Neuroscience and Education

by
Jenni Cook
Assistant Principal

On the first day back at school this term staff enjoyed a presentation from Neuroscientist, Professor Billy O’Connor, a passionate researcher into neuroscience and education.

Billy is the head of Teaching and Research in Physiology at the University of Limerick Graduate Entry Medical School, and was on sabbatical at Flinders University. We were fortunate enough to have him visit us on his last day in Australia.

Billy talked about recent research into the neuroplasticity of the brain and how it is possible to rewire the pathways of the brain through ‘exercise’, much as we exercise any muscle to build its strength.

Research shows that during adolescence the brain is rewiring itself as children become adults. During this process there can be feelings of loss and grief, uncertainty and confusion and excessive emotions. As we all know, adolescents can sometimes be temperamental!

The last part of the brain to develop is the frontal lobe, the section that is to do with higher order thinking skills, responsible decision making and organisation. This can take into the twenties to be fully developed! Something we need to remember when we expect adolescents to be organised and act responsibly.

During the presentation Billy gave us a range of strategies for Optimal Learning. He talked about the importance to learning of taking time to be Mindful, and the power of mindfulness to cope with stress. By giving our brains a chance to rest and focus on the moment we strengthen the frontal lobe and help it to develop. This is important for adolescents, but also for adults and children.

In an experiment in 2012 fifty college students were asked to practice relaxation each day for two months prior to a Maths exam. Twenty-five were asked to practice mindfulness for 12 minutes each day, the other twenty-five were asked to relax each day and chose things like listening to music or going for a walk. Immediately after the exam they had their cortisol levels checked to test their stress levels. Those who had practiced mindfulness had lower cortisol levels and felt more positive about their performance in the exam. Scans also showed that those who had practiced mindfulness had developed a thicker band of neurons in the frontal lobe of the brain!

At the end of his talk Billy gave us some simple exercises to develop mindfulness.

Billy has a fascinating website, on which he publishes the latest research into the brain. Please check out some of his topics!

http://inside-the-brain.com/

Geelong Grammar School Training comes to Mount Barker High!

IMG_1353 Course Leaders and Participants

Staff at Mount Barker High School and the surrounding primary schools began their July holidays with a four day course – Discovering Positive Education, run by Geelong Grammar School’s Institute of Positive Education. They were joined by interested staff from both public and private metropolitan schools.

The course covered topics about Positive Accomplishment and understanding Fixed and Growth Mindsets, Positive Emotions, Character Strengths, building Optimism and Resiliency, Positive Engagement, and Positive Relationships.

In welcoming participants Warren Symonds, Principal of Mount Barker High School, said that it would be one of if not the best professional development experiences of their careers. On the last day of the training many of the participants affirmed this claim.

Charlie Scudamore, Deputy Principal of Geelong Grammar School, began the conference by saying that it was the first time the team had ‘played away from home’, he finished it by saying that he had been wrong – they were at home. The feeling of being at home was very much part of the conference as people shared learning, ideas and meals together.

The course took place over the last day of term and first few days of holidays when teachers are usually running on reserve, making the sustained energy and enthusiasm of participants quite amazing – our science teachers were busy planning new Positive Education modules for their curriculum in their spare time on the last day.

As a result of this training approximately 150 teachers and support staff across the district have undertaken Positive Education training. This means that over 3000 students in our district will benefit from working with school staff trained in delivering Positive Education!
IMG_7123 Learning about the Neuroplasticity of the Brain

