Sunday, June 5, 2011

Learning, Creativity and Laughter

Learning and laughter go hand-in-hand. Learning, like emotion and behavior, involves the limbic system. The limbic system is a small structure located in the middle of the brain between the brainstem and the cortex. The brainstem controls alertness and arousal and sends sensory messages to the cortex through the limbic system. Emotion is like the 'on-off switch' to learning. People having a bad day will often times say, "I can't think straight," and they're right, they can't. Whereas when we're feeling good we have a "clear" mind. Because the limbic system is the mediator between thought and feeling, it's easy to see why the experience of feeling good would be memorable, which is a perfect time to learn something new. 


Take a song you remember. Often times, you don't just remember the song, but the feelings initially associated with that song. "This song brings me back," people will say. Anyone who's worked with kids already knows that if you make a child laugh, learning will follow. Dull, monotonous, repetitive days of filling out worksheets and reading chapter after chapter of dry history facts will not impress the brain's emotional critic, who then issues a 'thumbs-down' and quickly ships the connection off to be recycled or replaced with a new, more lively memory. Take this little ditty by Brain, from Pinky and The Brain, and these neuroscientific concepts will be much more memorable: 


Give an elementary school or junior high student a box filled with Bill Nye The Science Guy videos and they'll remember how each experiment worked. Read it aloud in class, fill out a worksheet, and take a test, and only a small percentage of children will remember the correct answers. Chances are that even the brightest children will only have a vague recollection a month later. Teach a child about combustion and pneumatics by having them construct a spud gun and then pitting them against each other in teams like little combat warriors on the playground and chances are they'll remember one thing from science class that year - how to build a spud gun. 

If you're like me, you don't need statistics or high-level research to convince you that humor is one of the most effective tools we can use to create unforgettable learning experiences. In fact, my best teachers taught me with School House Rock videos. As a Generation X learner, I appreciate a good animated educational short over a lengthy documentary any day. Take this video on Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson. Is it just me or are the comics a really good idea? I could learn anything if you deliver it in a comic book.




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