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North Montgomery sees results from educational neuroscience

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Olivia Bol has noticed a difference in some of her classmates at North Montgomery High School. 

She’s even seen a difference in herself after a year of using the tools that she gathered through educational neuroscience.

“It’s helped a lot of people,” said Bol, who is a junior. “I see big changes in a lot of people’s emotions and the way they act.”

Educational neuroscience became part of the daily routine for students at North Montgomery last school year. Teachers began learning the concept two years ago. And the results have been obvious. 

“This isn’t a program that we put into place, it’s really just changing the culture of the building,” North Montgomery Principal Michael Cox said. “It’s changing the way that we interact with each other.”

The goal is to create better connections between students and staff. And through educational neuroscience, both students and staff also learn how to identify their emotional triggers and learn ways to regulate those emotions. 

Beginning last school year, North Montgomery implemented a 20-minute advisory period each day, where students are paired with the same advisory teacher for the four years they attend North Montgomery. Each grade level focuses on something different during the period — things like preparing for college and careers, personal finance and community service — but every Monday is Mindful Mondays, where the 20-minute period is spent learning about the brain, emotional triggers and stress response.

When the new school year started earlier this month Julie Hodges, who teaches physical education and health, asked her students what they took away from educational neuroscience lessons last year.

“The things I got from the students were a lot of them said they felt like they had more control over themselves,” Hodges said. “A couple people mentioned they weren’t as stressed. And several students brought up what they call the 90-second rule, where the chemicals in your brain are active with your emotions for 90 seconds. If you’re still worked up after that, then you’re choosing to think about the situation.”

Educational neuroscience has proven to be an important part of the learning process. Brain intervals are done in certain situations, including when teachers want to make a point to embed newly learned information so it can be recalled later. They can also be used when students begin to zone out during a lecture.

Amygdala reset tools are also helpful for students to focus during the school day. Bol has used them during Amanda Boyd’s math class to redirect her focus.

“She gives me (amygdala reset tools) that I can fiddle around with in the middle of class and that helps me focus more,” Bol said. “She gave everyone in class one one time when we had a final.”

Bol also spends time on breathing — specifically taking deeper breaths — as a calming technique to help refocus the brain.

Cox has seen results since implementing educational neuroscience concepts, especially in the way students and teachers interact in the classroom.

“We track classroom kick-outs,” Cox said. “How many times a student was removed from a classroom for a behavioral issue.”

Cox said there were 715 kick-outs during the 2016-17 school year before educational neuroscience was used at North Montgomery. In 2017-18, when it was first introduced to teachers, the number of kick-outs dropped 32 percent to 490. Last year saw another drop of roughly 8 percent. 

This school year the plan is to go deeper into educational neuroscience concepts. And Cox said that at some point they want to bring parents into the conversation more as well.

“We’re kind of learning with the students, and that can be scary sometimes,” Hodges said. “But it’s such good information that all people can take with them for the rest of their lives. I think it’s great to help students — even if it’s just one person — kind of figure out what control they do have over their lives.”

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