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Neuroscience of Learning

A student’s brain in school goes through a series of transformations. The evolution of cognitive abilities is primarily driven by activity that is happening in the classroom, first developing the ability to identify letters or numbers and then learning how to interpret those symbols in written words or math. That transformation comes about due to new connections being made and strengthened in the brain. Learning is an active process and personalizing the journey expedites the development of neural pathways.

Personalized Learning

To personalize the learning experience for different learners it is imperative to understand how educational experiences are driving changes in the brain. The neural network or the wiring diagram of the brain is unique in each person and changes with experiences. There is a profound relationship between the way a person’s brain is organized and how well that person masters abstract intellectual skills. Thrively’s Strength based and Learner centered approach with its comprehensive suite of assessments enables educators to meet learners where they are in their learning continuum, thereby providing a great platform to start their respective journeys.

Embrace the Challenge

If you think you just don’t have the brain for certain skills, you’re not only deceiving yourself, you’re undermining your ability to learn — whether it’s math, basketball, or playing the saxophone.
Every year students start school excited about what they’re going to learn, but when they see somebody who seems to be quicker or better at learning, they start doubting themselves. Students often remember their teachers and parents telling them that only reason they haven’t gone into pathways they wanted to pursue is because they thought they weren’t good enough. Thrively’s strengths-based learner-centered approach is asset based not deficit and dispels the myths that hold these learners back.

Celebrate Learning. Why?

Young learners and adults often struggle when they’re learning a new skill, which can feel excruciatingly painful. If you aren’t struggling, you aren’t really learning. When we’re struggling and making mistakes, those are the very best times for our brains. The next generation educators when facing a situation where the students say, “This is so hard”, they should say to them, “That is absolutely fantastic! you are now pushing your brain to do things that are difficult. Just like our muscles, the brain also needs challenges – “desirable difficulties”.
Embrace struggle – it’s emancipating! It changes how we go about our work. We’re more persistent. We interact with each other differently. If you live just a single day with this perspective, you’ll feel it — particularly if things go wrong. It changes those moments pretty significantly.

Praising learners to be “smart” can actually be harmful. Is that true?

Why do we need this binary thinking about people being smart or not? Everyone’s on a growth journey. There is no cutoff where one person becomes “gifted” or “smart” and another is not. We were all born with the same amount of neurons.
Most parents and educators make it a point to tell young learners that they are smart. When they make their first mistake it deflates them and they resign to – “Hmm, I’m not that smart after all”. What did we achieve? We promoted a culture that did not elevate strengths based and learner centered mindset with the understanding that intelligence can be developed. Thrively challenges the notion that success is about working with your strengths and giving up on your weaknesses. There are no weaknesses. Period! There are only relative strengths. Learners today buy into the myth that they do not possess certain strengths because it was drilled into them that they couldn’t. We as educators and parents have to let go of the idea that kids at a certain place are just where they’re going to be. Rewarding Grit, Persistence, and tenacity develops hunger for learning and develops cognition. Learners become unafraid of making mistakes – an important step in their learning journey.
How can parents and teachers help students become more receptive to learning?
Using words that promote a strengths based and learner centered culture promotes a mindset of curiosity and discovery. Students start recognizing that intelligence can be developed. You don’t have to be the expert in the room. You don’t have to pretend to know things you don’t.
There’s a whole host of research that have provided evidence that small changes and interventions can change the way our brain functions. However, the success of the intervention rests upon two central factors: (1) A different form of Professional Development (PD) served to eradicate the learning myths that have stymied teachers and school administrators; and (2) teachers have space for developing strengths based and learner centered curriculum in the classrooms to develop learners for life.

Knowing ourselves and knowing our students

The Power of Self Reflection and Journaling


Think back to when you were a child. Did you have a diary, an art notebook, something that you could doodle in to help you think, calm down, or just have some time to yourself? There is power in creating space for yourself to do what is necessary to really find out who you are and how you react to situations. I have seen my own children be so proud of the work they do in their art notebooks and their diaries. When they have come up with a new idea, art work, or writing piece, they share it with the people around them. They share their strengths and aspirations through these authentic reflections.


