How do I learn

About this lesson

We’ve structured this lesson around five actions, each of which draws on important principles about learning and the brain. If you’re here looking for information, jump down to perspectives and resources for select expert opinions. However, moving through each step will make the lesson more memorable for you.

  1. Challenge
  2. Initial thoughts
  3. Perspectives and resources
  4. Revised thinking
  5. Report out


Why a challenge?

We learn best through stories, and through connections. A concrete challenge posed at the beginning of the lesson helps you to understand what you’re learning in real-world terms.

How does sleep affect us?

Sleep is a critical part of everyday existence.

Teachers, parents and students usually have very different perspectives on what sleep is and why we need it. There is a lot of fuzzy thinking about sleep and its importance. Some people know about circadian rhythms and different stages in a sleep cycle, but there’s a lot scientists have discovered we don’t share.

Your challenge is to learn about the importance of sleep for adolescents and to help teachers; parents and students understand just how critical it is for their development and learning.

Here are three guiding questions that we will consider throughout this module:

  • Why do we sleep?
  • What are the stages of the sleep cycle?
  • What are the benefits of sleep?

Initial thoughts

Why initial thoughts?
Why not just jump down to perspectives and resources? Learning Sciences research (e.g. Mueller, 2008) has shown clearly that making a ‘commitment’ to a specific stance or statement improves your learning, even if that belief later changes. Making your beliefs explicit is vital to the learning process.

Perspectives and resources

How does sleep affect us?

Let’s see how an expert approaches the issue of sleep and neuroscience. Dr. Matthew Carter of Williams College discusses current research on sleep and how it influences the brain.

Some questions to think about:

  • Why do we sleep?
  • What is the difference between Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and non-REM sleep?
  • What happens when we sleep?
  1. Dr. Matthew Carter, assistant professor of biology at Williams College talks about the stages of sleep
    HDIL carter

    HDIL sleep cycle

    Listen to these three audio clips for a quick lesson on the different stages of sleep:

  2. REM sleepHDIL REM and Non-REM
  3. Sleep and the adolescent brain
    HDIL Yawn
  4. Aspects of REM sleep
  5. A history of sleep
    Youtube personality Dean Leysen provides a brief evolutionary history and explanation of why we need sleep.
  6. Mystery of sleep
    Sleep has always been mysterious, but new research and results are coming in all the time about the reasons for our unconsciousness. The following two articles and one TED talk illuminate a little of why we sleep:

    “Why Do Humans and Many Other Animals Sleep?”
    Read more

    “To sleep, perchance to clean: Study reveals brain ‘takes out the trash’ while we sleep”
    Read more

Revised thinking

Why revised thinking?

In addition to committing to an initial thought, reflecting on what you learned can promote metacognition, and your own understanding of the material. In addition, reflecting on your learning helps to solidify the lessons, making them easily accessible when you need them in the future. (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 2001).

How does sleep affect us?

Take a moment to revisit your thinking from earlier in the cycle. Look back at your initial thoughts. Based on what you wrote earlier and the evidence presented in perspectives and resources, consider the following questions:

    • What was surprising?
    • What did you already know, but now see in a new light?
    • What still needs to be explained?

Report out

Why report out?

Learning is a deeply social activity. Sharing with others strengthens your learning, and gives others the opportunity to learn as well. According to veteran UW Physics professor Lillian McDermott, “you learn what you teach.”

How does sleep affect us?

Talk about sleep with someone you care about – friend, family member, co-worker, co-teacher. What do you think? What have you learned? Share below.

Thank you for taking the time to walk through the whole cycle! We hope you’ve had fun and learned a lot!