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ThinkPlus @EduTech 2023

The Science of Growing Young Minds by Celia Franzè

Part 2 of 4.

How are Australian schools embracing the science of learning?

Across the landscape of Australian education, emerging evidence-based approaches are promising a revolution in pedagogy. A notable example is the ‘Science of Learning,’ a field synthesising insights from psychology, neuroscience, and education to enhance teaching and learning. An exploration of ThinkPlus, an innovative educational entity, provides us with an insightful journey into how this approach is being integrated into our educational model.

Understanding the Science:

At the heart of this paradigm shift is a profound understanding of cognitive science that forms the bedrock of effective learning strategies. It’s about comprehending the ‘why’ behind each pedagogical technique. For instance, Australian schools, as part of their professional development initiatives, have started offering workshops on cognitive science concepts such as cognitive load theory and spaced repetition. This foundational knowledge equips educators to embed these techniques into their curriculum more effectively.

Continuous Application and Collaboration:

ThinkPlus emphasises the continual application of methods informed by the science of learning. Much like teachers in Victorian schools sharing their tried-and-tested strategies for teaching numeracy, ThinkPlus educators also record their experiences, successes, and challenges, fostering a culture of collective growth and continuous learning.

Identifying Effective Strategies:

An essential step in this journey is the identification of research-backed strategies for broad implementation. Take, for example, the New South Wales Department of Education’s explicit instruction model, a teaching method supported by cognitive science. In a similar vein, ThinkPlus deconstructs chosen strategies into their constituent parts, allowing for more effective, tailored delivery.

The Journaling Approach:

One tactic that has taken root at ThinkPlus is the practice of journaling for bolstering content retention. Mirroring the prominent use of reflective writing exercises across schools in Queensland, these unassessed, concise journal entries composed at the start of the lesson have demonstrated a significant boost in students’ ability to recall information.

Action Research and Learning Sprints (test-run)

Once a strategy is identified, it is ‘test-run’ in the educational setting, a step echoed in the process followed by many schools across Western Australia while adopting new pedagogies. Inevitably, this stage uncovers unforeseen challenges, which are critical to refining the methods and fostering shared goals within the teaching community.

Based on insights from the test-run, the strategy is adapted to better suit the learners’ needs. Reflecting on the journaling strategy, ThinkPlus found it most effective when teachers guided their students in weekly sessions using the student journal.

Collective Teacher Efficacy

Once a strategy is refined and teachers are comfortable with it, it is integrated into the broader curriculum, aligning with the collaborative pedagogical development seen in South Australian schools. The learning journey, the proven method, and the principles behind it are shared with all educators involved, promoting a community of practice that supports understanding and effective delivery of the strategy.


This shift towards the ‘Science of Learning’ is transformative; accounting for, yet moving soley beyond, the highly effective PEN Principles to encompass education, from a conjecture-based system, to a focus on validated pedagogical methods. By refining our learning experiences based on the proven principles of cognitive science, as demonstrated by ThinkPlus, schools are in a better position to prepare our students for the complexities and challenges of the future. The journey of ThinkPlus represents a microcosm of a broader trend sweeping across Australian schools – a trend fuelled by the promise of what science can bring to the art of teaching and creating future-ready students.

The Power of Reframing to ‘Rewire’ Students’ Brains

by Lori L. Desautels, Ph.D.

Teachers can use the principles of neuroplasticity to help students be aware of thought patterns that are no longer serving them and begin to take risks in the classroom.

Neuroplasticity is our human superpower. As stated in the Introduction, there is growing research on plasticity, but one of the key principles of neuroplasticity shared by Dr. Bruce Perry is termed specificity. Dr. Perry states, “In order to change any part of the brain, that specific part of the brain must be activated.” One of the remarkable properties of the brain and nervous system is its capacity to change and adapt to our individual worlds. Brain cells and brain networks work together in use-dependent ways, and with awareness, intention, and practice, we can strengthen those connections between neurons, leading to improved performance and well-being. Neuroplasticity is how our nervous systems produce and create feelings, thoughts, and behaviors through a process of structural and therefore functional change. How? Every time we think a thought and generate a feeling, we install neurological hardware that impacts our well-being in all moments.

Our neural roadways or networks fire, and those connections between neurons signal the emotional limbic brain, which signals hormones, which enter the receptor sites on cells. In turn, those messages or emotional signals are signals to the genes that create new proteins; and proteins are the expressions of life, contributing to our well-being. Author and speaker Joe Dispenza, D.C., states that with a clear intention and elevated emotion, we don’t need to wait for a changing condition to bring us peace or hopefulness; we can begin to find moments or “glimmers” of conditions, such as pieces of experiences or thoughts that feel safe and hopeful, which can begin a new stream of improved thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Cultivating an elevated emotion and a clear intention often requires one another’s support, and this is why co-regulation is so important as we move through the emotional and cognitive changes in our lives.

