Preteens’ brains experience a growth spurt in key social areas

Dive Brief:

  • Aside from experiencing physical changes, preteens also undergo a brain growth spurt much like toddlers, developing neural connections that will determine how their brain is wired for the rest of their lives, according to The Hechinger Report.
  • Investing energy in a preteen’s developing brain has long-term benefits, as the rapid growth at this age takes place as connections are being formed between areas associated with social development, identity formation and the calibration of feelings, according to Ron Dahl, director of the Institute for Human Development at the University of California, Berkeley. Preteens are figuring out what they enjoy doing, who they enjoy being around and their status in a group.
  • When adults invest energy into preteens during this developmental growth spurt, fewer problems may appear later in the teen years, as teens develop long-term behaviors and habits that will follow them into adulthood during this time period.

Dive Insight:

During the preteen years, social recognition motivates many decisions. Leveraging that into curricula can inspire and guide students in the right direction. For example, math is more engaging if done in large groups.

Additionally, teachers and parents’ emotional support efforts can go a long way during this phase, but while positive comments can be very motivating, students in this age group also don’t process information that is just given to them.

Like most adults, students will excel when they love what they are doing. Writing assignments, for instance, are not so much of a burden when students are writing about a topic they’re passionate about. Allison Berryhill, an English and journalism teacher at Atlantic High School in Iowa, uses passion blogging as a way for students to write about their interests and passions, all the while developing stronger writing skills. A student’s voice, or “passion,” is part of the grade. They then use the skills developed to analyze texts and apply them to other writing assignments.

Passion and purpose are also part of the motivation behind experiential learning. While students are hungry to learn about things they find interesting, it gets tricky when applying that passion to its purpose, or figuring out how to apply it to a real-life situation.

Employers report a gap between what they need in the incoming workforce and what they are seeing in their new recruits. Experiential learning is a way to close that gap. Andrew Potter, a college and high school teacher, says students can learn to make those connections through experiential learning when it includes ways to engage, equip and empower them.

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