This summer, I was recommended a book that has changed the way I think. This book helped me to understand how our brain works and how our societal norms tend to go against the natural inclinations of the human brain. I also never realized how much I was creating my own frustrations: in work, school, and life. The book is titled Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School and written by John Medina. Just like the title states, it expands on these 12 principles:
Now, I would recommend reading Brain Rules to anyone, regardless of their profession, because it really explains how the human brain is wired and what we need to do to maximize our brain capacity and effectiveness. I found this book incredibly beneficial personally, as a teacher and coach. This book both confirmed and contradicted some of my beliefs and practices, providing years of research and clear examples to back their opinions. A point I should make, however, is that some of the life components that determine brain capacity and engagement are out of my control as a teacher/coach. I can't control the gender of my students, the number of hours my students/athletes sleep, what or how often they eat, when they hit puberty, their stress levels, etc.
Therefore, I have chosen to work on the few things that I CAN control. This year, I am focusing on the aspect of attention. The blurb above "We don't pay attention to boring things." THIS IS SO TRUE! If I'm reading a news article, and it starts boring me, I move on to the next article. I scroll through social media until a picture or headline catches my attention. Why do I expect students to pay attention in math when there are so many more exciting things to think about?
So....I'm taking action. I am breaking my class into segments of ten minutes or less. The book references that 10 minutes is the limit that the brain can focus without needing another hook to reel an audience back in. Now, I don't lecture much in class, and when I do, it's almost always under ten minutes. This leaves most of the time in class to be spent collaborating in groups on math problems. As much as I love students working together for most of class, I was getting frustrated with students loosing focus. Through using this method of breaking up the period into less than 10 minute segments, I have found that students are much more engaged.
When there is an activity that may take longer than 10 minutes, I have used different grouping strategies to break up the monotony. These were discussed in this previous blog post. I also have incorporated movement into activities. For instance, we have a 6-question formative assessment for each skill. I have now posted these problems on the classroom walls and the whiteboard tables in my room so students are constantly moving around the room to find their next problem. By moving around every 3-5 minutes, students are breaking up what normally would've been a 20-25 minute span of time working individually at their table.
Building 10 minute segments into my class structure has been my first step in using these brain rules in my classroom, though I plan to integrate more in the future. I am working to use repetition more often to build memory and will continue to use visual aids whenever possible. If you have any additional ideas, I'd love to learn about them!