M2 Discussion: Applying Concepts to Problem-Solving The previous module discusse

M2 Discussion: Applying Concepts to Problem-Solving
The previous module discussed the effects of trauma and stress on learning, and the Zull reading for this module (Zull 2002, 47-89) discusses the role emotions play in learning. We know that being emotionally engaged promotes learning, but both positive and negative emotions can also hinder learning if they are too distracting. Positive emotions (pleasure, excitement) promote learning but may also be distracting if the drive for pleasure overrides the pleasure of learning. Negative emotions (fear, anger, anxiety) can also provide motivation to learn but may hinder learning if they override our cognitive abilities (Zull 2002, 75).
We also know that while mild, situational stress can enhance short-term memory, chronic stress can diminish the capacity to learn and hinder long-term memory by effecting the hippocampus, which is a crucial brain structure for memory (Zull 2002, 83), and high levels of stress hormones (like adrenaline or cortisol) can even impair judgement and reasoning (Zull 2002, 72, 83). How can we diminish the effects of stress on an ongoing basis? Research shows that our brains are plastic and respond to new habits, and as Zull notes the brain and body are in constant dialogue. We can literally reshape our brains to make the amygdala less reactive to stress and train our bodies and brains to be calmer when reacting to stressful events.
Many different practices can help change the brain’s reactions. There are many relaxation and meditation techniques which have been developed to help people reduce stress: breathing techniques, visualization, muscle relaxation exercises, meditation, yoga. Keep in mind that we are not discussing everyday activities you may do to “relax” and unwind (watch tv, hang out with friends, listen to music). We are discussing structured practices that aim specifically to retrain the brain and body to quiet the amygdala and react to stress differently over time. These methods are not dependent on external stimuli (like friends or music) but focus on regulating one’s own self and body.
Is this research important in the real world? How might we apply it to the public school system?
In this back-and-forth dialogue, consider a public school system that has a very limited budget. One district faces a high level of poverty among its students, and is a district with a high crime rate, including gun violence. The district is given a one-time grant to “improve learning.” Given the information you’ve learned about how stress can affect learning and the effects of trauma, how should the money be used? I urge you to be creative as you discuss this problem as a class.

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