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Five myths about learning

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The human brain is always growing and changing.

Neuroscience offers an exciting glimpse into how the human brain develops and changes over time. And while theories on the brain and its development abound, brain research can help to clear up a handful of myths about how students learn and develop.

The human brain—a biological organ that weighs about 3 pounds—develops as a result of a combination of the genetic program children inherit from both of their parents. Out of about 70 watts of power, the human brain uses only about 15—similar to what an idling laptop or the light inside a refrigerator use.

The typical 8-year-old child uses about half of his or her body’s energy to run the brain. It is an efficient device, but one that uses a lot of energy, said Sam Wang, an associate professor of neuroscience in Princeton University’s Department of Molecular Biology. Wang, also of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, has co-authored two books about the human brain.

“The brain is always changing,” Wang said during a Sept. 12 webinar. For instance, a 6-year-old child who is reading initially uses regions that are distributed across both sides of the brain. As the child grows older, those brain regions cluster over to the left side of the brain in most people.

Wang addressed five myths about learning, using brain research to refute commonly-held but incorrect assumptions.

Myth 1: ADHD isn’t real, or conversely is permanent.

The brain develops from back to front, and the prefrontal cortex only reaches full maturity when a person reaches his or her 20s or 30s. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has been shown to be associated with a slowing of that growth trajectory, Wang said. Children with ADHD are typically two to three years behind other children in terms of cortical growth, meaning that the front of their brain is a little bit behind. Half of those children “catch up” eventually.

Myth 2: “Redshirting” kindergarteners is, on average, good for child’s mental development.

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