This takes repetition and is a process! These small moments that we notice each day can accumulate to become thought routines that begin to reframe a difficult day or challenging experiences. The concept that the brain is “self-changing,” meaning that it organizes, disorganizes, and reorganizes based upon experiences, prompts the revelation that the architecture of each brain is unique. Adolescent brain psychiatrist and author Dr. Dan Siegel asserts that, because humans have the power to direct their own attention (focal attention), they thus have the power to shape and reshape the firing patterns and architecture of the brain, impacting the developmental processes of parenting, education, and psychotherapy. Just as we are able to focus upon different muscle groups through physical exercise, we are also capable of stimulating the firing patterns of targeted neuron connections in certain areas of the brain by intentionally focusing so that we can strengthen and integrate those neural circuits.

Defining plasticity is tricky, with both positive and negative implications in how our attention and experiences create neural networks. Author Martha Straus writes, “If an individual has no options for corrective experiences, his brain will continue to stimulate and develop neural networks that perpetuate old patterns. The brain exposed to psychological trauma, for example, responds to internal and external cues by structuring itself around those firings. However, if a trauma survivor develops the capacity to focus attention on the formation of new neural networks, theoretically, his brain can then restructure to experience that same trauma very differently.”


How can we consistently support ourselves—as well as our students—during these times of unpredictability and heightened emotional states? We can begin by becoming aware of and paying attention to our feelings and sensations. We can validate where we are in this moment by modeling this awareness for our children and youth. Following awareness and felt validation, we can choose an improved perspective or thought. We might begin reframing a thought or perspective, accompanied by a short regulatory practice, as that small action step begins to weaken the brain architecture of synapses, those specific connections between neurons that no longer serve us. Not only can we strengthen circuits between brain areas by getting these areas to fire at the same time and produce new feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, but we can also weaken connections because, as we shared previously, neurons that fire apart wire apart! Can we begin to weaken links of pain-based thoughts and feelings by replacing these habits of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with practices that generate social and emotional well-being?

These reframing practices will require honest feedback and support from one another. We will need to be intentional and patient. Through careful, mindful effort, we can leave behind judgment or guilt, because awareness and recognition of our autonomic states begin to move our brains and bodies into conditions that feel hopeful and collaborative. Relational neuroscience increasingly assures us that we are continually shaping one another’s embodied brains, and that the safety provided by deep listening to one another offers tremendous support.

Education requires that we’re able to regulate our own state. We serve our students better when we prepare our nervous systems for the mental and cognitive tasks needed for learning and academic growth, as well as social and emotional development at any age. Dr. Arielle Schwartz writes, “The human body is also equipped with an innate physiological resilience system, which is our autonomic nervous system.” There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy. When we learn to partner with our autonomic nervous system, we can begin to reshape this system through listening to our sensations, the language of our bodies, with much appreciation.

Our nervous system drives all that we sense, feel, think, and are! It holds our past, and when experiences of trauma occur in our lives, our nervous system reorganizes and prioritizes protection. This automatic survival reaction is built into our biology and, when activated for long periods of time to produce an overactivation of stress hormones, this can create a chronic disruption of regulation in our brains and bodies. As mentioned earlier, this is neuroplasticity by default.

We are creatures of habit. Our thoughts produce biochemical reactions in the brain, sending signals to the body, and our bodies begin to feel in similar ways to how we were thinking. We can unconsciously think thoughts that produce feelings, and we can feel our way into similar thoughts that create a continuous cycle of habits of thoughts and feelings. Without intention, our feelings, thoughts, and routines automatically recycle, producing the same behaviors and choices.

Therefore, my brain activity and biology stay the same. As I stated in the Introduction, this work begins with me. When I am thinking the same thoughts, generating the same feelings, performing the same routines and actions, and swimming in the same emotions, my nervous system chemistry stays stagnant and, in some ways, I am living in the past. That state of sameness can feel comfortable and effortless, a state of knowing who you are, but it also can feel miserable and helpless. Dispenza states, “Your personality is made up of how you think, act, and how you feel. It is your present reality.” But if we want to change how we think, feel, and experience our lives, we must be willing to explore, question, and wonder what is serving us well in this time, and what is still serving our survival responses that we no longer need. Understanding how our nervous systems function in response to our environments and experiences is critical for children, youth, and adults to explore.

Our brains contain about 86 to 100 billion neurons. The synapses connecting those neurons are where our cells exchange information. If learning makes new connections, then remembering that learning will strengthen those connections. As our brains create these structural changes, our thoughts produce neurotransmitters, a mixture of neurochemicals that create emotions. Dopamine and serotonin are two examples of neurotransmitters that may be familiar. When we think about something pleasurable, anticipate a vacation or a weekend gathering, or visualize a calming place with the sights, sounds, tastes, and people we love, we can stimulate the production of these neurotransmitters. Our thoughts produce how we feel, and those feelings produce related thoughts, and as this occurs, our neurons keep firing along the same pathways, strengthening the relationship between the cells so that their signal becomes stronger with repeated activation. If we repeat enough times what we have learned, we literally reinforce communities of neurons that begin to remember well the thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that we have consciously or subconsciously practiced and rehearsed. Neuroscientist Dr. Lara Boyd refers to these brain changes when she defines neuroplasticity as the chemical, structural, and functional changes that occur with learning. When we are thinking the same thoughts and producing the same feelings, our brains are firing and activating the same neural circuits in the same patterns and sequences. This is what Dispenza refers to as neuro-rigidity. He defines this concept as thinking inside the box, which means unintentionally creating a finite signature of automatic programs.

