The Brain Manual unit uses a variety of fiction and nonfiction text to introduce students to their brains. Students will not only gain confidence in their ability to understand their brain and to use cognitive strategies, but also examine the emotions provoked by our minds. Hopefully students will see that they are not alone in their accomplishments and frustrations. The introduction of fiction into a seemingly science unit allows students the opportunity to investigate and synthesize the new information as well as talk about the feelings our brains create. The different genres create multiple ways to understand the complexity of this amazing mound of wrinkled grey.
We know more about our solar system than we do about our brains. New technologies and clearer imaging tools, like MRIs, EEG and CAT scans, are giving researchers, in many fields, the ability to understand far more about the brain. As teachers, I think we are living a paradigm shift, one in which we will learn precise techniques that can give our students the very best education by utilizing cognitive science. Every precious classroom minute will be more effective, less stressful, and more enjoyable for children. Paying closer attention to brain compatible learning techniques will enable us to close some of the achievement gaps we now face. These techniques are teaching practices that have been proven effective by science's relatively new ability to monitor brain activity.
This unit uses a wide variety of text and media to intrigue students, as we practice various comprehension strategies. There are many websites that provide beautiful images of our brains and those visuals will help students grappling with comprehending the brain's mechanisms. I believe the integration of fiction, in the form of the funny yet poignant novel,
Joey Pigza Swallowed a Key
, by Jack Gantos, will provide a richer experience, and weave in a common thread for a more cohesive unit. The varied text will also lend itself conducive to meeting the Common Core Standards in both fiction and nonfiction. My overriding goal is to impress upon students who have been repeatedly told they have a learning disability that, in truth, they have a learning difference. Over the course of four weeks, students will be introduced to their brains. Understanding the specific processes involved in learning will provide students with evidence on why specific strategies work to develop stronger neural pathways.
The unit is designed to benefit fifth and sixth graders. As a reading intervention teacher, the students I see are struggling and in dire need of encouragement. They are all in various reading intervention programs and are there because they did not score proficiently on the Connecticut Master Test. Approximately one third are identified as being in need of special education and many are ELL. However, it is my belief that anyone can benefit from learning about his or her personal metacognitive process.
The objective of this unit is that students will be able to recognize, explain, and understand cognitive processes in the brain and also be able to express their feelings about learning. They will be able to explain and question human brain development, differentiate between the active and reactive brain, explain comprehension strategies and describe their personal learning styles. Students will be presented with short readings, video clips, websites, and other activities about on how different parts of the brain behave when they are in a certain learning environment. This substantiation will, hopefully, give students confidence in their ability to understand their metacognitive process (being aware of how they learn and their ability to manipulate and control their learning process) and impress upon them that they can
train their brains
to learn more effectively. On the negative side, students will learn about the detrimental effects of stress on a learning experience. Stress inducers include things like lack of sleep, poor nutrition, emotional difficulties, substance abuse, and also boredom.
The Brain Unit has four sections; Brain Basics, The Caveman Brain, The Modern Brain and the introduction of fiction using the junior fiction novel,
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key
. The sections are designed to teach students how to live up to their learning potential. My hope is that students will be shown and not told, how their brain operates and after seeing this evidence become more willing to risk learning. Students will create their own personal brain user's manual.