Now think back to a moment in time when you were challenged, maybe even last year? What helped you focus your thoughts and emotions. Maybe you read, binge watched shows, created artwork, or wrote your thoughts. All of these activities can calm the mind and help you focus on the challenge at hand. In fact, when people reflect back on their experiences they are better able to take a step back from the emotions and consider alternative solutions or perspectives. When we share our reflections and perspectives with others, whether it be through writing or speaking, we expand their experiences and create opportunities to get feed “forward”. Feed “forward” is the process of sharing your solutions or experiences with others and allowing them to give us their perspectives and questions to help us move forward.

Critical Friend

Imagine if you have a critical friend who could read your journals or listen to your thoughts while continuing the process of feed “forward” with you on a regular basis. Not only does this allow you to put into words what you are thinking and feeling, but you are able to take a step back and perceive the words at a later date when you are not feeling so emotionally charged. Then your critical friend can also provide support and encouragement, this makes the relationship even stronger. Research says that when students experience a sense of belonging to their school and have supportive relationships with other students and teachers, they are motivated to achieve academic success, and exhibit higher levels of social, emotional, and behavioral adjustment.

Strong Relationships

How can we create strong relationships with students when we have so much to do and we teach 150 students in a typical middle or high school classroom? One way can be with journaling and feed “forward”. When students are given the opportunity to write how they feel about situations and challenges, they can receive critical support from their teachers through their journals. They will build strong relationships with educators that in turn will support their academic success and motivation. Journaling can be done through writing, audio, and video in the Thirvely reflections that are in the Lessons and Playlists as well as in the Projects. Take time out of each day or week to create a space for journaling and reflecting. It may even turn out to be the best part of each day for both you and your students.

Project Based Learning

What can you expect from this Article?

  1. What is Project based learning?
  2. Characteristics of Project Based Learning.
  3. Benefits of Project based learning.
  4. How Project based learning is different from doing a Project?
  5. Learn about what Project Based learning is all about. The key characteristics of incorporating Project Based Learning. Additionally, learn about the differences between a project & Project based Learning. Comparison between Problem Solving Learning and Project based learning.

About Thrively:

Thrively helps your child find their passion in life. Discover your child’s strengths using Project based learning and Social Emotional intelligence and ignite their curiosity today.

What is Project Based Learning?

Project-based learning is an instructional approach designed to give students the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills through engaging projects set around challenges and problems. This approach encourages students to learn by applying knowledge and skills through active exploration of real-world challenges and problems with an engaging experience. PBL presents opportunities for deeper-learning in-context and for the development of important 21st century skills tied to college and career readiness.
PBL contrasts with paper-based, rote memorization, or teacher-led instruction that presents established facts or portrays a smooth path to knowledge by instead posing questions, problems, or scenarios.

Characteristics of PBL

Characteristics of meaningful project-based learning activities that lead to deeper student understanding are as follows:

1.) Interdisciplinary

Project based curriculum is designed to engage students using real-world problems. This is an interdisciplinary approach as real-world challenges are rarely solved using information or skills from a single subject area. Projects require students to engage in inquiry, solution building, and product construction to help address the issue or challenge presented. As students do the work, they often use content knowledge and skills from multiple academic sources to successfully complete the project.

2.) Rigorous

Project based education requires the application of knowledge and skills, not just recall or recognition. PBL assesses how students apply a variety of academic content in new contexts. As students engage in a project, they begin with asking a question. Inquiry leads the student to think critically as they are using their academic knowledge in real-world applications. The inquiry process leads to the development of solutions to address the identified problem. They show their knowledge in action through the creation of products designed to communicate solutions to an audience.

3.) Student-centered

The role of the teacher shifts from content-deliverer to facilitator/project manager in Project based learning. Students work independently through the PBL process, with the teacher providing support only when needed. Students are encouraged to make their own decisions about how best to do their work and demonstrate their understanding. The PBL process fosters student independence, sense of ownership of his/her work, and the development of 21st century/workplace skills.

In essence, the PBL model consists of these seven characteristics:

  •  Focuses the student on a big open-ended question, challenge, or problem to research and respond to and/or solve.
  •  Brings what students should academically know, understand, and be able to do into the equation.
  •  Is inquiry-based. Uses 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity, among others.
  •  Builds student choice into the process.
  •  Provides opportunities for feedback and revision of the plan and the project.
  •  Requires students to present their problems, research process, methods, and results.

Benefits of Project Based Learning

Traditional learning never ventures beyond the realm of the purely academic approach. Project-based learning connects students to the real world. PBL prepares students to accept and meet challenges in the real world, mirroring what professionals do every day.