Many of us have spent weeks, months, or longer trying to change habits of thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that we found next to impossible to change. The New Year brings promises and resolutions, yet by February, many of us are back to our patterned ways of being, behaving, and feeling. This is not because we lack will power, but because our nervous systems need patterned repetitive experiences over time. When we begin to think differently, feel differently, and choose novel behaviors, our brains and nervous systems may feel threatened and move to survival states. Therefore, we often relinquish new habits that feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Once we understand that the biological and chemical changes in our nervous system are causing this discomfort, we feel more powerful and confident as we move through these rivers of change. Most of us have been so conditioned to run from the unknown that we do not really question this fear. Dispenza states, “If you told me that you did not like being in that void of the unknown because it feels disorienting and you can’t see what lies ahead, I’d say that’s actually great, because the best way to predict your future is to create your future.”

To think outside the box generates neuroplasticity. When our brains change, our minds change, because our mind is the brain in action. As we use our brains, they grow and change through the use-dependent principle of neuroplasticity. Our brains prune away connections or synapses that we no longer use or need, while sprouting connections when we learn something new. Our brains are organized to reflect everything we know, and we use this historical information to predict new experiences. Therefore, change can feel very difficult as we keep records of the trillions and trillions of neurons that have connected with one another throughout our lives. The complex networks of neurons that have fired throughout our days on earth have formed memories of our past experiences, and if we do not create intentional changes or shifts, we become individuals and communities who are living in the past.

Originally published 23rd January 2023 ©; George Lucas Educational Foundation

2023 National Education Summit and Education Show

We are pleased to be launching our latest teacher resource book Metacognition: Skill Building in the Australian Primary Classroom at the upcoming National Education Summit in Melbourne on 16th and 17th June 2023 at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre.


The Science of Growing Young Minds by Celia Franzè

Part 1 of 4.

How are metacognition, neuroplasticity, mindsets and emotions grounded in the science of learning helpful to grow young minds?

The Science of Growing Young Minds is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on the cognitive, emotional, and social aspects of learning and development in children and adolescents. It seeks to understand the processes underlying the acquisition of knowledge, development of metacognitive skills, and the formation of beliefs and attitudes that contribute to academic success, learning outcomes and personal growth.

The ‘why’ of this science is rooted in the recognition that early childhood experiences play a crucial role in shaping an individual’s self-concept and agency. A strong foundation during these formative years can empower students to actively engage in learning experiences and make informed decisions, resulting in improved academic outcomes and overall well-being.

The ‘what’ encompasses various aspects of the learning process, including neural networks, brain anatomy, metacognition, and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). It involves the study of how the brain forms and strengthens connections during learning, how metacognitive skills enable students to reflect on their thought processes, and how the ZPD highlights the importance of scaffolding and guided support from teachers and mentors.

The ‘how’ focuses on the implementation of effective teaching strategies and fostering environments that promote curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. Teachers play a pivotal role in facilitating learning experiences that stimulate students’ neural networks, help them develop metacognitive skills, and empower them to take ownership of their education. By understanding the science behind growing young minds, educators can create positive and engaging learning environments that cater to individual needs, ultimately improving academic outcomes and personal growth.

Book Review: “Metacognition: Metacognitive Skill Building in the Australian Primary Classroom”

As educators, we are always looking for ways to enhance our students’ learning experiences and empower them to become independent, lifelong learners. “Metacognition: Metacognitive Skill Building in the Australian Primary Classroom” by ThinkPlus is a comprehensive toolkit that equips teachers with the resources and strategies needed to foster metacognitive skills in primary school students.

Diving into the intricacies of self-regulation, cognition, and motivation, this book provides an in-depth understanding of the metacognitive strategies that contribute to effective learning. It acknowledges the importance of self-regulation and motivation, as well as the critical role cognition plays in acquiring knowledge and completing learning tasks. The authors emphasise that all students, regardless of age, background, or achievement level, benefit from the use of metacognitive strategies.

Structured into two sections—Teacher Resources and Student Resources—the book covers a wide range of tools and strategies that can be easily implemented in any classroom setting. Teachers will find planning resources, examples of lesson plans, and metacognitive prompts tailored for junior classrooms. Students, on the other hand, are provided with resources such as a metacognitive skills glossary, self-assessment tools, and activities to enhance their learning process.

One of the key takeaways from this book is its emphasis on the integration of metacognitive strategies in everyday teaching. The authors assert that metacognition develops best when addressed in context, allowing teachers to help students concurrently learn subject matter knowledge, skills, and metacognitive abilities. By scaffolding learning in these areas, teachers can empower students to become more independent learners with enhanced self-regulation and motivation.

