Learning About Learning
Grade 3 Explores the Brain
“My dog is making me hyper,” announces one kid. “My owl is talking to my elephant!” proclaims another. It may sound like random make-believe, but these students are actually learning, reflecting, and making connections. If you wander the halls and hear talks of dogs and owls and elephants, listen closer.
These kids are not talking about imaginary friends… they’re talking about the brain. Understanding the brain is important – learning about the brain helps the brain learn! – but it can be tough. That’s why Grade 3 teachers Ms. Morris and Ms. Vally introduce a trio of animals to help students on their way: students learn about the amygdala (their dog), the prefrontal cortex (their owl), and the hippocampus (their elephant).
Storytelling helps simplify the brain’s complex processes.
The rambunctious dog, wise owl, and reminiscent elephant are easy for students to remember and understand. When they become distracted, they know it’s their dog who is acting up. When they reflect and make inferences, they know their owl is talking to their elephant. Understanding these three parts – how they work, why they work, and how they can be controlled – is empowering. Knowledge of the brain’s biological processes lends itself to the unit’s true focuses: mindfulness, metacognition, and growth mindset.
“The unit is about getting kids to learn how their mind works so they can help themselves,” Ms. Valley explains. Students learn to think, act, moderate, and make decisions for themselves.
Students learn important mindfulness techniques to help them in their emotional, intellectual and developmental growth. “We teach students that when their dog is acting up, their owl and elephant can’t speak to each other,” Ms. Morris explains. Thinking can’t happen. Students learn deep breathing, square breathing, guided imagery, yoga, and meditation to help. They also head into the forest for weekly Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) sessions. Using the forest as a “mindfulness experience,” students find spots to think, write, reflect or just be. Over time, students learn that they can regulate their own emotions, bodies, and behaviors. “We see evidence of this in class,” Ms. Morris explains, “students have different resources – noise cancelling headphones, privacy screens, and different sit spots – and they choose to use them on their own.” Students recognize when they’re distracted and know how to re-focus.
“The unit is about getting kids to learn how their mind works so they can help themselves,” Ms. Valley explains. Students learn to think, act, moderate, and make decisions for themselves.”
Learning how the mind works breaks down its processes and puts thinking in perspective. Metacognition empowers students to observe and recognize and moderate their thoughts. As Ms. Vally puts it, it’s “thinking about thinking.” This is especially important in Grade 3, when students start learning and thinking in new ways. Reading becomes more active; students are asked to form connections, ask questions, and make inferences. “It’s the difference between reading and reading,” Ms. Vally nods.
Understanding how the brain works provides students a special insight; they have the tools for overcoming challenges and the skills for taking informed risks in their learning. Metacognition unpacks thinking processes.
Learning growth mindset
Through mindfulness and metacognition, students learn that their brains are capable of growing. Students feel empowered and not as afraid of challenge. Whether overwhelming emotions or a learning challenge, students know that they can overcome problems on their own. “Growth mindset gives students perseverance and tells them to not give up.” Ms. Morris affirms.