But wait, you never taught us that!

Have you ever heard this phrase coming from your students when you have taught “that” several times? Me too. This post is a virtual in-service. My goal? That you might never hear that phrase again. (I’m dreaming, right?)

The in-service is based on David A. Sousa’s book How the Brain Learns (Thousand Oaks, Corwin. 2017.) and will focus on the brain as the organ of thinking and learning. It will also discuss instructional strategies that increase your options during instruction, increasing the likelihood that successful learning will occur.

In-service overview:

  1. Part 1: How well do you know the brain? 
  2. Part 2: Memory, Retention and Learning
  3. Part 3: How the Brain Organizes

Each section of the in-service includes an introductory activity, a brain break (or two) and a reflection. I recommend you chunk this in-service to allow more time for processing your learning. Try some of the activities and teaching strategies in your classroom too.

Let’s get started. This picture represents what you will review in this posting. Explain what you think you will be learning (after viewing the picture).


Part 1: How well do you know the brain? (Structure and Functions)

  1. Take this brain anatomy quiz-it’s fun!
  2. Exterior Parts of the Brain
  3. Interior Parts of the Brain
  4. Meet a few exceptional brains:
    1. Alma Deutscher
    2. Mary Lou Henner
    3. Daniel Tammet

Some basic brain facts:         

  1. The growth of neurons can be strengthened by diet and exercise.
  2. The growth of neurons can be weakened by prolonged sleep loss.
  3. The number of potential synaptic connections in our brain is about 1,000,000,000,000,000!  
  4. Students (and their teachers) need to eat a breakfast with enough glucose and drink water during the day for healthy brain functioning.

The brain seeks novelty-changes occurring in the environment. 

Try this out: 

  • Visit the following TV Theme Songs website.
  • Choose 1 of your favorite theme songs to listen to.
  • Which theme song did you listen to?
  • Did you listen to more than one song?
  • What memory/memories do you associate with the song/s you chose? 
  • Fun right?
  • Novel?
  • How did this activity motivate you?
  • Are you ready to learn more?

*This activity was adapted from Brain Based Learning, a course offered by The College of New Jersey.

Novelty means using a varied teaching approach that involves more student activity. Novelty wakes up the brain.

Ideas for bringing novelty to your classroom:

  1. Humor.
  2. Movement.
  3. Multi-sensory Instruction.
  4. Quiz Games.
  5. Music.

Routine allows your brain to relax and enjoy itself.

The brain cannot multitask. It can focus on only one task at a time. Alternating between tasks always incurs a loss.   

  1. Your students task switch. You task switch. We all task switch.

How the brain learns.

There are windows of opportunity for learning. This speaks to plasticity and resilience. The brain learns almost anything at any time as long as the associated neural networks are developing or in place.

  1. Starting to Compete in Sports at a Young Age is Beneficial 
  2. Learning Young to Play a Musical Instrument can have a Lifetime of Benefits
  3. Is There a Critical Period for Learning Language?

*How today’s student environment is different than yours (even if you are a young teacher!). 

    1. Family units are different.
      1. 46% in traditional families.
      2. 34% in families with an unmarried parent.
      3. 5% have not parent.
      4. Dietary habits have changed, home cooking is a lost art. (Less time for dinnertime talk with family.)
    2. More TV’s and devices are in bedrooms, leading to serious sleep deprivation and less adult supervision.
    3. Information is acquired from sources in addition to school.
    4. Students spend more time indoors, less time outdoors. (More obesity, fewer communication skills.)
    5. Technology is changing brain functioning and organization. This causes the brain to seek novelty more than ever before. (Lack of novelty may lead to substance abuse.)
    6. Diets include more caffeine, aspartame and other food additives. These stimulates may cause hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating and headaches.

Brain Break! You’ve been reviewing a lot of material-time for a break.

For more on Brain Breaks, click HERE!

Reflect: What do you know now that you didn’t know before?

Part 2: Memory, Retention and Learning

  1. How do you learn best?
  2. Take this How to Learn quiz-it’s fun!
  3. Where you right about your learning style?
  4. Think about your learning style-what has to happen for your learning circumstance to be a good one?
  5. What classes have you had where your learning style was complimented?
  6. What classes did you struggle with? Why do you think you struggled?

How the Brain Learns

How Memory Forms 

The brain goes through physical and chemical changes each time it learns.

The brain physically changes when it learns.

New learning rewires the brain.

Stages and Types of Memory

  1. Procedural memory helps us to learn things that don’t require conscious attention and to habituate ourselves to the environment.
  2. Declarative memory describes the remembering of names, facts, music and objects.
  3. Episodic memory refers to the conscious memory of events in our life history-like a first kiss.
  4. Semantic memory is knowledge of facts and data that may not be related to any event. Like you are reading this blog post and are in your easy chair.
  5. Implicit memory, a type of long-term memory. It is acquired and used unconsciously, and can affect thoughts and behaviours. One of its most common forms is procedural memory, which helps people performing certain tasks without conscious awareness of these previous experiences.
  6. Explicit memory, conscious thought—such as recalling who came to dinner last night or naming animals that live in the rainforest.

Emotions and Memory

How students feel about being in your classroom and about the lesson content itself can make all the difference between mental withdrawal or active participation and achievement.

Brain Break : Memory Game

Learning and Retention. “Learning and retention are different. We can learn something for a few minutes and then lose it forever.”

Strategies for retention:

  1. Rehearsal-repetition and processing of information (whereas practice generally refers to the repetition of motor skills).
    1. Rote. To remember a poem, lyrics, multiplication tables, phone numbers.
    2. Elaborative. Used to connect learning to new information. 
    3. There is almost no long-term retention of concepts without rehearsal.
    4. Practice does not make perfect, practice make permanent.
  2. Retention during a learning episode. 
    1. Teach new material first!
    2. Retention varies with length of teaching episode.  
  3. Retention varies with teaching method. 
  4. The role of recall and recognition in Long Term Memory      
  5. Putting it all together: A review of Sousas Information Processing Model (Presentation)
  6. Instructional strategies that connect the brain and learning:

How Memory Works

      1. Factors that influence memory retention. PPT HERE. 
      2. The role of retention during learning. (Prezi presentation) 
      3. The benefits of Rehearsal, Repeated Practice and Chunking.  Students Rehearsing    Repeated Practice  Chunking 

Brain Break: Hands!

Reflect: Send yourself an email and describe what you now know about how memory works. Compare to this post. What did you know and why? What did you forget and why?


Teaching for Transfer

Tips for Teaching for Transfer

Brain Break: Bend and Stretch!

Reflect: What strategies do you use to help your students transfer learning?

Do boys and girls learn differently?


  1. How boys and girls learn differently.
  2. With girls and boys in mind.

Part 3: How the Brain Organizes

For a detailed pictureA graphic organizer of how the brain organizes. The organizer includes organizational impact on learning.

Blooms Taxonomy integration with Sousa’s brain theory models 

  1. Kagan on Bloom and Sousa
  2. Critical and Creative Thinking

Brain Break: Core Strengthening

Reflect: You saw this picture at the start of our in-service. What does it mean to you now?


Congratulations! You made it through. I hope this presentation will inspire you and provide additional strategies for a successful school year.



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