Below is a TED Talk by Neil Burgess, a neuroscientist at the University College in London, who researches, as described on the TED website, “how patterns of electrical activity in brain cells guide us through space.”
Supplemental to the grid cells Dr. Burgess discusses are additional neurological systems that give us a sense of our surroundings. Dan Peterson, who writes a fascinating blog (Sports are 80 Percent Mental) about the body-mind connection in sports, recently posted “Spatial Awareness on the Football Field” (where we found the above TED Talk — Thanks, Dan!) in which he writes,
Jeffrey Taube, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth, has been studying our sense of direction and location. “Knowing what direction you are facing, where you are, and how to navigate are really fundamental to your survival,” said Taube.
In his research, he has found there are head direction cells, located in the thalamus, that act as a compass needle tracking the direction our head is currently facing. At the same time, in the hippocampus, place cells determine and track our location relative to landmarks in the environment, say the football field sideline or the end zone. These two sets of cells communicate with each other to guide our movement.
“They put that information together to give you an overall sense of ‘here,’ location wise and direction wise,” Taube explained. “That is the first ingredient for being able to ask the question, ‘How am I going to get to point B if I am at point A?’ It is the starting point on the cognitive map.”
It reminds us once again that strengths and affinities can be left at the door of our schools and classrooms if we don’t incorporate movement, action, and an intentional use of our bodies in our lessons and activities. Research continues to indicate that taking advantage of the neurological links between spatial ordering, graphomotor functioning, attention, and memory can help nurture achievement among a broader diversity of learners than the traditional sit-n-git approach (which leaves too many students itching for something more engaging).