Saturday, October 2, 2010

Helping Young Students Understand Metacognition

Recreated :File:Neuron-no labels2.png in Inksc...Image via Wikipedia
I got a bright idea today! (My partner-teacher always gets nervous when I say that.) I was thinking about metacognition and how to make that concept concrete for my 2nd graders.  The corresponding bright idea came while watching one of my BrainSMART videos.  The presenter, Dr. Donna Wilson, was teaching a 2nd grade class about memory.  She taught about axons and dendrites through the use of pipe cleaners.  The class was clearly engaged and excited.  They made axons by twisting three pipe-cleaners together about 2/3 of the way up, the remaining 1/3 represented the dendrites.  It was obvious the students could understand how memories connected together.  They also loved the kinesthetic examples.

My Zing Moment

The students were further excited at the prospect of connecting their newly made ‘dendrites’ and ‘axons’ together.  Then ZING, it hit me!  I could extend that lesson throughout the year.  There will be a twofold benefit.  First, students will have a concrete example of their growing memory.  Second, the example will serve as a concrete tool to review content and make meaningful connections with new content.

The Plan

Here’s my plan.  I will review the brain with students.  We will discuss how learning occurs better when tied in with existing knowledge.  Then it will happen.  I’ll dramatically whip out those pipe cleaners!  Students will make their axons and dendrites while we discuss things they already know and the connections to information learned so far this year.  When we find a connection… we’ll connect a dendrite to an axon with an informational label (ie: Ancient Civilizations.  Last year we learned about the ancient civilization of Egypt, this year we learned about the ancient civilization of Greece. Label 1: Ancient Egypt, Label 2: Ancient Greece). Soon we will have a nice structure to build on for the rest of the year. 

Throughout the Year

When introducing new content, I plan on returning to our model to see where our new information can connect with what we already know, and then label it appropriately.   We will also discover places to lay down completely new branches.  Therefore, we will be reviewing and creating pre-existing knowledge, and providing the tie-in to new learning… with a visual and kinesthetic model.  I love it.  I’ll fill you in on how it goes.


I will breeze into school Monday morning carrying three packages of colorful pipe-cleaners.  Now if I can just keep it out of the shaving cream…    
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  1. Fantastic connections. Inspirational to learn of the ideas and "zing moments" of others in the learning community.
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. I must agree that you did have bright idea. The pipe cleaner activity sounds neat.

  3. Absolutely fabulous. I've read your follow up article, and it's brilliant. Keep it going, kid! :D