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Why do you play? Cause your brain’s on drugs

We all remember the classic cracked egg in a skillet ads warning us about what our brains would look like on drugs. We also all remember that certain drugs are bad for you and can be incredibly harmful.

But what scientists are continuing to discover is that your brain is on drugs all the time. And during periods of high levels of engagement, for example, neurotransmitters such as dopamine and oxytocin are constantly washing over your brain cells, increasing your cognitive ability and long-term learning. These drugs, called emotional chemicals by some, are good for you. In fact, without them little real learning can happen.

If you’re curious (and you should be), a lot of this brain chemistry stuff is documented in books like The Art of Changing the Brain and Brain Rules.

So if we as teachers want to encourage high levels of thinking and long-term learning, we need to find ways to increase the levels of pleasure neurotransmitters in the brains of our students. Much of this has to do with emotional connections, working in groups, receiving appropriate feedback and successfully solving difficult problems. Good teachers have been incorporating these components into their instruction forever.

But this incorporation is not easy.

That’s why I’m such a fan of appropriate video games. Video games do a great job of creating a learning environment that can help incorporate these components for us.

And a recent article documents some new research that describes what is going on in the heads of people who play certain types of video games. Basically scientists are beginning to suggest that the same video game will affect different people in different ways. But the end result is the same – neurotransmitters are released in the brains of all players, creating strong brain cell connections and long-term learning.

In some ways, the research not only supports the idea that video games increase emotional chemicals and thus increase learning but also something else I haven’t thought about before – differentiated instruction.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the concept but it seems as if video games can increase the emotional connections kids make with content and it will make these connections in ways that are specific to each kid. I understand it may not be true differentation but it does begin to provide some rationale as to why video games are so appealing to so many different kinds of people.

So . . . if I have access to one teaching tool that positively impacts all my kids in ways that are specific to each kid while increasing learning for all of them, why wouldn’t I build that tool into my instruction?

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