Hack Teaching Growth Mindsets with a Brain Lesson


I used to fail at teaching growth mindsets to my students for a long time. After I started finding success as the Innovative Arts teacher,  I made a video with all of my advice for teaching your students a growth mindset. One piece of that advice was to teach kids how their brains work. This is so important that it needed to be its own video. 

When a kid knows how their brain works, they can learn to value mistakes, hack studying, and make better choices. In this video I’ll show you how to teach it, what it looks like in my classroom, and a simple version of what happens inside all of our brains!

So how does a brain work? This simplified version doesn’t cover every single detail but enough for kids to get the point. But here is how I teach it to my kids, I am going to go through it all fast to keep this video short but leave a comment with your suggestions below. 

We all have about 80 billion neurons. These do it all! Neurons that are connected to your optic nerve are helping you see this right now. One neuron cannot do much though, they need to work together. That is why each neuron can have thousands of connections between them. These connections are everything that you know! You know how to walk because the connections between the parts of your brain that control the muscles in your legs, back, arms, shoulders, and neck. These connections are really strong because you use them all the time. That is how connections work – they get stronger when you use them and will go away when you stop using them. 

Did you ever think that you’ll definitely remember something but then forget it? That was not a strong connection. 

So how do you make connections? Well, you have two types of memory. Short and long term. Your short term memory can remember stuff from only today. While you sleep at night, your brain is trying to decide which of those short term memories to put into long term memory. Long term memories last a lot longer. This is why your teachers tell you to study a little each night – you are giving your brain more chances to make long term memories and why it is important to get good sleep at night! Remember, connections get stronger as you use them, so you have to practice anything you want to stick. 

We make connections very quickly as we learn from mistakes. I have made thousands of them, big and small. Every mistake is helping me get better at something because I learn from it and those connections stick in our brains very well. 

Here is the class brain that I use for a prop at this point. The pipe cleaners are connections and students share their mistakes and add a pipe cleaner to the mess. Do you want a brain with tons of connections or just a few? The only way to get them is to learn from your mistakes and keep practicing. 

From this point on, I am cheering whenever a kid makes a mistake and we add more and more connections to the class brain. I repeat each part of this lesson several times and before too long the kids can share it back to me! Please leave a comment with an example mistake, better example, or connection that I missed in this explanation.

Useful links for teachers:

This site holds the resources for Innovative Arts class, a class that replaced our technology class in our middle school. Students learn to create as engineers, designers, and more. At the same time, we are learning about our brains/mindsets (‘Puzzle‘), engage technology (‘Shift‘) and the creative process (‘Create‘).

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