The book also highlights the importance of engagement, enabling, and extension in fostering metacognitive strategies. Students who actively participate in their own learning and school communities become more resilient and independent learners. The authors provide practical examples of tools and strategies, such as explicit teaching, modeling thinking, and questioning, to help students internalize and apply metacognitive strategies.

Moreover, “Metacognition: Metacognitive Skill Building in the Australian Primary Classroom” emphasises the connection between metacognition and the Australian Curriculum’s Critical and Creative Thinking capability. This alignment ensures that the toolkit’s resources and strategies are compatible with curriculum expectations, making it an invaluable resource for primary educators.

In conclusion, this book is a must-have for teachers looking to enrich their students’ learning experiences and empower them to take control of their own learning. Its practical approach, evidence-based strategies, and alignment with the Australian Curriculum make it an essential tool for primary educators who want to cultivate metacognitive skills in their students. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to harness the power of metacognition in your classroom—add this remarkable toolkit to your professional library today!

“Metacognition: Metacognitive Skill Building in the Australian Primary Classroom” is available from



Student Agency and Neuroplasticity

by Celia Franzè

Teaching about the brain and neuroplasticity can have a profound impact on students’ success as learners. Understanding how the brain processes information, retains memories, and responds to different learning environments can help students become more effective in their  studies. When teachers provide insights into the brain’s functioning, students can develop a deeper appreciation for the importance of effective study strategies such as metacognition and emotional resilience. By learning about the brain, students can also develop a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, which can enable them to tailor their approach to learning in a way that works best for them.  

 The concept of neuroplasticity can help students develop agency in their own learning. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to reorganise itself and create new neural connections in response to experiences. This means that the brain can continuously adapt and change in response to new learning experiences. By understanding neuroplasticity, students can appreciate the role they play in shaping their own brain and learning abilities. They can understand that they have the power to actively engage with new information and build new connections in their brains, leading to greater understanding and mastery of new skills and knowledge. This knowledge can empower students to take an active role in their own learning, encouraging them to set goals, seek out new challenges, and persevere through difficulty. Ultimately, neuroplasticity can help students develop a learning mindset and a greater sense of control and agency over their own learning.

Additionally, teaching about the brain can also foster an environment of empathy, as students can learn to appreciate and accommodate the diverse learning trajectories of their classmates.

ThinkPlus resources help educators teach about the brain so they can empower students to take control of their learning and become more confident, effective, and successful learners.

 Teacher Confidence

We believe that increasing teacher confidence is crucial for the success of students and schools as a whole. Confident teachers are more likely to take risks and try new approaches in their teaching, leading to a more engaging and effective learning experience for students. When teachers feel confident, they are also more likely to collaborate with their colleagues and seek out professional development opportunities, which can only serve to further improve the quality of education they provide.

Moreover, when teachers feel confident in their abilities, they are better equipped to handle the challenges and stress that can come with the job, leading to improved job satisfaction and reduced staff turnover. In short, a confident teaching staff translates to a more positive and productive learning environment for our students, and it is our goal at Elevo Institute and ThinkPlus to do all that we can to support and cultivate that confidence.

The following article was originally published on 22 April 2022 ©; George Lucas Educational Foundation

3 Ways New Teachers Can Build Confidence

To be more self-assured about your teaching, try making these subtle shifts in how you think about and react to events in your classroom.

It’s common for new teachers to doubt themselves, to feel like their best isn’t good enough, and to wonder if they’re cut out for the profession. And confidence matters. In fact, research indicates that teacher self-confidence can have a greater impact on student achievement than student-teacher relationships, home environment, or parental involvement. So much of why teachers lack confidence, however, is the result of what they say to themselves.

Three subtle shifts in mindset can add up to a huge impact in how new teachers approach their classrooms and become models for their students as learners.

What you can do…

  1. Think of yourself as a learner (who is therefore not perfect). This allows you to release unrealistic expectations of yourself and in turn become a model for your students as they take risks in their learning. I hate to state the glaringly obvious, but the reason you don’t feel like you know everything as a new teacher is because you don’t. You’re a new teacher. That means you’re a beginner—just like your students.

And here’s the other obvious thing that you may forget when you’re placing unrealistic expectations on yourself: Everyone else knows you’re a new teacher, too. You may spend a lot of time worrying that administrators will think you don’t know what you’re doing, but they didn’t just step into the education game yesterday. They know it’s your first year, and they’ve been where you are. They don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to do your best, however, and to continue to learn. That’s why they hired you—they saw great potential in you.

So, rather than expecting yourself to improve in all areas at once, do for yourself what you are so good at doing for your students: Choose one skill area to work on at a time, and give yourself the grace and space and permission to fail forward as you improve—just as you ask students to do.

  1. Become more aware of your thinking. Lack of self-confidence is often directly tied to what we say to ourselves when things don’t go as we want them to. To apply the basic premise of The Life Coach School to teaching, our thoughts about the events in our classrooms (especially when they don’t go well) contribute to our feelings about teaching. This, then, impacts how we react, which determines our results.

