Brain Changes – Before Year 7

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Birth to Toddler Years

We are born with basic survival skills, reflexes and most of the 100 billion neurons that you’ll have for the duration of your life. The brain grows incredibly rapidly during these early years: Neurons get bigger, work more efficiently and—as a result of environmental input and stimuli—make trillions of connections that fine-tune everything from hearing to vision. By two years old, your brain is about 80 percent of its adult size.

Early to Middle Childhood

About 85 percent of brain development has occurred by now, including intellect, personality and motor and social skills. A child’s brain has twice as many synapses as an adult’s brain. In a process called pruning, the neural connections that are used and reinforced most often—like those used for language—are strengthened, while the ones that are not utilized as much fizzle and die. (That’s why parents are often encouraged to repeat certain activities, like reading books, with their kids every day.)

This period of brain growth marks the beginning of a person’s ability to do problem solving, think critically, plan, and control impulses. This brain development cycle also impacts short-term memory. A middle school student can generally retain from 5 to 7 bits of information at one time, so teachers should not try to cram too much information into one lesson. The more engaged and “rich” the new information, the more likely it is that the new information will be retained. The short-term memory maintains information until it moves into another area of the brain (long-term memory) or until more, new information is introduced. At this point the short-term memory ignores the new information in favour of the previous information, or discards the previous information in order to deal with the new.

Some of these changes manifest themselves in behaviors that are observable and stereotypical of middle school students. Taken in concert with the other major development issues at this age, brain development reinforces the following typical adolescent behaviors:

    • Engaging in strong, intense interests, often short lived
    • Preferring interactions with their peers
    • Preferring active to passive learning

Teaching Implications

Given what we know about brain development and the other changes taking place in the young adolescent, teachers can improve student learning by doing the following things:

  1. Present limited amounts of new information, to accommodate the short-term memory.
  2. Provide opportunities for students to process and reinforce the new information and to connect the new information with previous learning. (Encourage students to talk with their classmates about the new information; have them debate or write about it; create small group discussions.)
  3. Provide lessons that are varied, with lots of involvement and hands-on activities. Brain stimulus and pathways are created and made stronger and with less resistance if they are reinforced with a variety of stimuli. (Create projects; use art, music, and visual resources; bring guest visitors into the classroom.)
  4. Provide lessons and activities that require problem solving and critical thinking. Brain growth is enhanced and strengthened through practice and exercise.

CEO and Education Expert, Greg Parry

Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for edu-cation institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education 2015 and 2016.

Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines. | | @KingsgateInternationalSchool