Brain-Based Learning With Gifted Students: Author Q&A
Brain-Based Learning With Gifted Students: Author Q&A
PUBLISHED: Monday, November 09, 2020 by Andilynn Feddeler

Brain-Based Learning With Gifted Students combines relevant research in neuroscience with engaging activities for gifted elementary students in grades 3–6. Through the lessons in this book, students will learn how to cultivate curiosity, neuroplasticity, metacognition, empathy, and well-being. Learn more about the book and brain-based learning in this interview with the author, Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, Ph.D.
 

Q: What motivated you to write this book?

A: Like many good ideas, this book started as a seed of an idea and then blossomed with research and encouragement. Originally, I set out to write a workbook on wonder. However, as I unpeeled the layers of wonder, it became clear that in order to explore wonder with students, I would also need to address reason, creativity, problem solving, and specific meaning-making mechanisms in the brain, including the default mode network (DMN) and the prefrontal cortex (PFC). I realized that I couldn’t write a book on wonder, critical thinking, creativity, and metacognition without drawing directly on neuroscience. However, I also realized that educators often had limited access to neuroscience and neurobiology and so, if I wanted to talk about these concepts, I would have to include some background information for educators. Hence, we landed here with this comprehensive brain-based learning expedition for educators and students. 
 

Q: Why is it important for teachers (and students) to understand the neuroscience behind learning and development?

A: Although classrooms are learning-rich spaces, are they brain-based spaces? Our classroom communities are deeply invested in learning, memory, emotional regulation, and decision making; therefore, it makes sense for both students and teachers to know more about how these processes happen in the brain. Brain-based learning is a call to more intentionally link what we do in the classroom to what we know about the brain. We might think of this as the intersection between brain science and classroom practice.

In the last 25 years, researchers have made important discoveries about the brain. These discoveries directly matter for our work in the classroom, and I believe students and teachers deserve access to this science. Understanding how learning and processing happen in the brain might help us better address students’ complex learning needs. In short, learning about the brain is an empowering and relevant source of inquiry for both students and teachers. 


Q: How is the book structured? What is included in each chapter?

A: Each chapter is organized around a specific neuroscience concept for educators and their students to explore together. This book is not a scripted curriculum. Instead, I aim to provide research-based information and engagement opportunities aligned with big ideas in science. The activities and lessons in this book give students an opportunity to learn about neuroscience within the context of understanding and caring for their unique brains and those in their communities.

The chapters include three distinct sections: 

  • Research Rationale: A clear and concise research overview on why this concept works and matters. The research rationale also serves to give educators important background information for the unit of study.
  • Classroom Practice: Specific activities and reproducibles for teaching this concept in your classroom. Each chapter concludes with a synthesizing “make it stick” project. These multifaceted and interdisciplinary projects give students space to take ownership of their learning in creative ways.
  • Extension Ideas and Transfer Notes: Ways to stretch and deepen these activities based on the unique interests and needs of your students. This section also includes a discussion of how to apply this brain-based concept to other content areas.

Chapters are aligned to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) programming standards as well as the cross-cutting concepts outlined by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).


Q: How do the activities help students understand their brains and learning processes?

A: The student activities in Brain-Based Learning With Gifted Students guide young people through a powerful inquiry journey to better understand their own brains and how those brains are influenced by and with other brains, communities, contexts, and experiences. Each chapter invites young people to question, explore, and connect. The nine essential questions that students wrestle with throughout this text are authored around agency, critical thinking, and big ideas in science: 

  • How can learning about the key structures of the human brain help you become a better learner?
  • How can you use questions as a tool for inquiry?
  • How are metacognition and learning connected?
  • How can you respond to the world with both wonder and reason?
  • How can learning about social cognition help you approach others with empathy?
  • What factors influence your developing brain? How can you use this information to grow as a problem solver?
  • How are your emotions, behaviors, and thoughts connected? What does this connection look like in the brain?
  • What choices can you make to take better care of your brain? 
  • How can you be an advocate for brain health?

 

Q: What are some of the best ways to keep the brain healthy?

A: The closing chapter of Brain-Based Learning With Gifted Students specifically addresses ways to keep the brain healthy. I teach students that “if it’s good for the body, it’s good for the brain, too.” This includes eating a well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep, limiting harmful stress, staying hydrated, and having access to safe, engaging learning environments. Although each of these variables is important, it is the interplay of multiple variables which holds the greatest effect on overall well-being. 

Whenever we talk about health, we must also talk about access. Not all children have equitable access to healthcare or healthy environments. It is for these reasons that I framed the chapter on brain health around advocacy. For example, as we explore the importance of nutrition, we also talk about the realities of food insecurity. I also include teaching notes for broaching these topics with humanity. 
 

Q: What do you hope readers take away from this book?

A: I hope to democratize neuroscience. Neuroscience has the potential to improve teaching, yet educators continue to have limited exposure to brain-based research as it applies to the teaching profession. This book offers an accessible starting place for exploring neuroscience and the classroom.

I hope to empower students with fact-based information about the brain. It is important for young people to know that their brains are unique, special, and constantly developing over their lifetime. 

I hope readers, especially students, use this information to become advocates for health, access, inclusion, and empathy in their communities. In the closing chapter, I tell students that being a good scientist is about asking interesting questions that matter for our communities. I then challenge them to use what they have learned about neuroscience to make a positive difference in their communities. 

Ultimately, I haven’t moved away from wonder. I still hope this book sparks wonder, as well as a deeper understanding for how wonder happens in the brain, and why it matters in our world. 


Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, Ph.D., is an educator, author, and international lecturer passionate about the capacity of student leadership to change the world. She serves as the Director of Academic Affairs and Engagement for Mizzou Academy. Dr. Fishman-Weaver writes and presents frequently on leadership, classroom culture, and advocacy for and with neurodiverse students. She is the author of three nonfiction books, a frequent contributor to Edutopia, and is known for adding surprise poetry to her research reports and keynotes.