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Students will learn about the two systems of the brain: the fight-or-flight amygdala and the thoughtful prefrontal cortex.
By the end of the lessons, students will be able to:
- Describe the lizard brain and identify situations when this part of the brain is used
- Describe the wizard brain and identify situations when this part of the brain is used
This week’s lesson introduces two basic parts of the brain: the lizard brain–aka the amygdala–and the wizard brain–aka prefrontal cortex. We do not expect you to become an expert in neuroscience to teach this lesson.
This lesson starts with a mindfulness activity where students learn to calm their bodies by pushing down on their chair, pulling up on their chair, and finally dangling their arms. In the introduction you teach students about the lizard and wizard brains. The lizard brain, responsible for processing threats and is activated in strong emotional situations, is often referred to as the fight-or-flight response. The wizard brain is responsible for complex thought, planning, decision-making, impulse control, and self-awareness. A follow-up activity provides students an opportunity to decide which part of their brain they would use with different scenarios. Students end by reflecting in their journals.
There are some useful videos found under the lesson variations for visuals on the brain. Also, make sure to be able to show the printout from the lesson plan showing the brain diagram.
For the Different Brains/Different Reaction activity, start by making sure students’ cameras are on. Come up with a hand gesture for the wizard brain and a different one for the lizard brain and teach the class. Then, read the scenarios aloud and have students on the count of three show the symbol for which brain they think is being described. Once the hand symbols are shown, call on a few students to explain why they chose either the lizard brain or the wizard brain.
For a recorded option, consider having students make two columns on a piece of paper, lizard brain on one side and wizard brain on the other. After you read aloud each scenario for the Different Brains/Different Reaction activity, tell students to make a tally under which brain they think is being described.
Self-awareness: The abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.
Self-management: The abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation & agency to accomplish personal/collective goals.
Responsible decision-making: The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacities to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being.