Saturday, 13 January 2018

Starting the year off with the brain in mind

I am planning for the coming year and as I am doing so the impact of my learning about the brain is evident in the choices I am making…

The brain grows and develops from the bottom up, the brain stem first, followed by the limbic system and then the cerebral cortex, with the prefrontal cortex doing it’s major work during puberty. It occurred to me today that my planning reflects this process using Glenn Capelli's Magic Brain model, along with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  

(For more about the Magic Brain model check out this link

I start with addressing the basic needs first.


It is said that belonging is an innate human need and so it is the first thing that we work on together.

Learning chant:
Room 5 has a name, it is called The Place to Stretch and Grow. We start with a class learning chant which encapsulates how we will work as a class together and our school values. This is now a tradition in Room 5, so the poem is passed to each new group of students that join us.

Room 5’s Learning Chant:

Welcome to Room 5, the place to stretch and grow
Working together we STRETCH and learning flows
Self belief, self belief - we know we can improve
Talking to learn, talking to learn - and listening to learn too
Resilience, resilience - we try and try again
Excellence, excellence - aim high - we do our best
Talented, talented – there’s so much that we can do
Care and respect - showing kindness to me and you
Honesty, honesty - every single day
Together we stretch and grow in so many ways!

We will discuss this, unpack each of the seven qualities listed and establish what they look like in action so we can demonstrate this in the classroom. I have found that with this being done it makes having class rules redundant.

This year we will also have a space in the classroom where each child has a wooden photo frame, in this frame will be a self portrait and a QR Code linking to their mihi which they will record on Seesaw. This image will be updated over the year as they see fit and other QR codes will be added.  

Rituals, or routines, give a familiar structure to the day that provides security to learners whilst at the same time reinforcing a sense of belongingness. We start and end our day in familiar patterns, I don’t necessarily lead them all, in fact often the students lead and I participate along with everyone. The rituals we have are as follows, please note that this is just what works for us in our classroom so far, it may shift and change depending on student needs and what is happening around the school.  

At the start of the day:
  •  I keep a fruit bowl in the classroom so students can get a piece of fruit before school starts
  • We do a Go Noodle activity as the bell rings and students are coming in
  • Our class leaders for the day start with our morning book where they record the day, date, weather etc.
  • We do a karakia (a prayer) and the class leaders share their pepeha (introducing themselves in Maori) 
  • We sing a waiata (a song- supporting literacy)
  • Students go into partners for a given oral language task then come as a class to share
  • The whole class runs a couple of laps around the netball court outside our classroom then returns and we do five stretches with associated statements supporting qualities we value as above the line learners  
  • We go through our plan for the day and then get on with selecting tasks to support our learning

At the end of the day:
  • We say a karakia to end the day
  •  If we have time, we reflect on the day (this is something I want to make sure I commit time to every day) sharing discoveries, telling about the great things we have seen others doing etc.
  • As the bell rings I stand at the door and we do hug, handshake, high five where the class lines up and each child gets to choose how they would like to be farewelled for the day

I try to make sure I connect with every child each day, that is what our farewell is about. I also schedule at least two free time slots after lunch during the week. This 15-20 minute slot in the timetable gives students a chance to continue a learning task from the morning programme, follow something that interests them, play games, read, paint, draw etc. It is a valuable time for me as a teacher as it allows me the opportunity to catch up with students who might be a little isolated, who are having a tough time for some reason or who I might need to connect a little better with in some way. I may play alongside them or offer for them an opportunity to learn a new game or listen to a story. At times I use the time to just observe particular students. Other times I will offer to teach a new game that will then be an option in our morning programme and those students who join in to play become our experts and teach others.

Once we have spent time building up our class culture and laying the foundation for belongingness then we will move into exploring our brain, in particular, our emotions. 

The magic brain:
I teach the class about the magic brain first and then we focus on the Glitter Room of Emotions.

Name them, read about them, talk about them and how we can manage ourselves if the emotions we are experiencing are making it hard to learn or connect with others. We also explore the concept that others may experience different emotions to ourselves.  

Managing our emotions- calming down:
I love the meme that says ‘never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down’, because it is funny and, in my experience, true. This is why I believe we need to teach strategies to help manage emotions along with supporting learners to recognise the feelings they are having. Here are some of the tools I use:
  • I have a calm down space in the room with a little basket where I have a range of fiddle-tools (these are tools not toys, that is a discussion I have with the class very early on), students can go and select an item to help them calm down and take it with them or stay in that spot if they want
  • We watch a clip called Just Breathe (see below for the clip) 
  •  I teach them star breathing using their hands- we stretch out the fingers on one hand and slowly trace around them, breathing in slowly as we go and up and out slowly as we go down each finger
  • We will be creating a calm down scrapbook of images from magazines that help us calm down
  • With permission children can go for an extra run outside if needed, or bounce a ball
  •  I have mindful colouring books available
  • We also use Play is the Way games to explore our emotions and relationships with others

From here we delve further into the Magic Brain.

We learn about our neurons, how we learn and what helps us to learn.  

We create a learning environment together that meets the needs of our unique brains as much as possible.

We learn about people, places, our world… we work our inquiries… we play, communicate, make connections, create, read, write, play with numbers and patterns, make discoveries, ask questions, and, well you get the picture.

This is the plan of action that I have in place, of course there is a lot more going on but the basis is being aware of the Magic Brain. I think often we do this intuitively, it's always a good feeling when what we do naturally fits with what we are learning from science. :) 

Cartoons created by Brent Harpur- NZ Cartoonist (among other things)- email

Just Breathe


  1. This is a fantastic resource and reminder- Thank you!

  2. Thanks for your comment Mrs Prescott, have a great start of the year :)

  3. This a great read and I plan in trying a variation of some of your ideas. Thank you very much for sharing. Sounds like your class will have lots of fun!

  4. Brilliant! Your students are recieving wonderful experiences and opportunities to think about themselves and their responses to everyday situations. A valuable resource to draw back on in my RTLB work. Thank you very much for sharing.

    1. *receiving rather��

    2. Thank you for your response, I appreciate your kind words.