Learning and the Brain

learning and the brainA number of weeks ago I attended my first Learning and the Brain Conference.  It was an exciting opportunity to see world class speakers and connect with educators from across North America.  It did not disappoint.  It is not my intentions to share everything that I learned at the conference, but I did want to share the main takeaways from some of the sessions I attended.

Beyond Academics: Nurturing Mindsets for Connections, Caring and Purpose in Students

Dr. Brooks provided a brief overview of several theories of mindset, especially focusing on the characteristics of a “resilient mindset.” He described the importance of broadening the concept of mindset to include and give greater prominence to such features as connections, “contributory activities” and purpose. Strategies to reinforce a resilient mindset in students were highlighted.  Speaker: Robert B. Brooks, PhD

  • When connecting with students, have them tell a story of their best and worst moments – what did they learn from them?
  • “Resilient mindset” – favourite memory for troubled students were being asked by a teacher to help out. Everyone wants to know they can help.
  • Everyday some Ss are asked to climb Everest without the proper equipment, then asked to do it again at home (homework).
  • Teaching jobs are not to teach reading and writing, but to create a positive environment where the students develop a thirst for learning
  • Mindset of effective teachers: make students feel welcome, embrace self-determination and autonomy (student choice), and feel competent (identify ‘islands of competence’). Also, eliminate fear of mistakes.

The Science of Stress: Creating a Mindset of Courage, Connection and Persistence

Dr. McGonigal discussed the latest research that expands our understanding of how people respond to stress and why embracing anxiety can improve academic outcomes among students, how to encourage a challenge mindset toward stressful goals, how stress helps the brain learn from experience and ways to harness resilience.  Speaker: Kelly M. McGonigal, PhD

Stress Mindset

  • What is your stress mindset?
  • Compassion: the intention and ability to transform suffering


  • Mindset ResetMindset reset
    • Tend and befriend: decreases fear and increases hope
    • Meaningful life: more past adversity/worries increases sense of meaning
    • Stress and adversity can help us grow: adversity increases growth
    • Embrace the energy
  • Tell me a about a time when you faced a challenge
  • Change Stress
  • To help others deal with stress, you must reflect on you

Stress - Do you

Making Thinking Visible: Developing Powerful Mindsets for Thinking

What is thinking? What is going on in your heads when you tell someone you are thinking? Our answers to these questions reveal our meta-strategic knowledge, that is, our awareness of strategies we have at our disposal. This talk explored what we know about students’ thinking mindsets and meta-strategic knowledge, how we can uncover it, and ways we might develop it.  Speaker: Ron E. Ritchhart, EdD

  • Metacognition – thinking about thinking
  • When you create a culture of thinking, academic growth will increase
  • Culture of thinking is a place. Valued, visible and appreciated.
  • After lessons, get students to reflect on what kind of thinking was done.

Overloaded and Unprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids

Our society’s over-emphasis on grades, test scores and rote answers has stressed out some students and marginalized many. This singular focus on results has resulted in a lack of attention to other components of a successful life — the ability to be independent, adaptable, ethical and motivated critical thinkers.  Speaker: Denise C. Pope, PhD

  • Often students just doing school, not learning. Students want to do well in school (good grades) in the hope it will lead to a good job
  • Extracurricular is good, but today’s students are overloaded
  • Students do not get enough sleep, High School student should get 9.25 hrs – they get 6.84 hrs
  • For elementary school – many students are misdiagnosed for ADHD when reality is they are simply tired
  • Parents – how to get your students to sleep – Get horizontal, lights out, no technology, see me in 30 minutes
  • When parents become ‘snow plow’ parents and clear the way for their child – the child does not develop the coping skills they need in the future
  • Protect playtime, downtime and family time
  • Challenge Success schools do this:

SPACE CA schools

  • Assessment – Latin root means to sit beside

 assessment latin root


Motivating Reluctant Learners: Strategies for Success

New brain-based discoveries reveal powerful mind-body states to optimize learning. Dr. Perez explores what motivates students to achieve success in the classroom. She will share multiple ways to increase student productivity and build confidence in all learners. She provided strategies to maximize learner motivation, cultivate curiosity, and deepen desire to learn.  Speaker: Kathy Perez, EdD

  • If the bum is numb, the brain is the same.

bum is numb

  • Why use strategies to motivate? – increase academics, reduce behaviour, make learning fun
  • Use voting to engage students
  • Proper assessment is needed

Fable of the animal school

  • Human interaction is essential


  • How youth learn… Ned’s Grade 8 Great 8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_BskcXTqpM 8 steps
    • I feel okay
    • It matters
    • It’s active
    • It stretches me
    • I have a coach
    • I have to use it
    • I think back on it
    • I plan my next steps
  • The 12 Brain Rules

12 Brain Rules

  • How smart is your right foot?

how smart is your foot

  • Question in the middle of the lesson ‘marinates’ the lesson.

