The Brain and Learning: Partners in Crime

By Emily Bergquist, MEd
Full-Time Faculty Manager, College of Education

kids playing in classroom

What is it about partners that makes the world go ‘round?

I think of Simon and Garfunkel, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Pinky and the Brain. Each of these pairs came together in some way for support—or to “take over the world!”

I am sure most of you reading this can think of that someone who is your go-to buddy or partner in crime. This is what the brain is to learning. Together, they can rule the world!

Okay, maybe that is a little overzealous, but at least this partnership can help our students in meeting some learning objectives.

Brain-based learning may still be debated by some, but in my experience, it only makes sense. As a former elementary education teacher, I understand just how important a healthy mind was to students’ learning abilities on any given day.

If we want to get all scientific, cognitive science research has found that many components can affect brain development and brain health. For example, classroom environment, lesson structure, diet and exercise can all play an important role in our brain health.

Consider those elements that love to pop up in the middle of your lesson that can throw your whole day into a tizzy. I think of shifts in our schedule, special assemblies, etc. After one of these exciting events, it is nearly impossible to jump right back into a lesson plan about long vowels without doing some sort of brain-based learning activity that can get young minds back on track. Some of you folks out there might be able to relate.

But, what does that look like? How can you help students make those brain-based learning connections?

Here are a few tips I have found to be successful in my own class:


This was one of my all-time favorite ways to alter the environment in my classroom. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Mood: What kind of mood are you trying to prompt from students? The tempo, beat, lyrics, etc. will all play a role in student reactions. An upbeat tempo may assist in ramping up the inspiration and energy, while a soothing, instrumental piece may allow for students to calmly reflect.
  • Audience: Keep music appropriate for the age of the listener. Consider popular music for the age group.


Because I am a yogi at heart, I loved incorporating breathing strategies. The breath can bring the calm in the storm and help students to focus their minds. This will help provide the oxygen to the brain and prepare for the learning to come. Here are a few great ideas on breathing techniques.


How interesting that learning is often incorporated with sitting still when research is finding how learning and movement actually go hand-in-hand. Incorporating physical movement into breaks and learning activities can actually help improve cognitive skills involved in learning, memory and motivation.

While these are probably not new for many of you, let’s face it: Teachers are crazy busy and sometimes we just need a reminder. Let’s help students make those connections!

Looking for more ways to get students excited about learning? Check out our recent blog post, “Getting Students Excited About Learning.”

More about Emily:


Emily has enjoyed 10 years in the field of education. Her background is in elementary education, with much of her public school experience in a first grade ELL classroom. She transitioned from the Phoenix public school system to GCU in 2010 to serve both the online and traditional campus in the College of Education. Emily is currently a manger of full-time faculty and instructor, as well as a researcher, writer and continuing scholar. She is currently working on her PhD in psychology with an emphasis in cognition and instruction at GCU, with an expected graduation this year. Emily has written several articles and has presented at regional, national and international conferences on a variety of topics ranging from social media in the classroom to classroom assessment. In recognition of her work in the field of research and education, she was recently awarded the Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award from Grand Canyon University.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.