CSTA Classroom Science

Adrenaline-Based Instruction: Adjusting Classrooms to Current Needs

By Henri Shimojyo

“I am looking for strategies that take away students’ attention from their cell phones.”
 “It has been challenging to teach since the pandemic.”
“ It has been hard to get my students to communicate and talk with each other.”

Do any of these statements resonate with you? Well, you are not alone! The shift of habits that students have developed in the past eighteen months has been life-changing. As students return to brick and mortar classrooms, teachers have experienced a systematic student disconnection with their previous learning habits. Eighteen (18) months of pandemic developed alterations in students’ academic behaviors and a need for instructional adjustments. Students engaged and shifted to isolated environments and behaviors that influenced learning demands and required concentration.

  • Online instruction provided students with a new alternate platform for learning and a universe of distracting opportunities.
  • Student dependence on social media platforms helped develop new obsessive and compulsive behaviors, which feed the “feel-good” adrenaline rush.

Furthermore, challenges during the pandemic included teachers planning, developing, and delivering engaging lessons via Zoom, Google meets, or similar platforms. Planning and providing online instruction proved to have a steep learning curve for teachers. Because of all the described conditions, we need to consider what initial options are available to regain our students’ academic concentration and engagement. Teachers must compete against adrenaline-dependent platforms constructed by specialized tech corporations’ teams that profit from increasing our students’ viewing times.

A possible solution to modifying student-acquired pandemic non-academic habits requires students’ shifting of their priorities and behaviors. Teachers' efforts trigger students' curiosity with simple opportunities and resources to start and sustain any lesson, which means realigning students’ interests by engaging phenomena protocols connected among lessons and units. The continuous implementation of phenomena and Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs’) becomes crucial to shift students' paradigms. Merging these two practices allows more substantial content delivery and strengthens student participation in the classroom.

The use of phenomena in the classroom and modeling practices will help regain students’ attention span and increase concentration on detail. 

When phenomena and modeling are used effectively, students are triggered with curiosity. Furthermore, “curiosity increases the activity in the hypothalamus, which is connected to an area of the brain that increases dopamine flow” (Edutopia Dec17, 2014).
Furthermore, the increase of any positive biochemical stimulus in students (adrenaline-driven) may significantly impact student engagement in the classroom. Therefore, nurturing and implementing these engagement habits may highly motivate academic discourse among students. All these practices aim to help students' content acquisition. Increasing attention span causes the release of chemicals in the brain, such as particular types of neurotransmitters, which carry signals between synapses that promote learning (CBE Life Sci Educ. 2017 Summer; 16(2): fe2.).

Whether a teacher’s implementation of the NGSS in the classroom is high or at an earlier stage, a small change will significantly benefit all students. When taking this journey into the implementation, some considerations are as follows:

  1. Selected phenomena that are life relevant and applicable to lessons and community. 
    • The phenomena must be safe, simple, and straightforward. 
  2. Teachers should perform demonstrations in front of students when possible. 
    • The phenomena must be safe, simple, and straightforward. Teachers should perform demonstrations in front of students when possible. 
  3. Use a classroom doc camera and have all students' eyes on you to observe the experience. Such action will help create a moment of expectation (adrenaline phase1).
    • Do not explain the phenomenon before, but allow students to think and ponder. 
    • Prompt students with questions that direct to your lesson goals.
  4. Ask students to “explain what has happened?” after the demonstration. Then ask, “why?” and allow students to attempt a response  (adrenaline phase 2).
    • Provide students with teacher lead pauses and thinking time for student responses. 
  5. As you progress through the lesson, students will benefit from building models (this helps to define visible and invisible principles), models should include as many of the components that explain the phenomena. (Adrenaline phase 3)
    • Remember that using a YouTube or other video platform is a great resource,  yet be aware that such an overuse affects the classroom environment, student dialogue, and students become passive learners. 
adrenaline 2.png

Let's not forget that we need to teach how to model these processes and classroom expectations. (You can implement modeling practices anytime, but I found it easier at the beginning of a semester or significant school break). 
Using phenomena-based modeling segments helps students observe, process, understand and define the content better (visualize what they know and what parts they do not know). 
Learning sequences help students to reason via observation and metacognition. 


When students are modeling any scientific experience, they need to include three intrinsic parts.
In Region 10 (The Inland Empire, CA), our instructional focus has been to focus on Modeling as a process to support the NGSS implementation. Students are taught the three parts that make an NGSS Model: 

adrenaline 1.png

1)    Components - the relevant parts of the model 
2)    The relationship between the elements - how these interact with each other
3)    Content connections -  how these are connected to main ideas, principles

Your consideration and implementation of these two practices (Phenomena and Modeling) in the classroom will have a more significant impact on reconnecting academic behaviors and reconstructing intellectual students' learning processes; which in turn are habits that change students' levels of engagement and increase students’ content connection by using adrenaline-driven segments that promote a hormonal flow similar to chemical rewards that apps and social media generate in individuals (promote adrenaline rush to the human brain.) 

A process to support these ideas requires implementing local phenomena, constructing models considering connected lesson plans and students’ prior content knowledge (experiences), and how these teachers should plan, develop, and deliver "life relevance" experiences that use local phenomena (safely). 

The use of live hands-on teaching experiences is crucial in the classroom. It helps build student scientific expectations. These steps are the initial keys of adrenaline flows that connect students' brains with engagement. One-directional online or virtual demonstration/simulations should be used to a minimum- unless a teacher cannot reproduce an event or phenomena due to safety, wait for time (timelapse), or equipment availability. Simple - yet well elaborated live experiences have a longer-lasting effect on student learning.

Henri Shimojyo
Logos Education Systems - Senior Education Consultant 
UCI - Science Teacher Supervisor MAT & Caltech Programs
Region 10 Science Leader
Member of CASE


curiosity https://www.edutopia.org/blog/why-curiosity-enhances-learning-marianne-stenger
retention of material http://changingminds.org/explanations/learning/active_learning.htm
attention span and learning https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5459260/



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