Fostering Academic Success by Doing Less

Presenting the latest research on productivity and elite performance, Dr. Carter will demonstrate a sweet paradox: by doing less we can often accomplish far more. Using surprising brain science and lively anecdotal evidence, she will offer a practical game plan for helping our students (and ourselves!) mitigate stress by working with our brain’s innate hardwiring to increase happiness, balance and ultimately, success.  Speaker: Christine L. Carter, PhD

  • We can achieve more by doing less.

sweet spot1

  • Dial back busyness to fulfill our potential.
  • Find your sweet spot, where ease and strength overlap
  • Sweet spot strategy:
    • Mistaken Belief #1 – Bullyness equates importance. The Truth: Know how to focus
    • Mistaken Belief #2 – Doing nothing is a waste of time. The Truth: Our brains benefit when we ‘waste time’. Slack off strategically
    • Mistaken Belief #3 – Having more is better. The Truth: Acknowledge Knowledge
  • Human brain cannot multi-task
  • Myth
    • Busyness = importance
      We so often wear our busyness as a badge of honor. We see our ability to withstand mounting levels of stress as a sign of character.
    • Truth – Busyness = cognitive overload
      An overloaded brain hinders performance. It impairs our ability to think creatively, plan, organize, innovate, solve problems, make decisions, resist temptations, learn new things easily, speak fluently, remember important social information (like the name of our boss’s daughter, or our daughter’s boss), and control our emotions.
    • Turnaround – Single-task
      Brains are not computers. They’re not designed to run on multiple tracks simultaneously. Switching back and forth makes us tired, less efficient, and error-prone. When we settle in, put distracting devices aside, and do one thing at a time, we worry less about keeping up with time—and that’s the exact opposite of busy.
  • Myth
    • More is better
      We live in a more is more culture. We want a more prestigious job, more likes on Facebook, more enrichment activities for our kids, more work so we can earn more money so we can buy more stuff.
    • Truth – Often, less is more
      When we step back from the lie that more is going to be better, we often find that we already have enough.
    • Turnaround – Find the minimum effective dose
      The “minimum effective dose” (MED) is the lowest dose of a pharmaceutical that spurs a clinically significant change in health or well-being. Look for the MED in everything: work, sleep, meditation, blogging frequency, checking email, school volunteering, homework help, date nights.
  • Myth
    • Doing nothing is a waste of time
      We do not like standing in line waiting for things or staring out the window before everyone has shown up for a meeting. That’s wasting time and time is money…and the only thing worse than wasting time is wasting money.
    • Truth – Our brains benefit when we waste time
      When we let our minds go…to daydream, to wander…an area of our brain turns on that’s responsible for creative insight. And our best work comes from those creative insights—the ones that happen in the shower!
    • Turnaround – Stare into space
      We feel uncomfortable with stillness, with downtime, so we cancel it out by becoming busy again. Instead of just staring out the window on the bus, we read our Facebook feed. We check our email in line at the grocery store. Instead of enjoying our dinner, we shovel food in our mouths while staring at a screen. Give yourself the joy of just staring into space sometimes. What could possibly be easier to put into practice?
  • Strategy for a week
    • Let yourself focus
    • Practice strategic slacking
    • Experience the abundance of life around you

The Psychology of Mindsets and Achievement

The growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them. Renowned psychologist and author Carol Dweck helps educators adopt a deeper, true growth mindset, one that can used in classroom practice and throughout school systems and help support students for a more successful educational experience.  Speaker: Carol S. Dweck, PhD

  • Growth Mindset and Fixed Mindset – we are all a mixture of both
  • Teaching a growth mindset
  • Is it ever too late to develop a growth mindset?
  • Mindset Trigger
    • Stepping Outside of Comfort Zone – Fixed: Look smart at all cost, Growth: Learning opportunity.
    • High Effort – Fixed: It should come naturally, Growth: Hard work is key.
    • Setbacks – Fixed: It is about me, hide mistakes and deficiencies, Growth: It is about learning, confront mistakes and deficiencies
  • Growth mindset, not simple or easily passed on
  • Growth mindset is not simply being open minded, working hard
  • Growth mindset is a journey. First must acknowledge we are all fixed mindset.

Another idea from the conference:


These are just some of key concepts that I came away with.  The theme of the conference was shaping student mindsets.  I hope that I will be able to take these key concepts and further develop my growth mindset as I support students, parents, and staff at Our Lady of the Assumption School.

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