The Silly Putty Brain

One of my favorite activities as a child involved manipulating silly putty. It was great fun, because it was easy to reshape the rubbery mass into whatever came to mind. I also enjoyed flattening the putty out and pressing it on the Sunday comics to transfer the colorful images. The best part of it all was that the silly putty could easily be shaped and reshaped, so every putty experience could be something new and interesting. 

Neuroscience has shown that the human brain is a lot like silly putty, and each new experience shapes and reshapes the brain. This is an important factor in developing a growth mindset. The more that we share this information with our students and embrace this information in our classroom practice, the better it will be for growing young minds. In the book Developing Growth Mindsets: Principles and Practices for Maximizing Students’ Potential, authors Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers share the following four things that students need to increase brain connections:

  1. Novelty. The brain requires stimulation for maximum development. The best stimuli are those which are not previously experienced. Keeping the classroom and the learning experiences fresh and interesting will help students’ brains grow in new ways.
  2. Challenge. The brain requires a little stretching for optimum growth. Plan experiences that are attainable but just a little out of reach in order to give proper challenge. Celebrate the little victories as obstacles are overcome.
  3. Practice. You’ve heard the old adage, “Practice makes perfect.” In neuroscience, it’s a little different: practice makes cortex. Repeated opportunities to master content grow the brain. 
  4. Feedback. Students need you to provide them with quality feedback regarding their work. Make sure the feedback is specific, actionable, and timely. Individual the information as much as possible to produce the greatest opportunities for growth. 

As you prepare for next week, think of ways that you can bring these into your classroom practice. You and your students will be glad you did!

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