Brain Rules

Educational Internship Program Book Study

By: Emma Erdman

Book Review

This book has something to offer for anyone who picks it up. Brain Rules, by John Medina, is an instruction manual of sorts, offering advice on how to use your brain to it's fullest potential. Medina dissects the origins of the most important functions of the brain, and how it applies to the reader both as a scholar and human being. The book is divided into 12 topics, each containing an in depth explanation of the anatomic working of the topic, as well the psychological and behavioral effects produced by it. Medina’s book is a dynamic mixture of biology textbook information and psychological discussion. This book may seem like an easy read, but its ideas circle around your head in contemplation for hours afterwards. Each Brain Rule has a life lesson that will benefit you in school or the work place. In essence, it shows that the traditional school and work environments we have now work directly against our biological predispositions for learning and creating. Medina’s writing is logical and passionate, and will make you look at every situation, whether it’s in a classroom or out on the street, in a different way.

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How This Applies To Me As a Learner

Many of the Brain Rules reference methods to enhance your learning. Exercise is essential for the brain to function well, which Medina explains dates back to humans living on the Serengeti. We are genetically programmed to keep moving, because back in prehistoric times, those who rested didn’t live very long. The same goes for creativity. In order to survive, humans were constantly forced to problem solve in life threatening situations. Now, students learn through rote-memorization. Our brains are built to learn through creation and hands on activity, not memorizing random facts and figures. In Brain Rule number 4, “Attention”, Medina explains that the brain remembers information better in a summarized form, or as he calls it, “gist”. If a student first knows the big ideas of a lesson, they will remember and comprehend the coming information better. The brain sorts things into categories, and the big ideas act as buckets for the smaller details to fall in to. The brain can’t remember information it doesn’t find meaning in, which he further details in Brain Rule 5, “Short Term Memory”. Rote memorization of information will never be translated into long-term memory unless the brain comprehends what it is trying to say. Also, in “Short Term Memory”, Medina analyses how the environment you learn the information in connects to your ability to retain it. It appears the two tie together, so much so that the being in a similar environment can trigger the recollection of the information. All of these tips help me recognize what I am doing wrong as a student, and how I can fix it.

How I Can Use This As a Teacher

Medina also details the factors that create a positive learning environment. These tips can help me in the classroom. For example, Medina tells a story in the Brain Rules chapter “Survival” of a flight instructor and his students. This student excelled in the cockpit, but made a mistake during one off day. The teacher verbally berated her for her error, and became even more frustrated when she fumbled from the anxiety he gave her. For a period afterwards, she refused to get back in the cockpit of a plane. Her relationship, and trust, with her teacher was broken. The relationship a student has with their teacher is so important. A student can’t, and won’t, learn from a teacher they don’t respect. In Brain Rule 7, “Long Term Memory” Medina explains a concerning idea. It can take years to fully file away a memory, and recalling it starts the process over again. Additionally, your brain fills in the gaps of what it can’t remember with what would logically make sense. This creates an evolution of a memory; the more times it’s remembered, the more vulnerable it is to manipulation. While this phenomena is concerning for learners, Medina explains how to make sure the information we retain is solidly ingrained and accurate. By repeating the information over fixed intervals, the information is recalled and reinforced. Medina even goes so far to suggest a new, more affect schedule for school. By using 25 minutes classes with 90-minute breaks in between, he hypothesize the brain will be able to retain the information better. This would also remove the need for homework, because it’s purpose of repetition would already have been done through the fixed schedule. In Brain Rule 8, “Stress”, Medina touches on how stress at home can affect performance at school and in the work place. This ties in with my previous article analysis of how parents can affect the growth of their children as a student. While teachers see their kids for 7 hours a day, there’s only so much they can do, and only so far they can help. Ultimately, a student’s home life shapes their abilities as a scholar as much, if not more, as their choices at school. In Chapter 8, Medina also explains the concept of learned helplessness. Essentially, when situations are out of a persons control, they are more likely to feel helpless and less likely to do anything to help themselves and change it. This applies to learning as well. Students are less likely to succeed when simply told what to do. By giving students choices in their learning, they feel more in control. This will result in less stress and more active participation. Unsurprisingly, in Brain Rule 9, “Sensory Integration” Medina states that people are more likely to learn from interactive materials. This could include activities, pictures, charts: anything other then a PowerPoint. The more words on the slide, and the further apart the graphic from its corresponding paragraph content, the less likely students are to learn. Not only the mode of presentation is important; the type of activity is also influential. Medina states students learn best with a mixture of interactive elements, from musical to spatial. Most importantly, students pay attention to things that move, as show in Brain Rule 10, “Vision”. This dates back to the dawn of time, when humans would flee from predators on the plains. They had to pay attention to what moved, or else they were dead. This instinct is still with us today. Vision dominates our senses; students are more likely to pay attention to a moving object than anything else. In Brain Rule 11, “Gender”, Medina explains the difference in learning abilities between males and females. Females had a predisposition to excel in language arts: males, math and science. This can be tied back to their social interactions. When male and female students study in the same classroom, divisions will inevitably emerge.

Questions I Had While Reading

John Medina has a unique was of writing. His paragraphs are filled with rhetorical questions and answers. Every time I would find myself asking a question, whether it be how the rule applied to everyday life, or a simple clarification, he answered it in the next paragraph. It's obvious Medina had his readers in mind when he wrote this; he seemed to read my mind the further into the book I got. The biggest question I had while reading was if any of the hypothetical situations Medina mentioned would ever come to fruition. Medina crafts thoughtful and creative solution to every problem he address. While some seem highly unlikely, like his Brain College, others seem like a perfect solution. For example, in his Exercise chapter, he suggests replacing student desks with treadmills. In his Sleep chapter, he recommends all schools and businesses set aside a 30 time in the day for a nap. His arguments and explanations are so logical he makes it difficult to fathom why these aren't already in place.

Works Cited

Medina, John. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle, WA: Pear, 2008. Print.


McKay, Sarah. "Brain Rules- Walking Book Club." Everyday Neuroscience for Brain Health & Wellness. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2015