Emotion and the Brain – An Analysis of two Classroom Activities

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Image courtesy of [Ohmega1982] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of [Ohmega1982] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

After watching two videos (Video 1 and Video 2), I am supposed to analyze them from a brain perspective and discuss a couple of questions:

(1) What concepts discussed in class (such as whole-brain learning, emotions, attention, memory, neuronal networks) have been engaged – or not?

(2) What lessons do you transfer to your own classroom?

Before analyzing the activities, I would like to say that the second video was my favorite. I don’t know if any other TDC student felt this way, but for me it was like entering this whole new “practical universe” of (abstract) ideas that works in a great way because the students are engaged in this concrete experience built on existing neuronal networks that will somehow produce a new knowledge. Not that an expository class don’t have a purpose, it’s just that we are all used to this model, and seeing something different that works is stimulant.

Learning Cycle

From a brain perspective, I would say there was the whole brain learning in the second video because I could identify the learning cycle explained in Zull’s book, “The Art of Changing the Brain”.
(a) Concrete Experience, at the sensory and post sensory cortex, when they had the meteor activity with the actions and all; (b) Reflective Observation, at the temporal integrative cortex, when they had to observe their colleagues’ actions; (c) Abstract Hypothesis, at the frontal integrative cortex, when they had to remember what had happened; and (d) Active Testing, at the premotor and motor, when they had to remark everyone’s actions.

Furthermore, this was the first time the students saw the past continuous, and the whole brain learning is recognized when they could prepare sentences in this tense shortly after the teacher’s few examples.

Chapter 5 says that adrenaline (when affecting the back cortex) improves the work of the hippocampus and increases long-term semantic memory. Considering that the students showed excitement and not fear, it is likely that the adrenaline affected the back cortex, making it easier to think.

As for the first video, I believe that the excitement and the stress caused by the game interfered with students’ attention, especially the ones who were not pressing the buzzer. According to Zull, “Our amygdala is constantly monitoring our experience to see how things are” (p.59), and, when it senses danger (or, in this case, stress and fear of losing), it stops students from learning as the brain is only looking for survival (which means winning the game).

Finally, I wouldn’t say that there was whole brain learning because I couldn’t recognize the Reflective Observation or the Active Testing. The Concrete Experience would be pressing the buzzer to answer the teacher, and the Abstract Hypothesis would happen when they were remembering the facts of the story.

The ultimate lesson I could transfer to my own classroom is to always analyse critically what the exercise I want to bring has to offer and how it could go differently (in learning, not in process) . Likewise, I would follow a TDC colleague’s idea of using the second activity as a lead in, followed by slips (or some other recognition method), to finish up with the students producing the sentences in written form, so I would ensure that all the students actually got the structure and isn’t just echoing what the others are doing.


James E. Zull. The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning. Stylus Publishing; 1 edition (October 3, 2002).


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