‘I’m a Scientist’ Webchat on Adolescence

10 March 2018

Despite having a degree in Psychology I don’t feel even close to fully understanding the brain, or how exactly it works and impacts on learning. As part of my quest to find out more I attended an online live chat organised by I’m a Scientist’. The aim of their chats is to help all schools to identify with science. They recognise that not all ‘brain-based’ resources and programmes available are based on research and are aiming to resolve this issue.

As a Research-lead, I am delighted that education is becoming more evidence-informed and I was keen to take this opportunity to have conversations with scientists about how young people learn so that I can use this information to influence my teaching practice.

The chat that I attended was focusing on ‘Adolescence’, and as the teenagers I work with mystify me on a daily basis, I thought this would be ideal!

I was already aware that brain development continues during adolescence, approximately until the age of 25; however, I didn’t know that different brain regions mature at different rates. For example, the brain regions involved in feeling emotion tend to be fully developed by adolescence, whereas the prefrontal and parietal cortices that are involved with reasoning and planning are not. This explains why adolescents are more impulsive and don’t think through consequences in the same way that we do in adulthood.

It also affects their behaviour and leads adolescents to seek peer approval more than children or adults. A ‘feeling excluded from their peers’ experience affects their mood much more than it does for adults. This explains why our students are so much more affected by peer influence than we are as adults.

Practical ways to optimise learning

  • Plan to have small immediate rewards than large future rewards.
  • Discuss the impact of choosing to socialise over revision as this can be challenging for adolescents.
  • Respect adolescents’ sensitivity to social status and their desire for autonomy by providing them with ‘choices’.
  • Introduce initiatives to reduce bullying, and increase positive peer influence and peer support.
  • Use classroom activities where peer involvement fosters engagement for example in team games.


Handy resources:

  • Sarah-Jane Blakemore has produced a very popular TED talk that is very accessible for teachers – see HERE.
  • This Science Daily article explores an interesting perspective on the teen brain – it is more responsive to rewards, which encourages risky behaviour – see HERE.
  • Find the ‘Im a Scientist’ website HERE.


Julie Watson is Huntington Research School Research-lead: Cognition

Posted on 10 March 2018
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