Notes on Medina's Brain Rules

Some notes on John Medina's Brain Rules and how his insights could improve teaching.

In short:

  • Rules #1 and #7: Get exercise and sleep! They are pure brain candy.
  • Rule #4: Attention is a privilege, given to interesting things, and it only lasts for 10 minutes.
  • Rule #5: Repeat to remember: Short-term memory needs repetition (badly). Summarize!
  • Rule #6: Remember to repeat: Revisit the content after a day, after a week, after a month, after half a year (to make it truly persistent)
  • Rule #8: Relaxed learning is better learning.
  • Rule #9: Sensory integration means multiple senses learn better than one.
  • Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses. A picture says more than a thousand words. If in doubt draw it!

John Medina's Brain Rules [Medina2009] structures his insights in 12 rules, some of which I find particularly helpful for teaching.

Rules #1 and #7 Exercise and Sleep

  • Sufficient exercise and sleep are very beneficial for learning.
  • Exercise and sleep are benficial for executive cognitive function.
  • Encourage students to shape their environment accordingly.
  • Sleep is even a necessary condition for making memories persistent and thereby learning.
  • Cramming all night before an exam is a decisively bad idea.
  • There is mounting evidence on the positive effects of naps. Sara Mednick gives a remarkable account of their scientifically shown benefits. [MednickEhr2006]

Rule #4 Attention

  • We don't pay attention to boring things.
  • Attention span is short: 10 min.
  • Grasp it, keep it for 10 min, then grasp it again.

Rule #5 Repeat to Remember

  • Short-term Memory - use of repetition
  • Only 7 facts at a time.
  • Repeat within the lexture
  • The repetition of concepts form the mental pathways and make them "more true" [Kahneman2011]
  • Summary at the end of distinct phases and the end of the lecture is important.
  • Querying the mind is more efficient than inputing the content a second time. Employ mini-quizes!

Rule #6 Remember to Repeat

  • Memories are made persistent over a long time, that is, months and years.
  • During that time the memories are still re-shaped.
  • They need to be retrieved, to be made persistant.
  • Tony Buzan established repetition schemes to that effect: Revisit learned content after 5 min, after a day, after a week, after a month after half a year.

Rule #8 Stressed Brains Don't Learn the same Way

  • Include ultra-short exercises for relaxation into the lecture (and exams?!).
  • Hour-glass three-step meditation (3 min max.)
  • Encourage the use a relaxation exercise for home-use.

Rule #9 Sensory Integration

Rule #10 Vision!

  • Vision trumps all other senses
  • Also called: Picture-superiority effect (see  Game Storming)
  • Visual thinking à la Back of the Napkin. If in doubt, draw it!



[Medina2009] John Medina. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Pear Press, pp. 301, ISBN: 978-0979777745, March 2009.

[MednickEhr2006] Sara Mednick and Mark Ehrman. Take a Nap! Change Your Life. Workman Publishing Company, pp. 141, ISBN: 978-0761142904, November 2006.