Sunday, 14 February 2016

Celebrating our brilliant brains

"We can no longer ignore the neuroscience"
Dr Judith Howard

In education, we can no longer afford to ignore the neuroscience. This was a statement shared with us at a course I attended last year. As a neuro-nerd I couldn't agree more with this sentiment, we need to embrace the learning that science can share with us and let it inform what we do in our classrooms. It is also important that we share this knowledge with our learners. 
With this in mind we have started our teaching year with a focus on our brilliant brains and how we learn. And so far it's been fun. There is a wealth of great material online and we have used video, movement, art, discussion and writing to support our learning. 

One of the clips we started with was Ned the Neuron. We actually watched it three days in a row and it is on our class website for further revisits if individuals want to. The first time we watched it I paused at various spots. The class loved being able to say neuroplasticity! We talked about what sorts of things help our brains get stronger, we talked about challenges. In subsequent viewings we focused on different aspects to explore further. 

When we discussed the brain growing and challenges we used the example of learning how to walk to help us understand better. I asked one of our classmates to demonstrate what happens when a baby first tries to walk... our actor did a brilliant job of showing the baby falling over and then trying again and again. We talked about what happened when the baby first fell over and I asked the following rhetorical questions... Did the baby just stop there and go "oh well I tried walking but it didn't work for me so I guess I won't be a walker"? Did the baby go "walking is dumb, crawling is better and I like it better"? Did the baby just stop there and scream out "it just not fair, I can't walk, I can't do this"? and so on. The class laughed as we went through these scenarios and each time we were able to say that no-one would ever learn to walk if we did this. We related this to our own challenges. 

After this we talked about how when we learn something we make new connections and the more we try things the stronger the connections get. We talked about how learning something new or different can feel really hard at first but that is OK, that is what challenge can feel like, just like the baby learning to walk. We stood up and started off being like a neuron sitting there and trying something new and slowly, with a bit of effort, stretched one arm out and then kept going stretching our fingers out too. Then we stretched our other arm and fingers. After that we stretched out one leg and then another. Slowly and with effort until we were standing like strong stars. 

We talked about things that we find challenging and that different people find different things more challenging than others... again that is OK, we are all unique! 

After this we noticed when we were challenged and our mantra in class became 'we try and try again', sometimes adding... 'just like the baby learning to walk'. We notice when we make mistakes and now we know that making mistakes is part of learning, it helps our neurons stretch and grow. 

We have also been watching the Class Dojo Growth Mindset series. There are 5 clips in total and here is the first: 

These clips further expand on the notion that through accepting challenges and persisting when we find something tricky we can improve our learning. We can strengthen our brain. 

To support our learning about the brain we have made images and written short descriptions about one of our amazing neurons. Just like us our brains, which are made up of billions of neurons, all our images are unique and interesting. 

As are our descriptions. Here are a few examples: 

My neuron’s name is Excellent Swimmer. My neuron gets stronger when I sleep. My neuron likes water. My neuron needs challenges. My neuron loves ice cream. My neuron is as nice as chocolate.

My neuron’s name is Bob. He gets stronger when I learn. Bob likes to run. Bob needs food and water.  Bob loves hugs. Bob is awesome.

My neuron is Geoff. My neuron gets stronger by making mistakes. My neuron likes apples. My neuron needs lots of love. My neuron loves sleep. My neuron is strong.

My neuron’s name is Joe. My neuron gets stronger when I give myself a challenge. My neuron likes it when I give it food. My neuron needs water to live. My neuron loves it when I take it to cool places. My neuron is clever and friendly.

My neuron’s name is Disgust. My neuron gets stronger when I work really hard at working out problems. My neuron likes trying out words. My neuron loves the best hugs ever. My neuron is brainy.

My neuron’s name is Bob. Bob is very cool. My neuron likes to do rugby. MY neuron gets stronger when I make mistakes. Bob needs food and water. Bob loves to do maths. My neuron is wonderful.

Our classroom is known as Room 5 the Place to Stretch and Grow. We have developed a learning chant (an idea I have taken from the latest Teachers Matter Conference which I will write about in due course) and are practicing it regularly... we are developing actions to support this
 It is exciting to hear the language the children are using which is empowering. They are encouraging each other to persist. They are celebrating attempts. They are noticing when they have learned something new and they are sharing this knowledge with each other. 

This has been a great start to celebrating our brilliant brains. We are also practicing strategies to help us learn better. Our next steps will be exploring our magic brain and learning the Stop, Breathe, Think, Do technique to help us get back in balance and think more clearly when we get out of synch.

To read more about this you can check out some other posts in this blog: 


  1. Thanks Meg, this is where I want our school to go...will be sharing this at an upcoming staff meeting when I think they may be ready to take the messages onboard

    1. If you had any staff keen we could have our class skype theirs and they could share their knowledge as brain experts :) I forgot to add about the world's best learner who has joined our class as well.. maybe another post down the track :)

  2. Great start to the year. Lucky kids. I love the way you are putting the learning into practise

  3. Thanks Karen, we are really enjoying this learning journey.

  4. Hey Meg, thanks for sharing your blog with me. I love that you are getting right into growth mindset by teaching your class about the brain. It's important to know that their brains are malleable. It's also fantastic to hear they are learning the language around growth mindset including "neuroplasticity"! Growth mindset is a lot to do with knowing self too. You are teaching your class strategies on how to "learn better" which encourages them to know themselves and how they function. It will also link to the key comeptencies managing self and relating to others. They will begin to see that their ways of learning may differ to their peers and that's okay. I've noticed that with my year 1 and 2's they are already looking at their peers and comparing themselves in negative ways. I hope I can instil growth mindset in them and encourage them to believe in their fabulous selves!