How to Engage the Teenage Brain | Gary Anaka

I kinda felt like an idiot with my elbow in the air, moving it around, hopelessly trying to spell out words with it; but then I looked around the room and realized that there were 500 other idiots with elbows for pens and I laughed.

“It’s all about movement!” That was the take home message of Gary Anaka’s riveting speech at last year’s Palliser District Teachers’ convention. In his speech he outlined 5 brain states which help to invigorate the teenage brain:

1) Movement
2) Ask questions (ask “What if?” questions: Makes brain light up like an xmas tree)
3) Curiosity
4) Choices (Teenagers have no responsibilities in today’s society)
5) Challenge: Battles boredom

Mr. Anaka maintains that it is the teacher’s #1 job to manage the brain states of the students in the classroom. With that said, it is also the students’ responsibility to manage their own brain states. The teacher can do this my simply shifting some of his/her pedagogical techniques to include some of the aforementioned activities. Take any lesson plan you have and think of how simply you could incorporate sky-writing using your elbows or allowing for choice or challenges!

“To captivate and educate, requires states that invigorate” ~ Gary Anaka

It’s all about neural connections and things like movement help to activate different areas of the brain. However, movement alone is not enough. It is important to realize the importance of the social brain. As Gary Anaka points out, the teacher is the most important thing in the classroom and a happy smiling teacher will “up-shift” the students and allow them to be in a brain state that promotes learning – turning on the frontla cortex. Stress only serves to downshift students and does not allow them to learn properly.

Frequent Processing and the Digital Learner

“Teens need to leave class with episodes, not notes” states Gary Anaka. He says that creating memorable events in the classroom accesses episodic memory and strengthens the memorizing process. Also of note is the digital learner, which requires lots of visuals and instant gratification/reward.

Now you may be thinking that all of this sounds well in good, but writing in the air with my elbows? “There is no way in the world I am doing that!” Well, all I can tell you is that it works and I have tried it with grades all the way down to grade 3 with success. So, while it may seem silly, silly works and isn’t that the most important thing?

I strongly encourage you to watch the video of his lecture below:

Gary Anaka’s presentation

Cameron May is a substitute teacher with Rocky View School Division.
Follow and share ideas with him @elbow_patch.


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