On Friday, I attended an NHASCD presentation by Dr. Judy Willis. Brain Friendly Strategies for Igniting Student Engagement and Learning was an overview of how the brain takes in, stores and uses information with specific classroom applications for teachers.
Her presentation was amazing! One thing that I found particularly interesting was that extra Dopamine is released when accurate predictions are made. She recommends using prediction as much as possible to sustain attention.
Although I frequently use prediction, her explanation of the neuroscience adds a new twist to what I’ve previously done. She suggests that students make predictions which they are allowed to revise as a lesson/unit progresses. She says that the brain needs to find out if its prediction is correct, so it is motivated to pay attention to find out.
It is important to be explicit so that the brain is fully aware that predictions are being made, and then reveal clues along the way to support revision of the prediction. Interesting pictures, riddles, Animoto commercials, student-friendly written subtopics are all ways to engage the brain in making predictions.
Now I know why the kids liked the Christmas Sock clues so much. I can’t wait to try new ways to incorporate more predicting in my lessons.
Each of the last twelve school days before vacation, I sang the next verse in the Christmas sock song and showed my students my socks. The deal was that they had to have finished the lesson before I would sing.
I put a symbol on my board each day to remind me what socks I was wearing. To my surprise, the kids would immediately check the ‘sock board’ as they entered and begin guessing what kind of socks I was wearing. They would beg for a sneak peek at the socks, but I would never show them until the lesson was over. Each time I revealed my socks, there would be a mix of cheers and groans about how close their predictions were.
I always find it amazing how much 8th graders love this song. I warn them at the beginning that my singing voice is horrible. They always agree with me. The funny thing is they still do ‘jazz hands’ with me for the fifth day, and join in for “aaannnndddd pink socks with Christmas lights and bows.“
Kate and I attended the Learning & the Brain Society’s conference, The Science of Smarter Minds: Teaching to Think, Create and Innovate for School and Careers in May 2014. John T. Almarode, PhD taught a session on ways to engage the adolescent brain. Principle #1 was Raise Student Expectations with Behavioral Engagement. He explained that because the brain’s primary goal is survival, using the unexpected is a great way to gain students’ attention. He described it as playing to the “What’s that? Yeah, I’ll play along,” nature of the adolescent brain.
Today was a perfect example of this. For the Do Now, I asked the students to get two post-it notes from my easel and draw a symbol that would represent any two of the themes written on the black paper posted in the room. When they were finished, they were supposed to place the post-its under the themes they had chosen.
At the beginning of my sixth period class, two boys entered and looked to the front board to see what they needed for the Do Now. One of them stopped cold and said, “Whoa! Black paper!” His friend immediately turned and asked, “What are we doing today?”
What they were going to be doing was getting the requirements for their mind maps on Lois Lowry’s development of a theme in The Giver, examining mind map models, and beginning their prewriting. Incorporating movement, choice, social interaction, creativity and novelty into a quick activity grabbed their attention and got them excited about tackling a difficult task. It also provided the students with a bank of examples as they completed their work.
Okay, I’m thinking we need to bring some relaxation and focusing strategies to our multimedia immersed, multitasking young students. I just read this article from Vanderbilt University, Mindfulness in the Classroom, and I wonder if we could help students train their minds to concentrate and focus more effectively? How might this help students with attention disorders? I know meditation helps me immeasurably. What do you think of using ancient techniques of mindfulness as pedagogy in the classroom in this fast paced world? Any experience? I’m fascinated and think it could be amazing for the learning brain!