Sunday / May 19

Teaching with Superpowers: Leveraging Neuroscience in Instruction

What teacher would not relish having a pocketful of superpowers ready to optimize ways for students’ brains to take in, process, and store information? One such valuable resource in this quest is educational neuroscience, which Bruer (2016) defines as “… a relatively new and highly interdisciplinary field of study. Its objective is to improve educational practice by applying findings from brain research” (p.1).

By becoming aware of the connections between neuroscience and education, teachers can gain new insights into their teaching practices, resulting in more effective instruction and improved student learning.

Let’s explore how teachers can employ these brain-fueled superpowers to enhance instructional practices.

Understanding How Learning Happens

Neuroscience can offer invaluable insights for both teachers and students into how each brain is built to learn. Let’s start this discussion where everything happens—inside the brain itself. Each brain contains over 100 billion brain cells. Each of these neurons, in turn, can interact with over 1000 other brain cells, which amounts to an unfathomable number of connections and, hence, learning potential.  When more of the learners’ senses are actively involved in a personally meaningful task, the connections are more robust, resulting in long-term memory formation. Teachers can superpower their instruction through active, personally meaningful, and multisensory instruction, as all of these create stronger connections between and among neurons.

Brains Grow and Change 

Each brain experiences profound changes throughout childhood and adolescence. This knowledge enables teachers to adapt their teaching methods accordingly. For instance, understanding the prefrontal cortex’s role in developing critical executive functions like decision-making and problem-solving can inspire teachers to support students’ learning of these foundational skills. Many students become anxious because they lack organizational know-how, not because they can’t learn. By incorporating reflective practices, such as journaling, self-assessment, and goal setting, teachers can superpower students’ learning by fostering a culture of reflection and metacognition.

Optimizing Attention and Engagement 

Teachers must first gain students’ attention so that they can learn. However, maintaining students’ engagement throughout the learning sequence is a continual challenge. Neuroscience offers teachers superpowered insights into attention, guiding them in designing instruction that captivates students’ interests and sustains their focus. Incorporating novelty, accentuating relevance, and adding a positive emotional tone can heighten engagement and promote more profound learning experiences.

Personalizing Instruction

No two brains are alike. Our life experiences create distinctive brain circuitry, allowing our dendrites to grow in patterns unique to each of us. The brain’s inherent variability necessitates a personalized approach to instruction. Neuroscience underscores the importance of recognizing these individual learning preferences. By allowing students to choose how they take in, process, and demonstrate understanding, teachers have a superpowered way to cater to diverse learners’ needs. We must provide:

  • Instruction that varies the auditory, visual, and kinesthetic components.
  • Flexible opportunities for practice and application include independent work, pairs, groups, technology, games, and centers.
  • Divergent ways for students to demonstrate mastery through writing, speaking, drawing, technology, and drama. 

Promoting a Growth Mindset

One of the most powerful gifts a teacher can bestow on learners is the understanding that the brain continues to grow throughout our lifetime. This trait is called plasticity, highlighting the capacity for growth and adaptation. By instilling a growth mindset—a belief in the malleability of intelligence and abilities—teachers can empower students to embrace challenges, persist through setbacks, and cultivate resilience. Providing constructive feedback, teaching metacognitive strategies, and fostering a supportive classroom culture can nurture students’ confidence and perseverance, ultimately fostering a lifelong love for learning.

Building an Emotionally Safe Classroom

Finally, neuroscience informs educators to be mindful of learners’ social and emotional needs that optimize cognitive functioning and well-being. Factors such as feelings of trust and emotional safety can influence students’ attention, mood, and learning outcomes. By creating environments that support peer acceptance, peer discussions, and “brain breaks” during the day when students can relax and recharge their brains, educators can enhance the overall learning experience and foster a conducive atmosphere for growth and discovery.

In conclusion, teachers can, indeed, supercharge their instruction by leveraging insights from neuroscience.  By crafting lessons that align with the brain’s natural thinking processes, adapt to students’ unique ways of processing information, optimize attention and engagement, personalize learning experiences, cultivate a growth mindset, and create safe, supportive learning environments, educators can acquire the proverbial pocketful of superpowers enabling them to unlock students’ full potential and thrive in an ever-changing world.

Learn more and unleash your inner teaching superhero with C. Bobbi Hansen’s latest book, Teaching with Superpowers.


Bruer, J.T., (2016) Where is educational neuroscience? Educational Neuroscience 1, 1–12.


Written by

Dr. C. Bobbi Hansen is an associate professor at the University of San Diego, where she was twice awarded university honors in teaching, scholarship, and service. Additionally, in 2017, she was named, San Diego Science Educator of the Year, for excellence in university science teaching. Dr. Hansen considers herself first a learner, then a teacher as she instructs preservice through graduate-level teacher education courses. Her passion is assisting teachers to better understand and utilize instructional practices that are centered on new advances in the educational neurosciences

No comments

leave a comment