by Jenni Cook
Assistant Principal
Positive Education

The Science of Gratitude

Thankyou!
It’s a simple word that everyone uses many times throughout the day towards many different people; to the person who holds the door open, to the worker who packs our groceries or the person who lets you cut into the traffic on a busy road during peak hour. It gets used so often that sometimes the meaning of gratitude is lost and we aren’t really sure what we are truly grateful for. Gratitude is often spoken, but not to those people that need to hear it the most.
During the past term the year 8 Science classes have been focusing on chemical sciences. We looked into the chemicals, periodic table and chemical reactions. As the unit neared the end the teachers collectively decided that the classes would make bath bombs to be a fun way for them to take a chemical reaction home. As we began discussing the activity, the suggestion that bath bombs were usually given as presents became apparent, and, the idea of accompanying these with a letter of gratitude was born.
The lesson began with a Youtube clip about expressing gratitude and the effect that it can have on your own happiness. ‘The Science of Happiness’ is a brain child of Youtube channel SoulPancake and begins with a simple question ‘What makes you happy?’. When you ask people what makes them happy most people could make a list of things including having fun, family, friends, money or delicious food but SoulPancake asks us to consider that the greatest contributing factor to our overall happiness is how much gratitude we show. Students seem to use their please and thankyou’s but the idea of expressing their gratitude for a person that has had an impact on their life or someone they are thankful for was something that many had not thought of. Who was it in their life that they were most grateful for? For some students it was an easy task and a single person came to mind, for others they had too many people and found it hard to narrow it down to just one person, and for some, they really had to think about and find that person they were grateful for. One thing was certain, that all students had someone in their life that they were grateful for.
The activity was embraced by most students and even the teachers had a go at expressing their gratitude. It was a simple letter; it didn’t even need to be extensively researched or written, no one marked or assessed it. It was quite simply, a powerful intrinsic motivator for these students to take a step back and realize there is something to be grateful for. Students needed to express onto paper the reasons they were grateful for this person, perhaps the words they would never say to them in person. I found myself personally enthralled to see these students express their gratitude, because, when you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing. It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude, its gratitude that brings us happiness. There are so many different ways that gratefulness can be expressed; what went well, Project 365, you can even introduce the hashtag #thankfulthursday. It’s about taking the time to write a simple thankyou for those people, or things that we are really grateful for in our life. Aldous Huxley once wrote “Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted” and the teacher inside me can’t help but leave a little homework for you to try at home so your assignment is as follows: Today, just notice the things or people you take for granted. Make a list and say “thankyou” for each of them.
By Lexia
Science Teacher

Positive Self Talk and Maths

At Mount Barker High School we asked each of our learning areas to embed positive education into their program in some way. This request challenged the Maths team at first but read below about how they responded and the strategies they put in place!

As a faculty we were given the challenge to incorporate an aspect of Positive Psychology into our teaching. David Garrett gave as the idea a while back that we didn’t need to do an assessment task or teach maths that can specifically show an aspect of Positive Psychology, what we could do was incorporate something in our dealings with students during Maths lessons. This made it much easier for us as we have all had students who come to our classes consistently saying things like ‘I am no good at Maths’, ‘I hate Maths’, ‘I just don’t get it at all’ or ‘I give up, it’s too hard’. So we decided that we could easily help our students with positive self-talk and teach them about perseverance (one of the character strengths). Many teachers within the faculty have incorporated different things (clips, saying, posters etc) and this is just about an activity that I was involved in.

Martin Gare, (a counsellor from CAMHS), came to a meeting and chatted to us about what he could offer the Maths Faculty on our quest to incorporate positive self-talk and perseverance into our teaching. It was then decided that Martin would come to my Yr 10 Maths class and we would conduct an activity to help the students understand self-talk and demonstrate the positive effects that self-talk can have.

During our single lesson I got the students to throw balls into a bucket. There were 10 balls and the bucket was about 3m away from where it was thrown. Students had 10 attempts to get the balls in the buckets and the results were recorded. The students had no idea why we did it.

The following day Martin came to class and we divided the group randomly into two groups. One group (the control group) were taken out of the room, put into another classroom and given maths work to continue with. The remaining students were spoken to by Martin about positive self-talk for about 40 mins. These students then had to practise a strategy whilst throwing the balls back in the buckets from the same distance. Results were again recorded. The control group then returned to class and were told to try again to throw the balls in the buckets.

Martin and I at this point were a little worried and we were not sure as to whether the results would indicate what we wanted them too….. but they did!!! Whilst both groups did see an improvement in their strike rate, the group which had been debriefed about positive self-talk saw a much greater improvement which was pleasing.

It is now envisaged that in 2014 we will be working with all our Yr 8 students about positive self-talk and further implement it into our Mathematics program.

By Kirsten
Maths, Science and Technology Coordinator

Positive Psychology Training at Geelong Grammar School, Week 9 Term 2

Andrea 1
by Andrea,
year 4/5 teacher Mount Barker Primary School

What an amazing week that was! I thought it was one of the best learning experiences I have ever had. Highlights for me were meeting the Well Being team at GGS and the other educators who attended, learning what my personal Character Strengths are and what that means, listening to inspiring stories of others, particularly the young student who spoke to us, and being given some ideas to begin using in my class room.
I have a year 4/5 class at Mount Barker Primary School and we have started talking about Character Strengths, which they are finding interesting. We’re learning what it means to ‘Pan for Gold’ in reflecting on things to express gratitude for and about ‘random acts of kindness’.
Andrea-2
Andrea at work at Geelong Grammar School

IDEAS!

