How the Brain Grows

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Learning Goal

Students will understand the basics of how the brain changes and grows
(i.e., neuroplasticity).

Learning Objectives

By the end of the lessons, students will be able to:

  • Recognize that learning requires practice
  • Experience the process of creating a new neural pathway by learning a new skill
Learning Summary

Our brains create new neural pathways throughout our entire lives—this is called neuroplasticity. These pathways allow us to access thoughts, skills, feelings, and memories. We have billions of neurons that connect to one another to make these learning pathways. The more a skill is practiced, the stronger that connection.
When you stop practicing, your brain decides it is no longer important and it lets those connections weaken.

In this lesson, students start with a mindful moment in which they stand and breathe like trees blowing in the wind. You then lead a brief discussion on skills that students did not know how to do before but now seem easy. In the story, Munchy has difficulty crossing a bridge of tree stumps but with practice (not a double-day!) he is able to cross it successfully. You then select a new skill to teach your class. We recommend giving students time to practice the new skill several times a day throughout the week. Students end by drawing a picture of a time they learned a new skill.

computer icon Online Teaching Tips for How the Brain Grows

This lesson does not require any major modifications for online learning. Use the Munchy and Jumpy story as the lesson anchor. In advance, select an activity from the provided options for the stretch-and-grow brain activity.

Select one of the stretch-and-grow brain activity options (or come up with your own) that you know students can do at their homes.

Select one of the stretch-and-grow brain activity options (or come up with your own) that you know students can do at their homes during their own time and then journal about. If this seems too challenging, skip the activity and have students complete the “One day, I will be able to…” graphic organizer.

CASEL Competencies

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.