Calculating and Reasoning

I have been reading a really inspirational book, called ‘The Art of Changing the Brain’ by James E Zull. The part that struck me today was the fact that when we do mathematical calculations, we use the front cortex of our brain and when we do estimation or comparing, we use the upper back cortex. Why is this important?

To set the scene of my epiphany this afternoon, I must add that we have recently had some wonderful professional learning with Michael Ymer, a maths curriculum expert. One of his main thrusts, is that teachers need to frame maths problems in a ‘story’. This of course helps with students engagement. If they can relate with the story, they have more ‘buy in’ with the problem and are more likely to persist with a solution. I made a connection with Ymer’s mantras and stuff that I learned about the brain today.

A popular complaint from teachers, especially in the maths sphere, is that students often rush problems and do not often check that their answers are plausible. If students are immersed in real life problems or even better, problems that students can relate to, they will be more likely to check that the answer is in the ball park.

Enter my new brain learning today. When students are mindlessly completing sheets of algorithm work, they are engaging one area of the brain, the front cortex. However, if students are using the same skills to solve problems that are in an engaging activity that they believe is worthwhile, they are then forced to use extra areas of the brain, where comparisons and estimation is required i.e. the upper back cortex… to check that their answer is in the ball park!

Moral of the story – the more often teachers can engage different areas of the brain, the more effective the learning is and likely that neuron networks are firing to produce lasting changes in the brain!

Indiana is using his upper back cortex