Thursday 25 March 2021

IMYC2020: The tumultuous teenage brain

Middle Years IMYC2020 IMYC Teenage Brainwaves

Written by Lee Hendricks, International Curriculum Manager - IMYC

The IMYC recognises that teenagers have particular needs and is designed to support and improve their learning through this critical time. Six needs of the teenage brain have been identified as important, and the IMYC has been designed with these in mind. We identify six needs of the teenage brain:

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  • Interlinking learning
  • Making meaning
  • Peers
  • Agency
  • Risk-taking
  • Transition

Our acronym, IMPART, is an easier way to remember these six needs of the teenage brain, as shown in the featured diagram and our three IMYC Brainwave Units highlight the importance of teaching IMPART to students. These units provide activities that help students to better understand the changes that are occurring as their brains mature and develop. We recommend using the Brainwave Units at the beginning of the year to develop strategies and skills for the students in areas such as metacognition and health and wellbeing. In general, the Brainwave Units cover goals cover Personal and Health and Wellbeing Learning Goals.

Also knowing the parts of the brain and how they function can help adults, and in turn, adolescents, better understand behaviours and some reasons why they take place. Why do teenagers generally push boundaries? Why can they start to defy authority more? Why is it possible for adolescents to know the dangers of a situation and still put themselves at risk? One answer, at least internally, is how the adolescent brain is developing and how certain parts are developing at different rates.

One example of a part of the teenager’s brain that usually takes the longest to develop is the prefrontal cortex which is located on the front part of the brain. It controls executive functioning so think of it as a conductor of a wild orchestra in the head. If you are a teenager, however, the prefrontal cortex conductor is somewhat new to the job and will make many mistakes while working. It is in flux, specialising and maturing during the important middle school years and even later.

In fact, according to Adriana Galván, associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and director of the UCLA Developmental Neuroscience Lab, that “conductor” may need to get to age 25 before really maturing in its job of sound decision making and weighing consequences. A teenager, according to Galván, is not limited to the ages of thirteen to eighteen due to the prefrontal cortex being one of the last parts of the brain to structurally develop.

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Another part of the brain located in the deep centre is the limbic system which deals with memory and emotions.  This part of the brain develops quicker than the prefrontal cortex which explains the emotional outbursts, moods, disregard for consequences, and impulses during adolescence.    

 As a result of the way the brain is developing, adolescents might need extra support when it comes to the behaviours affected by executive functions such as self‑organisation, planning, decision-making and self-control.

Knowing how the teenage brain develops as educators, some reflective questions to ask are the following:

  • How do you provide opportunities for healthy risks in a safe setting for teenagers within the classroom?
  • What opportunities are provided in your school for students to practise decision-making through learning with their peers?
  • How do you help teenagers to further develop their organisation and planning skills?
  • How do you encourage students to make connections with the six key needs of the teenage brain?

If you would like to share your reflections, please send us an email to contribute@fieldworkeducation.com or pin your thoughts to the MyFieldwork Pinboard to share with the learning community.

For further information on brain development during adolescence, check out the video created by UCLA below or click on the link to read the article, “The evolutionary advantage of the teenage brain.”

Find out more about IMYC2020