Here’s how this looks in action: Imagine you have an observation lesson and one of your students acts out. The thought you might have is “I’m so embarrassed. My classroom management is horrible. When will I ever figure this out? I should just give up.” How are you going to feel as a result of those thoughts? Hopeless? Lost? Depressed? As a result, you may put in less and less effort and maybe even start considering that bartending job instead of teaching.

But what if you instead say to yourself, “Hmm… he’s sure having a tough day. I wonder what’s going on.” When you choose to think about what’s going on for the student (instead of what you might be doing right or wrong), your subsequent feeling about the situation will be one of compassion and curiosity. You might take the student aside after the lesson and ask some questions to find out how you can help. The result? Your student feels seen and cared for, and you get to experience that incredible feeling that comes from knowing you’re supporting your students.

The one thing that changed in that cascade of experiences was the thinking. It’s powerful. It matters. I encourage you to start paying careful attention to what you say to yourself when things don’t go well in your classroom and work on consistently shifting those thoughts to more compassionate, positive responses.

  1. Accept constructive criticism for what it is. Don’t make it mean something negative about yourself. It takes time to become an expert at anything (Malcolm Gladwell suggested 10,000 hours), and you can’t become an expert without constructive criticism. Confidence is a by-product of learning how to do something well, from overcoming obstacles to learning to trust that you have what it takes to get to the next level. As Winston Churchill said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

Following up on our example of critical feedback from an observation lesson, what crushes us is not the criticism, but what we tell ourselves that it means about us. The growth in our teaching happens when we start to accept criticism as a gift—as the next clue in our treasure hunt toward becoming the teacher we’ve always dreamed of being. So the next time you get what feels like negative observation feedback (or an angry email from a parent), follow the trail, my friend, and ask yourself what you can learn from this—not what it means about you.

Here’s what’s most powerful about applying these three strategies: It isn’t easy, but nothing outside of you has to change in order for you to experience the dramatic results that you’re looking for—and to feel much more confident in your teaching.


Student designers gamify neuroscience to grow young minds


Design Principles,  Emotional Goals and Learning – Definitions and Links

selected by Celia Franzè

Design principles

Principles guide the choices Designers make as they create. Principles apply at all levels of design from broad concept to small detail. For example: Do no harm (Hippocrates), meet user goals. Create the simplest complete solution (Ockham). Create viable and feasible systems (Dubberly, 2001, p. 13).

Design Principles for Schools

1. Learning is social, emotional, cognitive, and academic.

How does any student become a productive learner? What skills must they have? The science tells us that learning is integrated: There are not separate parts of the brain that support academic skills and social skills, for example. The parts of the brain are cross-wired and functionally interconnected. For students to become engaged, effective learners, educators need to simultaneously develop content-specific knowledge and skills along with cognitive, emotional, and social skills. These skills, including executive functions, growth mindset, social awareness, resilience and perseverance, metacognition, curiosity, and self-direction, are malleable: They are not “hardwired” but develop in response to experience. All are correlated with achievement, and all can be taught, modelled, and practiced just like traditional academic skills.

2. Social, emotional, and cognitive skills are interrelated and develop as a progression. 

Cognitive skills like self-regulation, executive functions, and problem-solving interact with emotional skills, such as empathy, emotion recognition, and regulation, and with social skills, including cooperation and communication. These interacting skills develop progressively, but not as a fixed, linear sequence: As with other skills, there are bursts and plateaus. Higher-order skills and abilities, when present, are a combination of foundational social, emotional, cognitive, and academic skill development. When teachers understand that these skills progress in concert with one another, they can design learning experiences that simultaneously build diverse learning skills, supporting engagement and effort instead of singularly focusing on facts and procedures in a given area without attending to social and emotional considerations.

3. Learning of these skills is influenced by relationships and experiences. 

Learning is highly context sensitive. A child’s skill and mindset development relies on an ongoing, dynamic interconnectedness between biology and environment, including relationships and cultural and contextual influences, resulting in significant variation within and across individuals over time. This contrasts with the idea of universal, fixed steps or stages of development. The norm is diverse developmental pathways—not missed opportunities, but rather multiple opportunities to develop new skills and/or catch up. Because each student’s development is nonlinear, with its own unique pathways and pacing that are highly responsive to positive contextual influences and support, the unique challenge of schools is to design personalised, supportive developmental learning experiences for all children, no matter their starting point.

This extends to the development of social, emotional, and cognitive skills, which should be taught throughout childhood and adolescence and may need particular attention when students face chronic, unbuffered stress due to adversity or oppression. In these cases, the development of foundational skills and mindsets, including self-regulation, stress management, and executive function, are at risk. These skills are exquisitely sensitive to the hormone cortisol.


