This past Friday, I asked students in my mainstream ninth-grade English class to write a response to this question:

What would you tell your parents you learned in class this month?

We’ve spent most of the month learning about Natural Disasters and, as I had expected, practically everybody wrote about something related to that topic.

I was, however, surprised by two other things.

We spent less than two periods on the lessons related to the brain and how it physically grows when it learns. However, practically every student wrote something about that lesson — in addition to something about natural disasters. Here are a few examples:

I learned about the brain and how it works.

I learned that when the brain is learning it’s growing neurons and it’s like a muscle.

I learned that the brain is like a muscle, if you exercise it it gets bigger.

The brain grows and you’re not just born with it and that’s it.

I learned that the brain is like a muscle and if you exercise it, it grows.

I really didn’t expect that it would have such an impact on students, and it reinforces my desire to have similar lessons related to issues that might tie in to students’ long-term self-interest (Helping Students Develop Self-Control). As I’ve shared, it’s quite easy to use that content to cover English reading and writing lessons.

The other surprise came when I saw that several students wrote something like this:

I learned to say, “I’m not sure, but I think that….” instead of saying “I don’t know” when I’m asked a question.

I learned this strategy from Magical Mystery Teacher (formerly California Teacher Guy). There’s a big poster on the classroom wall emphasizing it, and I only spent a few minutes going over it on the first day of school.

It’s interesting to see what “sticks.”