Book Review

Brain Rules

12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

by John Medina, Pear Press, Seattle, Wash., 2008, 299 pp. with index, $29.95 hardcover, $15 softcover

Understanding how our brain processes information into learning challenges many core assumptions about teaching.

John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and founding director of the Talaris Institute in Seattle, uses brain research to define 12 rules that help us understand how we learn. These concepts challenge historical assumptions about the structure and processes used by schools, universities and work environments.


In Brain Rules, Medina scours brain research and explains its practicality through these rules. One rule suggests that when aging people are “enrolled in an aerobic exercise program, all kinds of mental abilities begin to come back online.”

The beneficial effects of exercise for improved learning apply to the entire population, including children.

Other rules address attention span, stress, memory, sleep, vision, gender and exploration. Educators who understand that brain engagement is heightened when an emotion is connected to learning will increase their effectiveness. Medina shares brain-smart ways to engage students and move concepts from short-term memory into working memory and eventually long-term memory. Teaching a concept by linking it to an issue of personal survival, reproduction or sense making will actively engage every learner.

With each rule, Medina asks probing questions about the structure of schools. The research and application implications of the findings demonstrate the value of linking medical and education schools to explore how educational traditions may be counter to how our brains function. The book includes a link to video support online and highlights how these brain rules can be used to improve learning and create more productive work environments.

Reviewed by Brian L. Benzel, vice president for finance and administration, Whitworth University, Spokane, Wash.