How do students actively engage in creating knowledge and meaning by integrating new concepts within their own experiences?
Researchers who conduct studies on the brain have used positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which show activity in different parts of the brain, to find that new information is stored with similar information that is already in the brain. For example, Judy Willis, who is a neurologist and educator (see the link to an article about her work), has found that new sensory information activates the somatosensory cortex areas. New information that students receive through their senses, including sight, hearing, sound, taste, and smell, is passed along and stored with similar information in the long-term memory. For example, if students learn new information about apples, it will be stored with similar information in the category of fruit.
In addition, the limbic system, which is the brain's emotional system that includes part of the temporal lobe, amygdala, hippocampus, and pre-frontal cortex, plays a role in facilitating the storage of information in a student's long-term memory. Therefore, if students think about their own emotions and experiences related to a new concept, they will facilitate the learning of this new information by activating the emotional centers of the brain. Thinking about their own experiences helps them activate the part of the brain that helps them store this information with similar information and that provides them a framework or gestalt for this information. This process makes the information easier to remember and retrieve.