The primary energy source for the wiring of the brain is human connection; the neurochemicals and hormones that are released through human relationships are the fuel causing neurons to fire and connect. As Hebb’s Law states, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” The brain gets increasingly wired, and as it does, we become able to do increasingly complex things, whether it is reading, riding a bike, or gaining resilience. In his 1984 2 Sigma study, Benjamin Bloom demonstrated that building highly favourable conditions into the environments in which children grow and learn steeply improves equity of experience and opportunity. His proxy for highly favourable conditions was an individual tutor. He found that the experience of individual tutoring could take a student performing at the 50th percentile and move their performance up by two standard deviations to the 98th percentile. When he studied his data, he realised that the active ingredient that generated the outcomes he got was access to both the content and the adult– student interaction—the relationship.

In addition, it is equally important to attend to the cognitive skills that are important for academic success and development. Key among these are those related to executive function(link is external), which help learners attend to tasks, plan their work, problem-solve in the face of emerging challenges, and manage themselves in the learning process. These skills include the abilities to monitor and regulate one’s own actions; to organise, prioritise, and activate efforts in order to accomplish tasks; to focus, sustain, and shift attention and alertness as needed to attain goals; and to manage frustration and redirect efforts when needed. The skills that are critical to success in school and in life are often assumed, rather than explicitly taught, and need an equally explicit curricular approach.

Emotional Goals

Emotional Goals are predictive conceptual abstractions that construct social reality, in a collective with other brains. By sharing and synchronising those abstractions we can perceive each other’s emotions and communicate.

Agent-oriented Modelling of Emotional Goals

As digital technologies increase in complexity and collaboration with other disciplines is necessary, a trans-disciplinary approach for developing sociotechnical systems is required, where digital media design practices may be incorporated into software engineering. Agent-oriented models show potential, not only to identify and realise emotional goals, but also to provide an overall progressive evaluation of these goals

To promote the consideration of human factors Marshall proposes a new category of goal, called an emotional goal, to be modelled with equal hierarchy to functional and quality goals. By incorporating emotional goals into agent-oriented models the aim is to signal that the goal may be best realised by a trans-disciplinary approach. When these goals are encountered by software engineers they should seek a domain knowledge expert to apply digital media design methodologies and processes.

Adapted from, and

STERLING, L. & MARSHALL, J. G. 2022. Humans are not rational; artificial agents are not emotional. WOA2022: Workshop from Objects to Agents.

MARSHALL, J. 2021. Towards Wonderful Design, Elements, Principles, Methods & Applications. PhD, Swinburne University. 


 Guiding Students to Develop a Flexible Mindset

by Susannah Cole and Julie Dunstan

You’re already familiar with growth mindsets and the importance of belief systems that reframe notions of intelligence and our responses to failures. But you may have struggled with how to convince your students that they are smart while encouraging them to persist in the face of setbacks. Mindsets are more than a poster on the wall. We can’t simply tell our students to “get grit.”

Flexible mindsets go beyond growth mindsets by leveraging both the self-awareness and strategies needed to actualize a growth mindset. A flexible mindset is the interaction between self-awareness, adaptive strategy use, and perseverance that empowers learners to evolve and become self-directed.

There are three key components to the flexible mindsets approach that feed each other and propel students along the path of directing their own learning journey.

Metacognition: At the core of all deeper learning is our awareness of and ability to reflect upon our own thinking and learning, or metacognition. Self-directed learners are driven by metacognitive insights, those “uh-oh” moments when we notice that what we’re doing isn’t working and engage in deep self-reflection about our own learning.

Positive thinking: Upon this foundation we can build I can mindset messages that tell us we can always learn and get smarter and there is value in mistakes and not knowing. The flexible mindsets framework differs from growth mindsets by being explicit about fusing our encouragement to keep trying with direct instruction and feedback about adaptive strategy use.

Executive function strategies: In our model, executive function (EF) is a set of interrelated processes such as planning, working memory, self-monitoring, and thinking flexibly. We need EF processes to understand what we need to do, figure out how to get there, and make it happen. Simply put, it’s how we get stuff done.

This flexible mindset framework provides strategies you can use to give your students the tools they need to learn how to learn. Metacognitive insights and executive function strategies are the perfect partners to propel your students beyond growth mindsets.


Build trusting relationships. We can begin by examining our own cultural attitudes, values, fears, and beliefs about children; how these affect our actions; and how our previous life experiences can influence current behaviors. Trust follows with the intentional use of language that tells students we are authentic, receptive, solution oriented, reliable, and committed to their needs. This lays the groundwork for co-learning and other key drivers of flexible mindsets.

Ground our learning in metacognition. This focuses attention on self-awareness, the perspectives of others, and what works when. Flexible mindsets extend beyond traditional measures of metacognition by building self-awareness around capacities such as curiosity, adaptability, critical thinking, complex problem-solving, and creativity.

Teach about the brain and mistakes. Children as young as 4 can begin to explore the brain and how we learn. Students at all levels can be taught to describe simple functions of the brain and identify their personal learning-related strengths and areas for improvement. Educators can be equipped with the science of learning: how stress can hijack the prefrontal cortex and what happens in the brain when we make mistakes. This paves the way for us to normalize mistakes, teach students the value of not knowing, and model how to grapple with material to make it their own.

