Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Title of course:  Neuroscience and the Classroom: Making Connections

Neuroscience and the Classroom: Making Connections

Introduction: The Art and Science of Teaching


Section 6:
Beyond candy and smiley faces

Previous: Section 5 Next: Section 7

People can be rather schizophrenic about emotion. While they may increasingly, though grudgingly, accept its importance to learning, it can be difficult to figure out how to integrate it into lessons and course goals. As a result, many continue to treat it as a nuisance that must be banished to the edge of the settlement. Rational thought—reason— remains dominant. When asked to discuss the connection between emotion and learning, most teachers mention a few popular notions:

  • Negative emotions such as fear make learning impossible.
  • Positive experiences enhance learning.
  • Therefore, we need to create classrooms that are warm, welcoming, and supportive by smiling, shaking hands with students as they enter, getting to know them personally, making learning fun, and giving out rewards.

These ideas about positive and negative emotions are valid and important, but neuroscience is revealing a much deeper connection among emotion, thinking, and learning. For example, by studying patients who have sustained damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, researchers are becoming increasingly convinced of the inseparable bond between emotion and thinking. Good thinking and good decision-making—"rational" thought—depend on emotional processes. In the words of Dr. Antonio Damasio, "Emotion is the rudder for thinking." We think in the service of emotional goals.

In addition, emotion is essential to good problem-solving. People constantly (top)

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In addition, emotion is essential to good problem-solving. People constantly rely on intuition as they work on problems or seek answers to questions. We "feel" we are on the right or wrong track. We experience a sort of emotional jolt, often just prior to consciously recognizing a solution, whether to the problem of where we left our keys or to the problem of making sense of strings of numbers or pages of data. Intuition and what we call "rational thinking" may be different sides to the same coin called "emotional thought"—one side is more nonconscious and the other is more conscious, but both are minted in emotion.

It is these deeper aspects of emotion and learning that this course will cover. In fact, this deeper understanding will provide greater insight into the truths that teachers already understand about emotion—the reasons that learning is undermined by fear, and enhanced by fun and a balance of challenge and support.

Dr. Antonio Damasio
Dr. Antonio Damasio
"Emotion is the rudder for thinking" – Dr. Antonio Damasio
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Dr. Antonio Damasio

Dr. Antonio Damasio

"Emotion is the rudder for thinking." – Dr. Antonio Damasio

Dr. Antonio Damasio is an internationally recognized leader in neuroscience. His research has helped to elucidate the neural basis for the emotions and has shown that emotions play a central role in social cognition and decision-making. His work also has had a major influence on the current understanding of the neural systems, which underlie memory, language, and consciousness. Dr. Damasio directs the University of Southern California Brain and Creativity Institute.


ventromedial prefrontal cortex
An anatomical location in the brain. This region is in the lower half (ventro), deep between hemispheres (medial), in the front portion (prefrontal) of the brain.

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