by Ros
English Co-ordinator

Wow!
I went to Geelong with high expectations which were definitely realised! Highlights of the conference included:
– a clear focus on positive attributes that foster flourishing, with strong links to the character strengths
– philosophy and practice embedded in all aspects of school life
– the obvious strength of a common language
– and all presented in a package particularly suitable for teachers
My conference notes are littered with ‘IDEA’…the annotation I use to leap off the pages when I get home to remind me of the things I want to try with students, such as:

IdeaTest mindset on website: http://mindsetonline.com/testyourmindset – test myself and later, students. We are likely to abandon tasks when faced with setbacks if we have a fixed mindset. Have students research people who’ve succeeded after failures.
The necessity of a growth mindset resonated strongly with me. I like also, the notion of a slightly ‘expanded’ idea: that people can have fixed, growth and unrealistic mindsets. I’m currently developing a film study task where students will analyse the mindsets of characters and how these impact on their relationships, decisions and behaviour.

IdeaPositive talk… love that, but how to model it …walk the talk? Positive questions lead to positive action. Turn problem talk to possibility talk…ask a positive question. I am more mindful now of how I respond to student queries, or how I guide them towards understanding a task or concept. I’ve asked students to hand me a sticky note as each leaves the classroom, on which they’ve copied something positive I’ve said, in order to raise my own awareness of my language. It’s interesting that thus far they hear affirmations of their efforts and particular skills, but not so much the questions/prompts that suggest strategies for aspects of a task they may not yet understand. We’ve a way to go!!

IdeaYEEESSSSS! Gratitude letters – ‘Write a gratitude letter to someone who has been of particular help or influence during your project.(mentor, relative, author, expert, coach etc)’. I have returned from Geelong with a deeper understanding of the power of the character strength, gratitude, which is an essential element of PERMA – allowing us to connect with people in meaningful ways: building relationships, connecting with community and valuing others. I have now included a gratitude letter in the third task for a Year 10 subject we call the Personal Project, which is completed off-site with the help of family, community members and teacher mentors. The letter also fits snugly into the communication focus of the subject. I came home with many other ideas for fostering gratitude… but don’t want to divulge too much to the next group going to Geelong!

A particularly pleasing outcome was the meeting on the last evening of the conference, of some 25 people from our area: district office, primary and secondary schools, all with similar goals – to establish a network of interested people to develop a scope and sequence for fostering wellbeing in our schools, to share resources and to drive the dream forward.

Like I said … WOW!

Ros

Ros noting her ideas!
Ros noting her ideas!

LIVE IT!

REFLECTIONS ON MY LEARNING FROM GEELONG
by Amanda
Maths Teacher

The four days that we spent in Geelong were undoubtedly the most valuable professional development I have experienced. And for me some of the most valuable moments in those four days came out of the conversations that I had with the teachers we met. For example, on the second morning I went out for a run at 6am with some of the other teachers there, including a teacher from Geelong. He made the comment that from his experience of the implementation of Positive Psychology at Geelong Grammar, he felt that training groups of teachers together and also forging connections with our feeder primary schools was an extremely valuable step in our journey. In his opinion, the relationships that we were building, and the common language that we were forming would make a far greater difference to our school, our students and our community than any strategies or interventions made without that behind them. That was a real ‘light bulb moment’ for me. Although I was taken by the idea of positive psychology when I attended the first lecture by Professor Martin Seligman early last year, and have been keen to take up every opportunity to develop my understanding in the area since then, it has been with the catch cry ‘give me strategies to implement this in my classroom’. In looking for the ways this applies to my Maths and Science classes I have been entirely focused on strategies. My four days in Geelong changed this for me. To effectively implement this in our school we as teachers need to live it. Its most powerful use is in our daily interactions and conversations with our students, and with each other. Worksheets and classroom activities will only be effective with the force of our example and those hundreds of little conversations behind them, giving them conviction.
Since coming back from Geelong my focus has been on teaching my Maths classes the power of self-talk, and how a growth mindset can help them to value challenges. How many of us have said ‘I can’t do Maths’, or ‘I can’t spell’, or ‘I’m no good at sports’? Neuroscience tells us that you’re wrong. Your only limit is the one you set for yourself. Change your self-talk; ‘I can’t understand quadratics….YET’. And to everyone out there talking to the young people in your life, let’s stop spreading the smart/stupid myth. We praise people for being ‘really smart’ when they succeed, but what does that really mean? Commend them for the effort they put in, and encourage them to continue to challenge themselves, and then maybe we’ll get to see just how awesome they can be.
Amanda & Marianne
Amanda and a Colleague at the Geelong Grammar Training