Provide direct instruction in learning strategies. Flexible mindsets require students to use effective strategies that are based on current evidence about how the brain learns. These strategies need to be taught purposefully, directly, and frequently for students to experience the benefits of studying smarter and appreciate the value of focusing not only on the content of what they are learning but also on how they are learning. This helps students buy into the effort required to learn and apply new strategies.
Most students have never been taught how they learn, and the strategies they come up with on their own are often ineffective. The most straightforward way to teach students about strategies is by modeling, labeling, and sharing a variety of actual strategies being used in the classroom.

Give feedback based on strategy use. As opposed to effort only, strategy-based feedback is specific enough that it can be measured, worked on, and used to track progress. We define flexible mindset feedback as responses that are solution-oriented, empathetic, and targeted at specific strategies. This feedback encourages us to try a different approach to a problem. Feedback is powerful when learners reflect on questions such as What strategies did I try? What am I doing that is working and not working? How many attempts did I make

Ultimately, if we believe in equity, solutions can be found in equipping all learners with the tools they need to respond resiliently and adaptively to uncertainty and adversity. It’s time to be intentional in preparing students to be curious, make mistakes, and take risks for learning.

Originally published 21st July 2022 ©; George Lucas Educational Foundation


How to get students thinking about their own learning

by Nina Parrish

When students begin to plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning, they develop self-regulation and can set more ambitious goals.

As a special education teacher and K–12 tutor, I found that students were often told what to learn but were rarely taught how to learn, which had the potential to leave them stuck, anxious, and disengaged. My desire to teach students strategies they could use to develop their own agency and independence led me to write my book, The Independent Learner.

Metacognition refers to a student’s knowledge of their own thought process. A metacognitive thinking process allows students to self-regulate and direct their thoughts, behaviors, and actions toward their goals. As early as kindergarten, teachers can instruct students in how to build their metacognitive skills through a process of planning, monitoring, and evaluating their learning. Once students reach third grade, they can begin to use these strategies with increased choice and independence.


When students begin working without a plan, they become easily confused and overwhelmed by the task. They may give up, get distracted, or become off-task very easily. Taking time to plan can help students avoid these issues. Planning can include previewing the task, setting goals, deciding how to approach the task, and connecting to previously learned information. The following strategies help students to plan.

Building prior knowledge: Teachers can help students build prior knowledge by connecting new information to what students already know. This might look like having students brainstorm in groups to answer a question, watch a short introductory video clip or demonstration, or look at and discuss pictures or objects related to the topic that will be studied. A strong foundation of background knowledge can help students to accurately make predictions and prioritize information during the lesson.

Goal setting: Having students set goals and track progress is linked to a 32 percent increase in achievement. Teachers can help students to set short-term goals related to the skill they are learning as well as the student’s long-term personal goals and values.

Planning the process: We have all had the experience of setting goals, only to lose the motivation and follow-through necessary to make them a reality. Teachers can help students think about the changes they need to make in their daily behavior and habits in order to get from where they are now to where they want to be. Students can make a plan or checklist and use this to monitor their daily progress or the baby steps toward their goal.


Students who are having trouble monitoring don’t know when to seek help or may be overly dependent on the teacher to make sure they are doing their work correctly. They may lack a sense of self-efficacy or the belief that their efforts affect their actions or fail to change their approach when it is not working. When a student is monitoring their learning, they are assessing their level of understanding and trying to determine whether the strategy they have selected is working. The following strategies help students monitor.

Metacognitive talk: When students are learning a new skill, the teacher can model thinking aloud to make the thought process visible for students. This helps them to develop the complex thinking skills necessary for that subject area. The teacher can encourage students to use discussion to construct knowledge instead of just participating to display what they know. Strategies like think-pair-share or visually explaining the steps of their thinking help students to understand that there are many ways to approach a particular problem or task.

Analyze, prioritize, summarize: Students can be taught various methods of summarizing information and isolating key facts, details, and keywords. One method that students enjoy is a one-pager.

Diversify: When approaching a new learning task, it is important for students to know many ways to solve a problem or approach the skill. Strategies that mix verbal and visual information make learning more memorable. When students are familiar with many strategies, they have the tools necessary to exercise their own agency in selecting what works best for them.


If students are not evaluating their learning, they often do not understand how to use strategies in other contexts or for future problem-solving. They may know that they got something wrong but are not able to tell you why or what they should do differently next time to avoid that same issue. To evaluate their learning, students consider whether the strategy they chose worked and what they would change for next time. The following strategies help students to evaluate.

Assess: Testing should be used during learning, not just once learning is complete. Students can create their own practice tests or test questions, or teachers can use pre- and post-tests with clickers to find out what students know, help students to prioritize important information, and assess learning during the lesson.

Seek feedback: In the classroom, the teacher acts as a coach to students, providing information about learning goals and progress. Successful feedback should not shame students or focus on personal qualities but instead should answer these questions:

  • What am I working toward?
  • What progress have I made so far?
  • Where do I go from here?

