The amygdala in the brain is not commonly associated with learning, rather it's primary role has been understood as the center of processing and memory of emotions.
However, a study done at New York University revealed otherwise. It appears that the amygdala plays a profound role in the metaphorical light bulb which shines in the moment of sudden "Aha!" insight.
"'Our results demonstrate, for the first time, that the amygdala is important for creating long-term memories - not only when the information learned is explicitly emotional, but also when there is a sudden reorganization of information in our brain, for example, involving a sudden shift in perception,' says Ludmer. 'It might somehow evaluate the event, 'deciding' whether it is significant and therefore worthy of preservation.'" (via Physorg)
This understanding of Aha! moments, being a sudden reorganization of information in the brain that effectively creates long-term memories, resonates with how I understand my own growth in learning. After that pivotal event, school became less about rote memorization of facts and more about a steady stream of Aha! moments.
That's not to say each and every class, every single day becomes a euphoric experience of joyful learning. The human condition is far too complicated and messy for it to be that simple. Though I did notice the craft of a good teacher became more apparent and appreciated. And inversely, my predisposed interest in a subject became much less important to how much value I found in a class.
The following is my big take away from this study:
If new information doesn't reorganize existing information, it won't have a place.
If new information doesn't have a place, it won't be remembered.
And if new information isn't remembered, it will never have potential to be applied.
Going forward, I'll be thinking a lot about how to create opportunities for Aha! moments with children.
If we can equip an individual to pursue Aha! moments within the context of life, school becomes simultaneously meaningful and peripheral (not a means to an end, but a meaningful, appreciated, and valuable opportunity for growth in and of itself).