Educational neuroscience is an emerging scientific field of study that combines research of biological processes with education. Researchers are attempting to link findings in cognitive neuroscience with educational technology to facilitate in curriculum design.
Thompson, P.M. et al. (2000) suggests that growth patterns at specific ages can be detected in developing brains and that there may be an anatomical reason for the ease with which children are able to acquire specific skills.
Thompson, along with a group of brain imaging researchers at UCLA, has used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to obtain brain scans from children ages 3 to 15 years. These children were all of normal health and mental function. The researchers scanned the children's brains at intervals ranging from two weeks to four years, which allowed them to follow changes in their brains and construct "growth maps" of brain development.
Dr. Paul Thompson and his colleagues found that the children's brains develop in a specific pattern, with a spurt of growth that starts in the front of the brain from ages 3 to 6. Between the ages 6 and 13, the researchers found that the pattern of rapid growth moves from the front to the back, toward the areas of the brain that are specialized for language skills.
In accordance with Thompson's findings, Dr. David A. Sousa (2011); an international consultant in educational neuroscience, states the relevance of neuroscience in education:
"As neuroscience advances, educators are realizing that some basic information about the brain must now become part of their knowledge base. Educators are not neuroscientists, but they are members of the only profession in which their job is to change the human brain every day. Therefore, the more they know about how it works, the more likely they are to be successful at changing it."
Dr. Sousa further explains several major brain structures and their functions. He also offers a chart entitled: "Windows of Opportunity as a Child's Brain Matures". The chart shows sensitive periods for learning during childhood. He focuses on motor development, emotional control, vocabulary, spoken language, math/logic, and instrumental music skills.
Additionally, Dr. Kathie Nunley connects current psychological and neurological research to education through a method of instruction entitled Layered Curriculum ™. In her book entitled Layered Curriculum (2004), Nunley reveals that although she is a "regular education educator", she is also a "special education parent". What she has learned from her high-functioning autistic son is that "no one wants to feel singled out or special due to a disability".
From her daughter, Nunley has learned about brain plasticity. Since the age of one, Nunley's daughter has been recovering from a depressed skull fracture due to a head-on collision with a drunk driver. The collision damaged the frontal lobes of the infant's brain and resulted in immediate loss of both speech and hearing. Through an infant stimulation program at school, other areas of the brain that were not damaged were trained to perform the functions of speech and hearing. The recovery was so successful, that Nunley's daughter went on to attend a school for gifted and talented learners. Nunley's third child was diagnosed with dyslexia and her fourth child does not have a special need, although Nunley quips, "Who, as any parent of a seven year old can tell you, should probably be in classified as a special education learner for no other reason than he's seven!"
With all of her experience, both in the classroom and at home, Nunley has designed Layered Curriculum ™ as a practical solution for managing inclusion, diversity, learning styles, multiple intelligences and mind styles. This is accomplished through choice. Nunley explains the importance of choice as follows:
"There are many parts to the learners' brains. But two most critical to the classroom are the cortex and the hypothalamus. The cortex houses most of our learning. Unfortunately, due to the way the brain works, we have to get through the more primitive layers in order to reach the cortex. So, in order to reach the cortex to store information... we must make sure that the remainder of the brain is assured of basic survival.
One of the key players in survival is a small area of the brain called the hypothalamus. Lying underneath the cortex, the hypothalamus controls a great deal of primitive needs. It is in charge of the primitive emotions -anger, aggression and fear. It also controls the fight or flight response, hunger, thirst, the sex drive, body temperature, water balance and the endocrine system of hormones.
So, what's a educator to do? It boils down to one simple word. Control. People want control. A feeling of control is a feeling that one's survival is not threatened. The easiest way to allow learners to feel control in the classroom is through choice."