Reflect and revise: After assessment, self-assessment, or feedback, students reflect on whether the strategy they are using is working. Then they decide what changes they need to make. Students may also consider areas where they need to seek out help. When they revise, students consider what did not go so well and fix it. They should be able to explain their mistake or what did not work and then select a strategy to correct their work. As you might notice, this starts the metacognition cycle back at the planning stage.

The only way to make learning truly relevant to each student is to teach the tools and strategies they will need to take a more active role in their learning. Incorporating metacognitive skills and self-regulated learning strategies has helped my students to become more independent, engaged, and capable of exercising their own agency.

Originally published 5th May 2022 ©; George Lucas Educational Foundation


What is the Science of Learning?

by Celia Franzè

Neuroscience in education has faced some harsh critics in the past. Many commentators accounted that the concept would never amount to measurable improved learning outcomes (Bruer, 1997). Yet, others closer to classroom practice chose to forge ahead with research to explore successful impacts on learning by considering a multidisciplinary approach; Psychology, Education and Neuroscience. (Horvath and Donoghue, 2016). This approach is what we call ‘The Science of Learning.’ At ThinkPlus, we develop our educational design research projects and teacher professional learning based on these principles. (Sterner, 2019, McKenney and Reeves, 2018)

In 2022, this is what we now know.

Developing executive function in children is critical. The part of the brain most affected by early stress is the pre-frontal cortex, which is essential to self-regulatory activities of all kinds – both emotional and cognitive (Neumann and Tillott, 2021). As a result, children who experience stress generally find it harder to concentrate, relax, rebound from disappointment, and, more challenging, follow directions, all directly affecting their performance at school. Improving executive function indicates that it can close the achievement gap in children far more than just focussing on cognitive skill development.

Executive functions, as now understood, are a collection of high-order mental abilities. They refer to the ability to deal with confusing and unpredictable situations and information. According to current research, executive function skills are highly predictive of success; they are also malleable, much more than other cognitive skills. ThinkPlus resources are developed to account for this and respond accurately to age-based developmental attainment and readiness for learning (Vlasblom et al., 2019).

The pre-frontal cortex is more responsive to interventions than other parts of the brain, and it stays flexible well into adolescence and early adulthood (Barrett, 2009, Horvath and Donoghue, 2016). So if we can improve a child’s environment in specific ways that lead to better executive functioning, we can increase their prospects for success in a particularly efficient way– this has been key in our thinking in the design of ThinkPlus. We continually test the following hypothesis through our research in schools.

How can we prevent disengagement and build resilience so that young learners are capable of navigating their learning and the world beyond school?

The key to ThinkPlus is that intelligence can be grown with effort. By co-designing teaching and learning resources with teachers, parents, students and academics, the conceptual ‘growth mindsets’ beginnings have gone beyond the foundational rhetoric (Dweck, 2017, Yeager and Dweck, 2012, Masters, 2014) It has matured to become a metacurriculum overlay unveiled across the Australian Curriculum. Driven by sound evidence that when students have the self-belief that they can change their intelligence, personality and character,  belief enables them to fulfil their potential, and it assists teachers leverage that to achieve educational outcomes (Marks, 2017)

Teaching thinking is not enough; we need to create a culture – of resilience, mindfulness, self-regulation and the concept that we are malleable, not fixed entities. We can re-imagine learning as we prepare our children for the challenges ahead. Being mindful enhances self-awareness, which can assist in making deliberate choices on how we respond to a given situation (Neumann and Tillott, 2021).

Mindful behavioural reactions to stressful events can improve our ability to apply emotional regulation, which decreases stress cortisol. Through the prefrontal cortex, the individual can develop a clear perspective and apply known strategies and knowledge with a sense of calmness when stress arises (Huebner, 2022, Barrett, 2017).

When teachers know the school curriculum well, we are free to creatively focus on young learners’ capacity to learn and strengthen and develop their brains. Expert teachers know children don’t come with a fixed intelligence but experience brain changes every step of the way while learning. They also know emotional resilience is key to overcoming challenges to learning (Horvath, 2019, Tillott et al., 2021).

Self-efficacy is necessary for a student to exert effort and persist in overcoming obstacles and setbacks to perform a task effectively. Self-efficacy can be increased by self-persuasion or persuasion by a significant other or incentives and rewards. (Kingsley and Grabner-Hagen, 2018, Dweck and Master, 2009). Developing motivational, and emotional goals increases student agency and teacher efficacy in providing feedback (Marshall, 2021, Stuckey, 2018, Mohammed and Ozdamli, 2021). The immediate post-pandemic era in education invites gamification of curriculum and animated pedagogical agents to support learning.

In conclusion, neuroscience in education is here to stay. Through partnering with experts and schools, educational design research and continuous review and improvement, ThinkPlus and Elevo Institute foster and share, in the lifelong learning mindset culture empowering our schools to excel creatively.


All welcome on this journey!


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