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Current Brain Research Still Shapes Project ALERT Lessons

by Jo-Anne Bowen, PhD
If you’re a seventh grade teacher, you’ve probably already figured this out: according to research on the brain, the average attention span of a seventh grader is eleven minutes. Eleven! After that, minds wander and retention falls sharply.

When researchers at the RAND Corporation were developing and testing Project ALERT, they studied cutting-edge information about brain functioning and incorporated it into their design for each lesson. As a result, lesson activities are designed so they can be completed in five to fifteen minutes—the latter being activities involving the videos. Many seventh grade classes are forty-eight minutes long—the length projected for each Project ALERT lesson.

This means you can comfortably cover up to six activities per lesson, keeping your students fully engaged and your class running smoothly the entire time. The key to presenting a successful lesson is to move effortlessly from one activity to the next. And if you need it, you even have some built-in flex time. In Core Lesson One, for example, the lesson guide suggests that you spend five minutes introducing the program and five minutes developing the ground rules. You might not need that long. And with the fifth activity, “Show and Discuss Video,” you are allotted ten to fifteen minutes, so you have further flexibility in the event students want to continue discussing either the video or one of the other activities. But remember, don't let a single student go on and on.

It all works out perfectly. When you keep in mind how the brain of twelve- and thirteen-year-olds work, the length of each activity in each of the lessons is just right.
<span>Canadian native Jo-Anne Bowen serves as the state of Washington&rsquo;s Project ALERT trainer and has conducted training sessions for the program nationally since 1991. A former junior and senior high science and health teacher, she also works as a consultant in the Vancouver, Washington, public schools. She received her doctorate in education from the University of Oregon.</span>

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