Norwalk Schools To Implement 'Brain-Based' Teaching Tools

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Kendall Elementary School has implemented a number of teaching methods based on neuroscience, which will be adopted at other Norwalk schools this year.
Kendall Elementary School has implemented a number of teaching methods based on neuroscience, which will be adopted at other Norwalk schools this year. Photo Credit: Casey Donahue

NORWALK, Conn. -- Four Norwalk elementary schools will implement "brain-based" teaching strategies based on cognitive neuroscience next year in an effort to improve student performance.

The four are Tracey Elementary School, Brookside Elementary School, Marvin Elementary School and Jefferson Science Magnet School.

The strategies are based on neuroscience research and are designed to improve student achievement, engagement, focus and cognitive ability.

They were used this year in a pilot program at Kendall Elementary School with great success, according to Principal Tony Ditrio.

"What we've come to learn in the past 10 years about the brain is absolutely amazing. There are so many things that are now coming out that help us as educators to teach kids," Ditrio said.

"We get to see what the effects are of what we do and what the effects are of what we don't do," he said.

Among the strategies implemented this year was a game-based program called BrainWare Safari, similar to Lumosity, designed to improve students' cognitive ability.

Students in the third, fourth and fifth grades used the program for 30 minutes a day, with their progress tracked.

"A lot of kids improved," Ditrio said.

The strategies also include an increased focus on nutrition and health, based on research showing health's affect on student performance.

Students received a lesson per week taught by a licensed nutritionist, and a boot camp was offered in the morning for kids to work out before school. 

"We had 100 kids show up every morning, almost every morning, to exercise for 45 minutes and have a healthy breakfast for 15 minutes," Ditrio said.

"Their achievement and their body mass index all improved."

Kids also were also allowed outside for extra recess. Ditrio said that allowing kids to get up and moving around helps their performance, and studies show holding math tests after gym class led to better scores.

Ditrio began implementing the practices this year after attending a principals' conference in Baltimore, where he saw a seminar on teaching with poverty in mind.

He said the seminar had a strong impact on him as the principal of a Title 1 school, and he believes what he learned could help boost achievement among students who live in poverty.

"Poverty affects your life, it affects education, but it can be overcome," Ditrio said.

"While it's important, it's not a game-changer. You don't have to write schools off or kids off just because you have a high poverty rate."

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