Once thought to be static after early childhood, it has been found that the human brain is remarkably plastic, a term meaning that it can rewire itself. This plasticity continues throughout our lives, but is predominant in pre-adolescent children (NIH, 2007). The moral of this is that we should put our effort in pre-adolescent education, the younger the better. My experience is that by age 9 or 10 many students have already developed math anxiety and believe they cannot learn mathematics, and yet at 6 or 7 are learning machines. In the critical K-3 years, if presented with modern, intuitive methods rather than the 19th Century methods currently used, I believe we can send confident students who already know their math facts, negative numbers and can work with variables and expressions into the 4thgrade. They will be good at math forever.
More recently “Carnegie Mellon University scientists have uncovered the first evidence that intensive instruction to improve reading skills in young children causes the brain to physically rewire itself, creating new white matter that improves communication within the brain.” (Keller and Just, 2009)
It’s not just about children. Researchers at Sweden’s Sahlgrenska University Hospital found that the brains of people in their 60s and 70s undergo “neurogenesis.” The new neurons are created in the hippocampus, that part of the brain that converts thoughts and perceptions into long-term memories. This parallels the past research showing major changes in the brains of expert musicians and chess players (Dehaene, 2011).