Looking at High Performance Learning Environments

In a world with increasing amounts of technology and distractions for students, we need to up our game as teachers. We have to figure out ways to keep their attention while making sure that they learn the knowledge necessary to keep up with the world around them. Below I will analyze three videos that illustrate different teaching styles that attempt to address the skills that students will need when they, one day, become adults.


3rd Grade Chinese–Math Class

It’s tricky to address the academic expectations in this video. The teacher uses engaging call and response techniques – especially inclusive of actions and singing – that clearly captures the students’ attention.

However, from the naked eye, it doesn’t seem that much precedence is being put on their independent thought. It appears that the majority of the math skills represented here are learned through rote memorization. After reading, Explainer: what makes Chinese maths lessons so good?, there seems to be a lot of pressure put on Chinese students specifically for the academic achievements in math (2014).

In reading more about Chinese societal norms, pressure to perform both academically and behaviorally in school are ingrained in the culture from a young age. These qualities are are taught by families and society and thus, issues don’t arise in the classroom as frequently as they do in Western countries (Campbell & Henn, 2015).

So what is really happening in this classroom? Though the students are learning mathematics through song, to me it seems that the focus is too heavily placed on math and memorizing facts. Students aren’t actually engaging with the content beyond repeating what is being said. There is something to say for it though, as Chinese students’ math scores blow American student’s math scores out of the water (Bidwell 2013). I think we would have to delve deeper into their instruction to know what is working for Chinese students. From this video and the article, it seems that pressure is the biggest element.


Whole Brain Teaching Richwood High – The Basics

When first watching this video and and seeing Whole Brain Teaching in action, I felt that it addressed behavior expectations more thoroughly than academic. The teacher is consistently using call and response, and action and response techniques to engage students. When delving deeper into this idea of pedagogy, the teacher is attempting to stimulate different areas of the brain – specifically the hippocampus, the motor cortex, the prefrontal cortex – by gaining each student’s attention first through call and – response, then engaging the students’ motor cortexes through motions and gestures, and finally the prefrontal cortex through teaching and explaining concepts taught in these ways between the students (Teachers tap into brain science to boost learning).

By addressing all of these different elements of the brain while teaching content, the teacher attempts to associate feelings and motion to achieve deeper understanding. The argument is that words and concepts are associated with these feelings and leads to a better knowledge of what each different concept or word means (Teachers tap into brain science to boost learning). We can see this in practice in Whole Brain Teaching Richwood High – The Basics, where students are chanting along page numbers, what they are meant to discuss on each page, as well as the speed reading techniques that are also accompanied by gestures.

Though I can understand how these techniques work well with students that need to move around and feel stuck when having to sit in one place, I also feel that this learning method could be distracting to other students. There is so much movement involved that there is very little time to sit and focus on a specific task. Personally, I think integrating bits of this method could be beneficial, but using it religiously throughout the day would be overwhelming and excessive.


Roller Coaster Physics: STEM in Action

Overall, I felt that this video exemplified the most rigorous level of expectations for both academics and behavior, as well as norms and procedures that had obviously already been set in place. It is easy to see when a classroom is operating like a well oiled machine during difficult activities that involve high levels of thinking as well as varied academic skills. In each of the video sections, all students were completely engaged with the activity as well as one another.

Throughout the students’ discussions on potential and kinetic energy, they also consistently used 21st century skills to achieve their overall goal: create an awesome roller coaster. Students collaborated as a team and let their skills determine what role they would play (i.e., accountant, organizer, engineer, etc.). They all worked together to problem solve the best strategies to create the roller coaster that they were working to build. Students also used ICT and Technology to help in creating their roller coasters and in creating a series of videos to film their final outcome.

The norms and procedures that were in place in this class were evident through the way the students addressed one another, spoke to the teacher, and stayed focused throughout their roller coaster lessons. At all times, students spoke about what they were aiming to accomplish and how they were planning to accomplish goals using terminology specific to the lesson, which leads me to believe that one of the teacher’s norms includes discussing a topic using academic terminology appropriate for the lesson.

Additionally, the students collaborated in such an open way with one another that I imagine the teacher has norms and procedures that relate to listening, respecting, and trusting one another. Not once during the video, did I hear another student talk over one another, sound exasperated, or seem frustrated. I know this happens in every classroom from time to time, but it was evident here that students really take the time to listen to each other, believe in what their peers have to say, and value sharing ideas.  



In my fourth grade class, I hope to take different elements from the latter two and steer very clear of the first. Though songs and repeating are fun to do every once in a while, I would not make them part of my everyday practice. I would much more like to incorporate the strategies used in the Roller Coaster Physics video. Here, we didn’t see students, we saw miniature adults taking charge of their own learning in a professional manner! They didn’t need to be cajoled into performing. Instead, they were able to have fun and take part in gaining knowledge through an activity that was interesting and informative.  

Granted, everyone needs to take a break from hard work sometimes. I think this is where Whole Brain Teaching comes into play. Completing activities while moving around and accessing different layers of the brain is an excellent way to get students out of their seats, having fun, and moving or dancing around. But personally, I also wouldn’t rely on this technique too heavily. While it might work for specific students, it could be very distracting to others. Focusing instead on activities that they enjoy that support their academic needs is the clear and obvious winner.



3rd grade Chinese–math class.avi. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7LseF6Db5g

Bidwell, A. (2013, December 3). American Students Fall in International Academic Tests, Chinese Lead the Pack. US News and World Report. Retrieved February 27, 2016 from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/12/03/american-students-fall-in-international-academic-tests-chinese-lead-the-pack

Explainer: What makes Chinese maths lessons so good? (2015, March 25). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://theconversation.com/explainer-what-makes-chinese-maths-lessons-so-good-24380

Critical Practices for Anti-Bias Education. (2014) Teaching Tolerance. Retrieved from February 11, 2016 from http://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/general/PDA%20Critical%20Practices_0.pdf

Framework for 21st Century Learning – P21. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2016, from http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-framework

Henn, S. C. (n.d.). Chinese teachers blame WELFARE STATE for lack of British pupils’ discipline. Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/595616/Are-Our-Kids-Tough-Enough-Chinese-School-BBC-education-Shanghai-classroom-behaviour

Roller Coaster Lab. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://pilotrobertmace.edu.glogster.com/roller-coaster-lab/

Roller Coaster Physics: STEM in Action. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/teaching-stem-strategies

Teachers tap into brain science to boost learning. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/teachers-tap-brain-science-boost-learning/

Whole Brain Teaching Richwood High – The Basics. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iXTtR7lfWU



One thought on “Looking at High Performance Learning Environments

  1. Milan, I like what you said about students behaving as little adults. It made me reflect on childhood in general where we all emulated and wanted to be like the adults that surrounded us. We wanted to do adult things. So perhaps this uncovers a very important element to consider when teaching and planning lessons. Maybe one component of making a student feel valued and respected is to give them adult tasks as we saw in the STEM video.


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