April 11, 2013 by sarahmortonisp
In my AP Psychology class here at school, we learned something really interesting about neuroanatomy and learning. Basically, the brain is made up of a bunch of different parts that grow around each other and have evolved from the inside out, the last of which being the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is the “human” part of the brain, because it is where the majority of conscious processing takes places. Humans have the most developed cortex of any animal. Surprisingly enough, the part of our brain that makes us “human” is only 1/4″ thick. Anyhow, the brain is made up of neurons, which are in bundles called nerves, which are in formations called neural networks. These neural networks are how humans send nerve impulses-which are what runs our body through electrochemical transmission. Neural impulses are essentially the language of the brain.
Now, the interesting thing about this is that a man named Mark Rosenzweig and his colleagues formed what they called a “Rat Universe” and they discovered that learning changes the brain. Literally: the experience of learning changes the brain’s anatomy! In their experiment, they placed some rats in an “enriched” environment (a wheel, more rats, things to do, more food, more activities, etc) and some in a “plain” environment (simply a box). When they later examined the brains of the rats, they found that those in the enriched environments had more neurons in their cortex. They found that by learning, the rats had grown more neurons and a thicker cortex, which means more dendrite connections. (Side note, a dendrite is a fibrous extension coming off the body of a neuron cell that receives incoming neurotransmitter chemicals, which are linked to specific body messages). These findings boiled down to one basic principle that is revolutionary to the field of education:
EXPERIENCE CHANGES THE BRAIN.
Even further research has revealed that, according to Katherine Minter, AP Psychology teacher, “it takes giving a child a variety of experiences to make their brain grow”. Now many educators and psychologists are considering certain neurons “use it or lose it” functions.