Know Thy Brain! 3 Facts and 3 Challenges (reposted)

This post was written  for the San Diego 2017 Scrum Alliance Gathering participants and I’m reposting it because it’s a useful refresher of some important brain science principles. This post introduces and reinforces concepts from my keynote titled: “Know Thy Brain!”

In this post, you’ll discover 3 important facts about your brain and 3 challenges to act on.

INTRODUCTION: It goes without saying that you have a brain! Your brain is hard-wired to think and to learn in certain ways. So are the brains of the people you interact with, as well as the folks you train, teach, or instruct. Their brains are hard-wired like yours: to think and learn in certain ways that make thinking and learning easier rather than harder.

Now, before we jump into the 3 brain facts and 3 challenges, click on the link below to download and print the “Happy Face Number Line.”

Happy Face Number Line

🙂 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10  

There are actually 9 number lines on the paper so cut the lines into horizontal strips and use one strip when asked in this post to do so. (You can give away the extra number line strips and have colleagues read this blog post to discover what to do with their paper strip.)

Now continue:

FACT #1: Your brain needs oxygen, and lots of it, in order to think and learn effectively. The best way to get a burst of oxygen to your brain is to MOVE.

So, if you’ve been sitting for awhile right now, please stand up (I’ll wait until you do so). Do I know you’re standing? Nope, I haven’t a clue, but I hope that you are because you just gave your brain a quick burst of oxygen. Simply moving from a sitting position to a standing one will give your brain more oxygen. This, in turn, helps your brain to think and learn more effectively.

The same holds true for the people you teach, train, instruct, or interact with. When they move from a sitting to a standing position, they also get a quick burst of oxygen flowing to their brains. This means they can think better – and learn better – as well.

CHALLENGE #1: Think of ways you can include more learner-movement in your own classes, workshops, and training, whether face-to-face or online. These can be short, quick ways to move that will get a burst of oxygen to your learners’ brains.

Your first challenge is to explore the following resources and use one or more of the ideas presented here the next time you teach, train, or instruct others:

Topic-Related Body Breaks

Are We Sitting Too Much?

One-Minute Openers and Closers to Add Energy and Engagement to Your Training

FACT #2: Now look at the number line strip and mentally add the numbers together to create a sum. After doing that, see if you can figure out at least two more ways to add the numbers together – perhaps ways that are faster than the first way you added the numbers. A hint: There are at least a half-dozen different ways to add these numbers. (If you want to know if you got the “right” sum, scroll to the bottom of this blog post and you’ll find the sum that most people arrive at.)

Just as there are lots of ways to add the numbers in the number line, there are also lots of ways to learn and most ways will usually work, given enough time. But some ways of learning are quicker and more efficient. Some ways are more “brain-friendly” rather than “brain-antagonistic.” In other words, some ways of learning work better than others.

CHALLENGE #2: Think of classes or workshops that you have been in that really worked well for you, in terms of learning. What did the instructor do (or not do) that made the learning easy and more successful for you? What can YOU do to make the learning easy and more effective for YOUR learners?

Explore the following resources for ideas that will help you become a better teacher, trainer, or instructor – and that will help your learners learn better and remember more:

Who’s Doing the Most Talking, Moving, and Writing?

7 Tips for Turning Listeners into Learners

The Secret of Adult Learning Theory: It’s NOT About Age!

FACT #3: Now hold the paper strip in your left hand about arm’s length from your face and in such a way that you can view both the happy face and the number line. Keeping both of your eyes open, cover your right eye with your right hand close to it but not touching it. Begin to visually track left-to-right across the paper strip. Look at the happy face and then each number in order, beginning with number one. At some point as you look at each number, the happy face will disappear from view. It will reappear again as you continue to visually track the numbers on the strip.

The point at which the happy face disappears from view is your optical blind spot. This blind spot is a metaphor for the “blind spots” we also have in our brain, i.e. those “cognitive biases” that blind us to how things actually are.

Most of us have blind spots or cognitive biases related to how to learn and how to teach. For example, we might think that if we just listen to someone talk, we’ll remember what that person has said. Additionally, we might think that, if training participants listen to us deliver information through a lecture only, they will remember what we’ve said. In other words, we might think that listening equals learning. Actually, this is not the case – and this is one example of a mental “blind spot” or “cognitive bias.”

CHALLENGE #3: View the two slide presentations below. Then think of ways to change your own cognitive biases about learning and teaching so that you become a more effective trainer, teacher, or instructor. Also, I encourage you to explore the following resources as well: Sharon’s Micro-Courses,  Sharon’s Blog,  and Slides from Slideshare. You’ll find lots there to help overcome your own blind spots, to enhance your own teaching/training skills, and to empower you to: “Know thy brain!” 

Brain Tricks (Fast and Slow Thinking) by ASAP Science

 You Are Not As Rational As You Think by Yang Ao Wei

PS. And the sum of the numerals on the number line? 55. If you could think of at least 3 or more ways to add the numerals to get the sum – ways that were quicker or more efficient the second and third time around – good for you! 🙂

Thank you for reading!