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12 July 2021

Written by Lee Hendricks - Head of IMYC

A middle years curriculum designed for evolving adolescent brains

Over the last few years, there has been substantial neurological research into the teenage brain, which has provided the foundation for three new Brainwave units in the International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC).

Between childhood and adulthood, hormones kickstart a phase of significant change. While some physical changes are noticeable, there are less obvious changes taking place in our brains, which can contribute to making teenage years a rollercoaster.

Within the IMYC, each year group has its own unique Brainwave unit full of tasks that have been designed to meet the level of development taking place in the brain at that specific age.

The middle years’ curriculum recognises that teenagers have particular needs and help learners identifying strategies to help them during this vital time. The six needs of the teenage brain that have been identified by the IMYC are:

  • Interlinking learning

  • Making meaning

  • Peers

  • Agency

  • Risk-taking

  • Transition

The acronym, IMPART, is an easier way to remember these six needs, and all are embedded in the specific Brainwave Units of learning.

These units provide activities that aid learners to better comprehend the changes that are occurring as their brains mature. By using Brainwave units at the beginning of the school year, it helps students to build awareness and develop skills in areas such as metacognition and health and wellbeing.

Similarly knowing the parts of the brain and how they function can help adults and adolescents, better understand behaviours and why they take place. Why do teenagers generally push boundaries? Why is it possible for adolescents to know the dangers of a situation and still put themselves at risk?

One answer is that the adolescent brain is continuously adjusting, and certain parts are developing at different rates.

One example of a part of the teenager’s brain that usually takes the longest to develop is the prefrontal cortex which is located on the front part of the brain. It controls executive functioning so think of it as a conductor of an orchestra in the head.

If you are a teenager, however, the prefrontal cortex conductor is somewhat new and will make many mistakes while working. It is in flux, specialising and maturing during the important middle school years and even later.

Another part of the brain located in the deep centre is the limbic system which deals with memory and emotions. This part of the brain develops quicker than the prefrontal cortex which explains the emotional outbursts, moods, disregard for consequences, and impulses during teens.

As a result, adolescents might need extra support when it comes to the behaviours affected by executive functions such as self‑organisation, planning, decision-making and self-control.

To ensure that the curriculum meets the specific needs of middle year learners on a global scale, the IMYC has been created using the latest neurological research. By including research and considering the way brains develop, it helps to provide a curriculum that supports evolving teenage brains during the learning journey and helps create practices that will be beneficial, especially as students enter higher education.

International Curriculum