, which comes before our cognitive experience.”

This Is Your Brain on Culture, 2011.

During the past couple of years, I came across many readings which support integrating arts into learning, especially math. At first, this idea seemed a bit unconvincing, mainly because I never had the opportunity to experience this during my studies. When I signed up for Math Camp at uOttawa before school started, I had the impression that it would be just like any typical math class I previously experienced, where we would remain seated for the entire class and work on problems individually. Attending this camp was truly an eye-opening experience as it changed my perspective on teaching. Hardly ever did we remain seated or even use a pencil during that week. The focus was on expressing our thoughts, engaging in discussions, integrating arts into the inquiry process, and developing visual representations for our solutions.

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As one of the professors placed it,

“we learn so much more about how students think by asking them to explain how they reached their solution instead of looking at the final answer.”

Focusing on how students express their thought process allows them to self-asses their own understanding, helps them build self-confidence, develop a sense of ownership to the material, and learn how to articulate their thoughts in general.

Personally, my goal is to introduce students to the art of knowledge, and hopefully get them to fall in love with the process of learning and discovering. I strongly believe that by integrating the arts and the idea of story-telling into other subject areas, will help my students develop a sense of emotional connection to the learning and provide them (and myself) with a more engaging and stimulating learning/teaching experience.