Instead of short-term memorization strategies, project-based learning provides an opportunity for students to engage deeply with the target content, bringing about a focus on long-term retention. PBL also improves student attitudes toward education, thanks to its ability to keep students engaged. The PBL structure lends itself to building intrinsic motivation because it centers student learning around an essential central question or problem and a meaningful outcome.

A recent collaborative study, the implementation of project-based learning correlated positively with student achievement, particularly in schools serving high-poverty communities. This research emphasizes the importance of projects being standards-aligned and supported with research-proven instructional strategies.

Because of its focus on 21st-century skills, the PBL model also enhances students’ technology abilities. Project-based learning helps students develop teamwork and problem-solving skills, along with the ability to communicate effectively with others. The collaborative nature of projects also reinforces the social-emotional learning (SEL) programs being implemented at progressive schools around the world.

These interpersonal aspects of PBL dovetail perfectly with the use of technology in the classroom. Technology-based projects are interdisciplinary, collaborative, inquiry-based, self-directed, motivating, and address the full range of student needs and learning styles. Additionally, digital literacies and digital citizenship objectives become ingrained in tech-based projects.

Below are some of the widely cited benefits of implementing project-based learning in the classroom.

  • Presents opportunities for deeper learning in context and for the development of important skills relating to college and career readiness
  • Boost’s student engagement and achievement and helps students develop the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in their future careers. These include critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity, among others
  • Makes room for student choice, allowing students to feel like architects of their own learning journey
  • Improves student attitudes toward education, thanks to its ability to keep students engaged
  • Provides plenty of opportunities for feedback and revision of the plan and the project
  • Encourages students to make meaningful connections across content areas, rather than thinking about each subject area in isolation (multi-disciplinary pedagogical approach)
  • Engages students in real-world learning, giving them a deeper understanding of concepts through relevant and authentic experiences. This prepares students to accept and meet challenges in the real world, mirroring what professionals do every day

Engages students deeply with the target content, helping to increase long-term retention.

How Project based Learning is different from doing a Project?

PBL is becoming widely used in schools and other educational settings, with different varieties being practiced. However, there are key characteristics that differentiate “doing a project” from engaging in rigorous Project Based Learning.

PBL requires critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication. To answer a driving question and create high-quality work, students need to do much more than remember information. They need to use higher-order thinking skills and learn to work as a team.


A culminating event that happens at the end of the unit after all student learning has already taken place. The knowledge and skills taught in the unit are not necessarily needed to complete the project and the project itself does not typically reflect all the student learning. Oftentimes the project has no real-world connection and after being graded the project is no longer used.


It poses an authentic problem, challenge, need, or issue at the start of the unit in the form of an entry event. Students receive the rubrics outlining what tasks or end products they will have to create. From the very start of the project students see their need to learn the course content and skills to complete each step or benchmark of the project. Their end goal is clear from the beginning and their learning is meaningful because they need the content and skills to solve the problem, challenge, need, or issue that has been posed to them. The PBL unit involves a community partner and ends with a publicly presented product that will be used even after the unit has been completed.

How Project based Learning is different from doing a Project?

Problem-based learning and project-based learning are often both are referred to as PBL, so it is easy to conflate or confuse the two. However, while they share some similarities, problem-based learning and project-based learning also have significant differences that set them apart.

Problem-based learning is student-centered teaching. Students learn about a topic through the solving of problems and generally work in groups to solve a problem where there may not necessarily be any one correct answer.

Project-based learning, meanwhile, is an instructional approach where students learn by investigating a complex question, problem, or challenge. It promotes active learning, engages students, and allows for higher order thinking. Students are tasked with exploring real-world problems and finding answers via the completion of their project. Students also have some control over the project they are working on, particularly in terms of how the project will finish and the product.

When students complete a problem-based learning task, they often share the outcomes with their teacher and learning goals and outcomes are set jointly. With project-based learning, goals are set from the beginning, and it is also quite structured in its teaching. One big difference is that project-based learning is typically multi-disciplinary – meaning it utilizes skills and knowledge from a variety of subjects. Problem based learning is more likely to be a single subject, and shorter too.

Finally, project-based learning follows general steps while a problem-based learning activity follows specific steps to complete. While this article focuses on project-based learning, both problem-based and project-based learning have a rightful place in today’s classroom and can promote 21st Century learning.

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