Teachers are learning how the brain works

The trick to learning – and teaching – is to know how to forge strong pathways among neurons, wrote Professionally Speaking, the magazine of the Ontario College of Teachers, in its June 2010 edition, in a story profiling supporters of a fledgling movement around the world that is matching new scientific knowledge about the brain with teaching practices.

The more parts of the brain that are activated as a person learns, the stronger the pathways. The more pathways used, the stronger the learning and recall. That’s why moving the body, listening to music and generally using as many senses as possible while learning something helps the brain to retain and recall the information. Learning actually sculpts the brain.

Many teaching practices prevent neurons from communicating and shut down the process of learning. Those include standing at the front of the room reciting information without explaining why the student needs to know it.

The implications for education are immense and will require tremendous creativity on the part of educators who will put new practices to the test in the classroom. Imagine thinking about what parts of the brain are at work as each child is learning. Imagine teachers applying knowledge of how the brain learns in everyday lessons, and then assessing and sharing results.

For Robert Wager, course director for technological education in York’s Faculty of Education, one of those educating in-service and pre-service teachers about how the brain works, it means setting the stage for improving Canada’s economic and intellectual health. “Imagine if we had everyone thinking at a higher level,” he says, pointing to potential increases in Canada’s economic output.

In other words, we could build better brains if we wanted to. Lots of them.

Canadians are thinking smaller when it comes to homes

Despite a feeling that this is a bad time to make major purchases, people are piling back into housing for fear they’ll miss historically low interest rates, wrote the Financial Post June 1. Yet, with mortgages representing 70 per cent of recent debt and families spending as much as 68 per cent (in Vancouver) of their disposable income on their homes, researchers expect a downsizing trend – fed both by empty-nesters seeking smaller spaces and Canadians unable to afford their current homes as interest rates rise. This, in turn, may fuel the shift from suburbs to cities.

“More people want to live downtown because, as the cost of transportation and congestion increase, people try to live closer to work,” says James McKellar, director of the Real Property Development Program at the Schulich School of Business at York University. In the 1990s, the biggest segment of condo buyers was single women, he says. Now, childless couples and high-income singles are the ones flooding into high-rises.

York actor credits high-school teacher for being her stage mentor

She had a leading role in a great musical comedy – it was just a bit weird that her lover in the show was her brother, wrote the London Free Press June 1.

Shaw Festival star Deborah Hay (BFA Spec. Hons. ’95) laughs about her stint as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, while her brother, Mike, was Seymour – but the experience completely changed her focus in life. Hay was in Grade 12 at John Paul II Catholic Secondary School when she played Audrey.

Thanks to the encouragement of a teacher, Hay took on the role that eventually led her down an incredible career path. This year she has leading roles in One Touch of Venus and The Women at the Shaw.

“I had an amazing teacher there – Pat Spadini. He was my acting teacher. Before that I never even thought it was something I’d be capable of doing. He instilled so much confidence in me,” Hay said. “He was just a real mentor for me and he changed my life. I’ll be eternally grateful to that man.”

Hay, who has a degree in theatre performance from York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, has numerous classical theatre roles to her credit. These days, though, she’s enjoying hamming it up and singing. “It’s a real joy to come back to the stage to sing.”

Hate turns to love for athlete

York student Heather Hamilton is living proof that you can convert a dislike into a passion in no time at all, wrote The Mississauga News May 31.

Hamilton, it seems, has always been gifted and talented. She turned her gymnastics ability into high jumping and became a provincial gold medallist during her days at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School.

But high jumping wasn’t giving her much of an opportunity to improve her skills, and it was time to look for another challenge. She made the transition to pole vaulting and in just a few short years, she’s reached the point where she has a legitimate chance to compete at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

“I hated it (pole vaulting) at first,” recalls the 5-foot-10 Hamilton. “It just didn’t come naturally to me and it probably took me a year before I finally started to get excited about it. It’s an addiction now.”

On air

  • Gail Fraser, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, spoke about the BP oil well leak and her concerns about offshore drilling, on CBC Radio’s “The Current” and other local programs across Canada May 31.
  • Don Rickerd, associate director of the Asian Business & Management Program at York’s Schulich School of Business, spoke about heightened tensions between North and South Korea, on BNN-TV May 31.