The science of spring: how a change of seasons can boost classroom learning
The switch from winter to spring can improve students moods and increase their energy levels. Heres how teachers can use this neuroscience to their advantage.
The seasonal change of winter to spring has long been associated with growth and renewal. Research suggests that for many people the extended daylight also boosts mood, wellbeing and energy. One theory is that dopamine a chemical messenger that promotes pleasure, motivation, confidence and memory increases with more exposure to sunlight.
While teachers can take advantage of the seasonal changes to spend time outdoors introducing photosynthesis and experimenting with how water and sunlight stimulate plant growth they can also use the affects of this seasonal change on their students brain to their advantage:
At this time of year energy levels are boosted; students tend to be more curious as a result. Spring is a time to promote your classs natural instincts to figure things out and to push boundaries, challenging them to take on more independent work.
Encourage their curiosity by asking students what else they would like to know about a topic. This gives students more interest and means they are more likely to remember the information because of the positive energy (dopamine). It also reignites the learning motivation they had when they first started school and wanted to know about everything.
One spring a bird flew into our classroom. Rather than just help it out and ignore the disruption, we discussed why a bird would enter the building. This prompted debate about the increased building work taking place nearby in what had been a wetland for migrating birds whose regular resting place could no longer be found.
This led to small group work about the relationship between human land use and nature. The students were highly engaged, and even wrote letters and made posters about the problem.
Beware of changed sleep and study schedules
Although students sense of wellbeing and moods can respond positively to the spring and summer transition, longer daylight hours may have a negative impact on their study and sleep schedules. Subtle changes in circadian rhythms, such as when transitioning to daylight saving time or returning to school schedules after spring break, can interfere with attention, memory and higher cognitive functions.
Circadian rhythms are naturally occurring biological processes that take place in a 24-hour sleep-wake cycle and the ebb and flow of focused attention at certain times of day. The sleep-wake cycle responds to the amount of daylight through the release of hormones and neurochemicals. One such hormone is melatonin secreted by the pineal gland. As cells in the retina sense progressive darkness, more melatonin is released promoting the onset of sleep. As the hours of daylight extend into evening, melatonin release can be delayed and result in difficulty falling asleep at the usual time. This influences attention, memory and cognitive functions. With the delay of darkness, students also dont have the usual cues to guide them to wind down outdoor play, transition to homework, or go to sleep at their regular times.
Help students promote their awareness of the potential problems related to increased daylight hours. Guide them to plan after school-hours to avoid homework delay and sleep deprivation.
Encourage them to plan and be organised as they make schedules for their daily and long-term assignments. Inform students about the decreased efficiency of their memory as a result of inadequate sleep. It is more motivating to stick to schedules when students learn that information studied before a full nights sleep is much more memorable than that obtained by cramming followed by less than six to eight hours of sleep.
Use the spring and summer months for creativity
Cross-curricular units, lessons where students get to move about and group work, provide additional antidotes for a feeling of restlessness and excitement (spring fever) that comes with this time of year. Make sure there are plenty of opportunities for children to be creative and make choices about what they want to study.
Build excitement about next year
Meet with the teachers your students will have next year (or look at the following years texts and curriculum) to find links between what they need to review from this year, with what they will find interesting next year.
You will be able to show students that what they learn in school from year to year is like a growing plant within a cycle. What they learned this year (which youll be reviewing for final exams) will be more meaningful as they see and feel optimistic about how it will be picked up again as the curriculum continues. Again through neuroplasticity, each time a memory network is activated, reviewed and applied it becomes stronger.
Another great thing to do is to get students to be mentors for those who will follow them into your class next year. Get them to write letters to their peers about what they will learn; its a fun way to help them review what theyve learned.
Suggest ways to keep learning memories strong over summer holiday to help parents to reduce the summer slump when brains switch off over the holidays. One way of doing this is by making sure parents know what students have covered during the year so they can make connections over the break.
If, for example, they learned about the geography of rivers or mountains this can be discussed if they go somewhere on holiday. When they learn about percentages in maths and want an item on sale for 20% off, ask students to figure out how much money will be saved. Making previous learning relevant means its more likely to be remembered.
Keep yourself energised
Remember that you too need to follow the same suggestions you use to guide your students. It is tempting to stay out later and enjoy the spring weather and the renewal of nature around you. So keep in mind the pleasurable goal of feeling uplifted, refreshed and energetic the following day to help you resist the lure of the light. Enjoy the spring in your step.
See original text: http://bit.ly/1DboDOT