K3: How our brains work & how we learn






In the last 20 years advancement in technology has enabled us to see into the brain in a way we could never before. This has completely changed the way that we now understands how the brain works and how we learn. We used to think that your brain grew in the first 5 years of so of your life and that was when most of the basic learning happened. After that the structure of the brain stayed that way for the rest of your life.

We now know that the complete opposite is true. Your brain can change at any point, which means that you can make yourself as clever as you want to be at any time of your life. This has been proven in thousands of experiments across the world. This is a very exciting new discovery.

Watch this…


But how does this work?

To understand this, first we need to understand how the brain works…

Our brains are made up of billions of nerve cells called Neurons.



Each individual neuron is connected directly to thousands of other neurons. This network of interconnected neurons is what makes up our brains.


When we think, or complete a physical task, various parts of our brain communicate with each other to allow us to process the information, and in the case of a physical task, it instructs our bodies how to work. The communication takes places between these Neurons.

When we are thinking, electrical impulses are sent up and down all of the pathways created by the interconnection of all of these neurons.


Our brains rely on input from our senses (sight, touch, smell, hearing, taste etc). Input from these senses stimulate out brains and specific parts of our brain. This interaction between our brain and the outside world using our senses is the method by which we learn. It never stops and is happening even when we don’t realise it!

When we learn our brains physically change!

When we learn, parts of our brain specifically associated with that type of thinking will begin to become stimulated. When this happens an increase in blood flows to that part of the brain. This in turn activates or wakens up those Neurons in that part of the brain. This is when electrical messages begin to pulse along each of those neurons up it’s long part called the AXON towards the end of the AXON ‘the terminal’, this is made up of lots of long tentacles. These tentacles seek out other neurons to connect with (the dendrites from the other end of other neurons). When they meet the electricity flows across a small gap called a ‘synapse’. Over time this process produces more and more connections and these connections get stronger. This is the process of learning and as we learn we become even cleverer.

The key discovery is that the harder you are thinking (the harder the challenge) the faster and more powerfully this process works. It’s just the same as building your muscles in the gym. The harder you work that faster you get clever!

In laboratory research the brains of rats kept in a cage that had low levels of stimulation (not a lot of things to do) were compared under a microscope with rats that had had a lot of stimulation (lots of thins to do), when compared the rats that had a lot to do had many more neurons and many more connections than those rats that did not have much to do in their cages. This proves that, how active their brains are, determines how many new neurons (brain cells) they develop and therefore how clever they became.


This is the same in humans, look at how fast neurons develop when we are very young…

neuron development young

Here is an image of the electrical activity in the brain of two people facing the same challenge. Red shows high levels of electrical activity in the brain. The person on the left has a fixed mindset and the person on the right has a growth mindset. The one on the right is learning better and faster.


Who do you think will get to the answer first?

The short video explains how building these connections is how we learn and how learning builds these connections better….

Remember the key point to all of this is that the harder you are thinking (the harder the challenge) the faster and more powerfully you learn. It’s just the same as building your muscles in the gym. The harder you work that faster you get clever!

The more you challenge your brain the cleverer you get.



Have a go at some of this game. Each level becomes more challenging.  See how you go.

Remember every time you are thinking hard those neutrons are growing!

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 09.24.21Falling Apple Game

This game will not appear on iPads and iPhones, you must use a laptop of desktop computer.

  • What challenges did you face trying to get past each level?
  • How did you overcome them?
  • What can you learn from this?
  • How can you use these same methods in class?

This week when you are in class and facing a mental challenge, stop, think about the neurons and how they will be working. Does this help? 

…Feedback next week.