50 Brain Facts Every Educator Should Know

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January 27th, 2010

By Pamelia Brown

The brain is perhaps the most fascinating organ in the human body. It controls everything from breathing to emotions to learning. If you work with children, here are some facts that you might find helpful, from how the brain affects learning to facts about memory to interesting facts about the brain that you can share with your students.

Brain Development and Learning

Read on to learn interesting facts about how the brain develops, what can affect that development, and how learning is impacted.

  1. Read aloud. Parents and teachers who read aloud and talk often to young children are promoting brain development.
  2. Bilingual brains. Children who learn two languages before the age of five have a different brain structure than children who learn only one language.
  3. Child abuse and the brain. Studies have shown that child abuse can change the way the brain develops and can negatively affect learning.
  4. New neurons. Throughout life, mental activity promotes the production of new neurons in the brain.
  5. Handedness. Those who are left-handed or ambidextrous have a corpus collosum that is about 11% larger than those who are right-handed.
  6. Brain growth. The human brain continues to grow until about age 18.
  7. Stimulating environment. If a child is in a stimulating environment, she has a 25% greater ability to learn . Conversely, if she is in an environment with low stimulation, she has 25% less ability to learn.
  8. Creative vs. methodical. Scientists have shown that creative thinkers’ brains work in different ways from the brains of those who think more methodically.
  9. Food and intelligence. One study looked at students in New York and showed that those who ate lunches that did not include artificial flavors, preservatives, and dyes did 14% better on IQ tests than the students who ate lunches with these additives.
  10. Boredom. Humans have an innate curiosity, but when they have a lack of stimulation, boredom sets in.
  11. Learning new things. A study shows that when people are learning new things, their brains change very quickly. Those learning to juggle showed change in the brain in as little as seven days.
  12. Music. Children who take music lessons show a considerable increase in the ability to learn.
  13. Reading faces. The area of the brain called the amygdala is responsible for the ability to read someone’s face for clues to how they are feeling.


Learn about the way short-term memory differs from long-term memory, how scent affects memory, and more.

  1. Different types of memory. The ability to learn and remember new things is called declarative memory and is processed in a different part of the brain from where the memories of how to do something are stored.
  2. Scent and memory. Scent is a powerful trigger for memory. A study indicates that a memory paired with scent can be recalled more easily.
  3. New connections. Each time a memory is recalled or a new thought occurs, a new connection is created in the brain.
  4. Create associations. Memory is formed by associations, so to promote memory in students, create associations for them.
  5. Sleep. The brain consolidates memories while you sleep.
  6. No sleep. A lack of sleep may actually decrease your ability to create new memories.
  7. Short-term memory. Studies suggest that short-term memory happens as a result of chemical and electrical impulses in the brain, as compared to more structural changes that are associated with long-term memory.

Brain Trivia

From how the brain helps while blinking to early brain surgery, these bits of trivia might come in handy the next time you are teaching about the brain.

  1. Blinking. Each time we blink, our brain keeps things illuminated so the whole world doesn’t go dark each time we blink, which is about 20,000 times a day.
  2. Laughing. As easy as laughing seems, it is actually a very complex task that requires activity in five different areas of the brain.
  3. The purpose of yawning. Yawning often promotes yawning in others nearby. Scientists believe that yawning may have been an ancient social behavior that signaled an event, with others yawning in response. Today, we still hold on to the response, even if we don’t need it.
  4. Brain Bank. Harvard maintains a Brain Bank where over 7,000 human brains are stored for research purposes.
  5. Disney and sleep disorders. Disney creators used real sleep disorders such as snoring, nightmares, and sleepwalking in many of the characters in their movies.
  6. Thoughts. It is believed that humans experience 70,000 thoughts each day.
  7. Aristotle. Aristotle mistakenly thought that the functions of the brain actually took place in the heart.
  8. Outer space. The lack of gravity in outer space affects the brain in several ways. Scientists are studying how and why, but you may want to hold off on your next trip to the moon.
  9. Shakespeare. The word "brain" appears 66 times in William Shakespeare’s plays.
  10. Early brain surgery. Archeologists found evidence that primitive brain surgery was performed by drilling a hole in the skull as far back as 2000 BC.
  11. Imaginary playmates. A psychological study in Australia showed that children with imaginary playmates between the ages of 3 and 9 tended to be first-born children.
  12. Oxytocin and autism. Oxytocin is a hormone that is responsible for promoting social interaction and may help children with autism increase social skills and trust.

The Physical Brain

With this list, you’ll be prepared the next time you need to whip out fast facts about the make-up of the human brain.

  1. Water. The brain is made up of about 75% water.
  2. 10% myth. If you were taught that humans only use 10% of their brain, then know that is just a myth. Scientists can attribute a function to each part of the brain.
  3. Weight. The human brain weighs about 3 pounds.
  4. No pain. There are no pain receptors in the brain, so the brain can feel no pain.
  5. Cerebrum. The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain and makes up about 85% of the brain’s weight.
  6. Gray and white. The human brain consists of about 60% white matter and 40% gray matter.
  7. Neurons. About 100 billion neurons make up the human brain.
  8. Synapses. For each one of those neurons, there are anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 synapses.
  9. Cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex grows thicker the more it is used.
  10. Yawns. It is believed that yawning sends more oxygen to the brain, therefore working to cool it down and stimulate it.

Amazing Brains

Here are examples of some amazing people and their brains.

  1. Daniel Tammet. Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant who can perform astounding mathematical computations, knows seven languages, and is developing a language of his own.
  2. Albert Einstein. Einstein’s brain was similar in size to other human brains except in the region that is responsible for math and spatial perception, where his brain was 35% wider than average.
  3. Keith Jarrett. This jazz musician, at age 3, was discovered to have perfect pitch, which scientists have been able to pinpoint in the right frontal lobe.
  4. London taxi drivers. Famous for knowing all the London streets by heart, these taxi drivers have a larger than normal hippocampus, especially the drivers who have been on the job longest. This suggests that as people memorize more information, the hippocampus continues to grow.
  5. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. After his death, Lenin’s brain was studied and found to have been abnormally large and to have contained numerous neurons in a particular region. Some believe this brain structure may explain his famous intelligence.
  6. Oldest brain. At the University of York in northern England, a brain thought to be 2000 years old was unearthed.
  7. Ben Pridmore. Ben Pridmore, a world champion memorizer, memorized 96 historical events in 5 minutes and memorized a single, shuffled deck of cards in 26.28 seconds.
  8. Henry Molaison. Known for decades as "HM," Molaison underwent brain surgery in 1953 and could not form new memories afterward. He became the most studied patient by those who research the brain. Molaison died about a year ago and donated his brain to science. Currently, it is undergoing extensive research.

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