Your Brain Needs a Break

By: Allison Espinosa

The purpose of education is to prepare the next generation to become productive citizens within their society. For the majority of human history, educating the young has been the responsibility of the parents. Parents haven’t always had the luxury of sending their children to an educational institution but that doesn’t mean the children haven’t received an education. Some lessons in life can’t be taught through books and worksheets.

Wen Weng founded the oldest public school in the world in Chengdu, Sichuan Province in China during the Han Dynasty in 143 BC. The school was burned to the ground in 141 BC. It was rebuilt and reopened in 194 AD. The school operated until it was destroyed by the wars of the Ming Dynasty. All that remained of the campus was rubble. Another school was built on the site in 1661. It became a modern school in 1902 and converted to a modern high school in 1904. Chengdy Shishi High School continues today.

Chengdy Shishi High School is an excellent example of how the previous generation strives to provide the best educational experience possible for the next generation. Institutionalizing education, placing groups of students within a classroom in order to teach them the same skills, is nothing new for human history. Humans throughout the world began setting up school since antiquity. Elementary schools started popping up all over England throughout the 7th and 8th centuries. The first wooden schoolhouse in the United States was founded in 1716 in St. Augustine, Florida. Nine years later, the Gibbs School was opened in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Education was important to cultures throughout the world and envied by those who couldn’t afford to send their children to school.

Despite the long history of institutionalizing education, the techniques used by educators for centuries may not be in the best interest of our students. In a 2014 United States Department of Education double blind study of middle schoolers attending public middle schools in Tampa, Florida researchers have learned that our brains haven’t adapted to the demands of the classroom. Our students are struggling to learn because, despite educator’s best efforts, their brains can’t adapt to the traditional way of learning we have demanded upon our students for centuries.

If it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for my children. Many parents, grandparents, and educators of the current generation feel this way about education. The problem is – the way we learned in school wasn’t good enough for our brains.  We were conditioned to believe effective learning happens when students are placed in a quiet place with limited distractions and kept on a rigorous routine where we could spend all our time on an assignment until it was completed. The problem is this scenario is that it doesn’t work!

  Why hasn’t the brain kept up with the demands of learning we have placed upon it? Researchers believe the answer may lie in our past. Humans use to have to forge for food in order to survive. Once we transitioned from the need to forage food to a more sedentary life, our brains adapted the piecemeal skills to the way we learn.  The human brain can do a multitude of tasks at the same time and learns best when presented with many things at once.  So how do we change the way we educate our students without overwhelming them?

In the early 1990’s, software developer, Francesco Cirillo, developed a time management system that when executed improves attention span and concentration. It also allows the person using it to become more productive in whatever tasks they are doing. He called his technique The Pomodoro Technique.


1) Chose a task from you Things to Do list that needs to be accomplished.

2) Set a kitchen timer to 25 minutes.

3) Work on your task until the timer goes off. When the time goes off, put whatever you are working on aside even if you didn’t complete it.

4) Take a short break (5 – 15 minutes) and do something you enjoy.

5) Repeat steps 1 – 3. You can chose to change a task if need to. Just make certain you finish all the tasks you need to complete.

6) Take a longer break (15 – 30 minutes) every four cycles of the Pomodoro Technique. Your brain will thank you for it.

Sometimes getting our children to complete their homework or a task can be problematic. Yet, if parents and educators instill the Pomodoro Technique we may find our students achieve higher academic success and are more motivated to learn. Remember the Department of Education study that I mentioned earlier? The researchers also found students who took periodic breaks in their assignments had an increase of up to 50% in their standardized testing scores.

Students, parents, and educators – take a break. Your brain depends upon it.


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