In 2010 I took on the most challenging sales job of my life. I started teaching biology to inner-city kids at a pilot school near downtown Los Angeles. I wanted to sell them on learning.
The trouble I quickly discovered is that our school system isn’t really helping students to learn anything. We’re really making them memorize things, and not doing a very good job at this, either.
Dr. Derek Cabrera does a great job of outlining the problem in this TED Talk:
If you ask almost any teacher, they’ll say kids aren’t motivated. Ahah! So education is a marketing problem! Or is it?
If kids don’t like school, what kinds of things do they enjoy doing, and what makes those things enjoyable? What’s going on in someone’s head when they’re playing golf, climbing Half Dome, or listening to a symphony? It turns out there’s a lot of scientific research on this stuff.
Marketing by Neuroscience
Let me give you one last marketing secret before this becomes a rant about brain science. When people are actively engaged in facing a challenge, solving a problem, improving their game or learning something truly new, the body produces dopamine and other rewarding chemicals.
This brain candy is natural. It’s not only good for you, it makes you want to do more of the activity that produced it. This is the reason video games, music, good movies and similar kinds of stimulation have such a hold on us. More to the point, it holds a powerful potential both for selling/marketing and for teaching and learning.
I’m officially employed as a teacher (for now), so I use this same info in a different way:
Magic happens when a student is actively thinking about a lesson, solving problems and not merely memorizing facts and procedures. They start to think more actively and clearly, and this active thinking triggers the same biochemical alchemy that makes things like skiing or Minecraft so much fun.
Control your mind and nobody else will control it for you
This summer I spent over 50 hours in trainings about how to teach students in a way that engages more of their brain, helping them learn to think clearly and building motivation to do more of this. I stumbled upon a fantastic, under-appreciated phenomenon:
You can actively monitor and control the way you think about something. There’s an emerging branch of science around this ability, known as metacognition. Metacognition literally means “thinking about thinking.”
When you practice metacognition, you put yourself in the driver’s seat. You can actively take control of the processes that take place in your brain. This might be the greatest discovery since yogis mastered meditation and breathing six thousand years ago. Your skills, intelligence, and even the physical health of your brain can improve by leaps and bounds.
I’m starting a new project. I’m building a team of tutors who will teach students how to practice metacognition. You can see the preliminary stages of this work here. We’re going to start a revolution in the way kids learn and think. We’ll soon overcome the entrenched, fossilized old ways of our public school system.
In the meantime, I have something for you that might be even better.
On my other website, you can begin getting tips on metacognitive practices. I’ve presented these as “study tips” for students, teachers, and (hopefully) the parents of students. But really they’re all about getting your brain in better shape, learning faster, and becoming aware of how to learn better.
If you’re interested, you can sign up for it all right here: