A Brain Science Hyperdoc Activity

Judy Willis, a neuroscientist turned teacher, in How to Teach Students About the Brain writes:

If we want to empower students, we must show them how they can control their own cognitive and emotional health and their own learning. Teaching students how the brain operates is a huge step. Teaching students the mechanism behind how the brain operates and teaching them approaches they can use to work that mechanism more effectively helps students believe they can create a more intelligent, creative, and powerful brain. It also shows them that striving for emotional awareness and physical health is part of keeping an optimally functioning brain. Thus, instruction in brain function will lead to healthier learners as well as wiser ones.

I teach a unit on the brain each year. This year I am teaching a 9th grade freshman seminar and decided to do a brain science unit with them. For this unit , I created a brain science hyperdoc for them. A hyperdoc is:

A HyperDoc is a digital document—such as a Google Doc—where all components of a learning cycle have been pulled together into one central hub. Within a single document, students are provided with hyperlinks to all of the resources they need to complete that learning cycle (https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/hyperdocs/).

The Brain Science Hyperdoc

Here is a completed brain science hyperdoc so you can see what was required and how one student completed it.

Making Models of the Brain

One of the hands-on activities was to work in a small group to create a model of the brain lobes + cerebellum out of playdoh, and then add post-it note “flags” for each part that indicates its name, function, and how to promote its health.

Creating Neuron Models

As a treat and to reinforce the parts of the neuron, students used candy to make a neuron, label its parts on a paper below, and then show as a group how one neuron would communicate with the next neuron and then to the next and so on.

Creative Writing Activity

One of the final projects of their brain science activities was to pick two activities from the list of creative writing activities about the brain found at https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/writing.html. One of my students went all out to create a newspaper called The Brainiac News which follows. Using her own initiative, she started a Google Site to post a series of tongue-in-cheek stories. So impressive!

Creating a New Makerspace at Our School

I am beyond elated – our PreK-6 elementary school received monies, through our district’s Computer Science Resolution 2025, to create a STEAM (science, technology, arts, math) makerspace. I never thought our Title 1 school would get the opportunity to create such a space. I never thought I would get the opportunity to help create a fully equipped makerspace. A few of use spent the past few weeks rearranging our library so that one side contains our books and the other our STEAM materials.

We received the following items. Some were put out in the STEAM makerspace and some items the teachers will check out for use in their classrooms:

  • Dremel Laser Cutter (in makerspace)
  • Makedo Kits (in makerspace)
  • Strawbees (in makerspace)
  • Dash and Dot (in makerspace and can be checked out)
  • OSMO Coding (in makerspace)
  • Makerspace Kit (in makerspace)
  • BeeBot Robots (in makerspace)
  • Squishy Circuits (in makerspace)
  • Makey-Makeys (can be checked out)
  • littleBits Base Invent Kit (in makerspace)
  • micro:bits (3rd-6th grade teachers received their own sets)
  • Circuit Playground (can be checked out)
  • SAM Lab (can be checked out)
  • Green Screen (in makerspace)

Integrating Maker Education Activities Into the Curriculum

As we (the steering committee) envisioned adding a STEAM – Makerspace at our school, we realized that its success will be dependent on the teachers integrating these activities into their curriculum rather than an extra “recreational” activity.

Maker education needs to be intentional. It follows, then, for maker education to be brought into more formal and traditional classrooms as well as more informal ones such as with afterschool and community programs, it needs to be integrated into the curriculum using lesson plans to assist with this integration (Learning in the Making).


To assist our teachers with integrating maker education activities into the curriculum, I created the following Pearltrees aggregate of possible classroom lessons and activities for each of the materials – products we purchased for our school:

https://www.pearltrees.com/jackiegerstein/curriculum-integration/id27094864

In this post, I am also including the following lesson plan template from my book, Learning in the Making that can help with integrating maker education activities into the curriculum :

Cross-Curricular Lesson: Communicating with Parents

As someone who has been in teacher education for several decades, I often think about – teach about how to make curriculum engaging, fun, effective, authentic, and relevant for learners. I believe interdisciplinary or cross-curricular lessons have the potential to do so. I also add, when I am working with pre- and inservice teachers, that there is not enough time in a day to teach-learn everything that is desirable. Cross-curricular activities can help “create” more time as several content area standards can be addressed in one lesson.

Multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary learning is a “whole” or “comprehensive” method that covers an idea, topic, or text by integrating multiple knowledge domains. It is a very powerful method of teaching that crosses the boundaries of a discipline or curriculum in order to enhance the scope and depth of learning. Each discipline sheds light on the topic like the facets of a gem.

I created the following graphic to show the benefits of interdisciplinary standards.

An Example: Communicating with Parents

This past week I asked my freshman seminar class to do a few activities related to communicating with their parents. The goal of this lesson was, obviously, to have to students develop some more effective communication strategies.

Social Emotional Learning and 21st Century Standards

This lesson, at its core, falls into the areas socio-emotional learning and 21st Century Competencies. Ohio established their own set of K-12 Social and Emotional Learning Standards and the following are related to the goals of this lesson.

  • Actively engage in positive interactions to make connections with peers, adults and community to support and achieve common goals,
  • Establish and actively participate in a healthy network of personal, school and community relationships.

The Framework for 21st Century also identified communication as an important skill with the following standards.

  • Articulate thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts,
  • Listen effectively to decipher meaning, including knowledge, values, attitudes and intentions.

English Language Arts Standards

Because the learners were asked to do research and write a letter to their parents, English Language Arts standards were also addressed:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.7
Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.2
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

Communicating with Parents Poster

Learners were asked to review some online articles about communicating with parents and then make a poster that reflected strategies they believe to be important.

Letter to My Parents

Next, the learners were asked to write a letter to their parents that discussed:

  1. What types of communications are going well,
  2. What types of communications are not going well,
  3. Suggested goals for improving communications.

They were told they were not required to share the letter with their parents. Some examples follow: