Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Launch of teen brain film!

I am very excited to announce that the short film Georgina Donati and I have been working on during our postdocs has launched! You can read about the film below, and see the film with accompanying information on the Centre for Educational Neuroscience website.

We are Georgie and Annie, researchers at the Centre for Educational Neuroscience, and we are interested in sharing the latest research in adolescent brain science with teachers.
A few years ago, we participated as scientists in an interactive play, with a theatre group called Cardboard Citizens. The play, META, was performed in front of teenagers, and explored how changes in the teenage brain can impact their lives, and even lead them to spin out of control. During performances, we (and our colleagues) were there to explain the adolescent brain science underlying the play. We were often approached by teachers and parents after the play, who said that they found the science fascinating and useful, wishing they had known it sooner.
This feedback inspired us to work on a resource for teachers (parents are also encouraged to get involved!). We teamed up with a film-maker and some great professionals from Small Films to bring you this short film. The aim of the play META had been to encourage teens, armed with new knowledge about how their brains work, to think about how they might be able to change their behaviour for their own benefit. The aim of the film is similar for teachers: how can knowledge about how the teenage brain works influence the way teachers interact with, respond to, and ultimately teach teenagers?
As part of the interactive play, teenagers came up with some interesting strategies to better manage their emotions and stay focused on the task at hand. We’re interested to find out what strategies teachers come up with (or already use) to engage the teenage brain, deal with their quirks, and essentially take advantage of the special world that is the social and emotional rollercoaster of being a teen…
At the early stages of creating the film, we spoke to teachers about our ideas. Based on this discussion, we decided to keep the video short and with basic science, but with more detailed resources about the topics covered on the Centre for Educational Neuroscience website. The teachers we spoke to were particularly keen to get ideas for specific strategies to use in the classroom. We are experts in adolescent brain science, but not in teaching, so we are handing over to you, to crowdsource strategies that draw on this science.
Under each topic there is the opportunity to add your own thoughts about how you might use, or have already used, this science to inform your teaching. We hope you will take this opportunity to share your ideas with other teachers. We will regularly update the website to include the strategies that you suggest (anonymously). Our hope is that this will become a useful resource of strategies designed by teachers, for teachers, and informed by research. We are excited to hear from you!
You can also get in touch with us on social media – we have a Twitter account @TeenBrainFilm – come and ask us questions, give us your feedback, or share with your colleagues and friends!"

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The fluctuation of IQ - new post on BOLD blog

My latest post for the Blog on Learning and Development looks at the fluctuation of individual IQ scores over time, and what this means for education. In the post I consider the utility of IQ tests for school and university entry.

I am especially interested in this topic because I went to a grammar school that I had to take a test for. I remember the run up to the 11+ test and the period afterwards being anxiety-inducing, in part because my two older sisters were already at the grammar school and I thought it would be terrible if I didn't go as well. Luckily for me, I did get in to the school, but my friend didn't. We were both devastated that we weren't going to be together, and I am convinced that I was no more able to learn than she was. In fact, she performed better than me in our SAT tests.

It's fascinating to look at the (lack of) evidence around IQ tests, and consider it alongside my experiences at school.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Bilingual at school - new post on BOLD blog

My latest post on the Blog on Learning and Development looks at the evidence behind being bilingual at school. Does it help or hinder learning? The answer is much less straightforward than you might think.

You can read the post here.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Students contributing to research - new post on BOLD blog

My latest post for the Blog on Learning and Development examines the suggestion that students may be able to contribute to educational neuroscience research. You can read the post here.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

How the brain works

A new online resource gives readers a glimpse into how the brain works.

Professor Michael Thomas from the Centre for Educational Neuroscience tells us more about this new website.

Educational neuroscience is about taking findings from neuroscience - and exploring their potential to enhancing learning in the classroom. From the outside, it sometimes seems like how the brain works is a bit of a mystery. But there is a lot we do know. The new resource gives an accessible, sometimes even humorous, overview of what we know about how the brain works. It gives a glimpse of the sorts of things the brain does that are likely to impact on learning - for example, that memories are consolidated during sleep and key themes extracted from the day's learning. Not having enough sleep - as with many teenagers these days - will likely therefore impact on learning.

This video shows the possible impact of not getting enough sleep.

Who is the website aimed at?

Parents and teachers, but not neuroscientists!

Where did the idea for this website come from?

I was having coffee with a neuroanatomist, an expert in the field, who claimed we know 'almost nothing about how the brain works'. That's true in a sense - we don't know how the detailed microcircuitry works, we don't know how the brain generates consciousness - but it's also selling neuroscience short. There's plenty we do know, and I thought it was time to try to get these ideas across.

And finally, what is the most interesting fact on the website?

There are definitely intriguing titbits. It turns out, for example, that most of the neurons in the brain aren't in the cortex (the wrinkly bit on the outside that is involved in the kinds of skills we learn in school, numeracy and literacy). Most of the neurons in the brain are actually in the cerebellum: about 80%. That's the small, cauliflower-looking bit at the back. What does that do? It's dedicated to the job of coordinating movement and sensation, making all your movements hang together and run smoothly and automatically. That actually takes a lot of unconscious thinking power!

Perhaps the most surprising thing for educational neuroscience is that we now know that many of the properties of learning that we find in people aren't necessary properties of learning devices. As we build computers that can learn, we now understand that emotions like ‘stress’ or ‘anxiety’ aren't necessary. These emotions seem to detract from learning performance in people. We know computers can learn without getting disappointed at failure or cock-a-hoop at success. The fact these properties are found in human learning is because we have to do learning with brains, which have their own particular biological and evolutionary history.

This post first appeared on the NPJ Science of Learning community website.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Creating a common language - new post on BOLD blog

My latest blog post for BOLD looks at the suggestion that teachers and researchers need to create a common language in order for translation to be successful. In this post, I examine whether or not we do need a common language.

You can read the post here.

You can read my other BOLD posts here.

Friday, 9 November 2018

New paper: Language phenotypes in children with sex chromosome trisomies

I'm excited that a new paper from my time working as a Research Assistant with Professor Dorothy Bishop is out, in unrefereed form. It has been published in Wellcome Open Research which is a new open access online journal, where each paper is published before review. The peer review process is open and changes may be made to the paper following review.

The paper describes the language phenotypes of children with sex chromosome trisomies. The other research assistants working on this project and I (there are a quite a few of us!) spent a lot of time driving round the country to see give children with an extra sex chromosome (i.e. XXX, XXY, or XYY) a large battery of tests. We also saw many twins (with no trisomy) who provide control data for this sample.

The paper found that there is large variation in phenotypes across the different trisomies, and concluded that although there is increased risk of language problems in those with a trisomy, there is a range of possible outcomes.

You can read the full paper here.

Reference: Bishop DVM, Brookman-Byrne A, Gratton N et al. Language phenotypes in children with sex chromosome trisomies [version 1; referees: awaiting peer review]. Wellcome Open Res 2018, 3:143 (

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Teachers conducting research - new post on BOLD blog

My latest post for the Jacobs Foundation's Blog on Learning and Development (BOLD) is about teachers conducting their own research in the classroom. In the post I highlight the benefits of this for teachers and for the wider educational neuroscience community. You can read the post here.

My other posts for the BOLD blog can be found here.

Monday, 8 October 2018

School bullying - new post on BOLD blog

My latest post on the Blog on Learning and Development addresses school bullying and how it might be addressed.

You can read it here.

My other posts for the BOLD blog can be found here.

Monday, 1 October 2018

New job!

I'm really excited to be starting a new post as a Research Fellow. I will be continuing to work at Birkbeck, within the CBCD and CEN. Half of my time will be spent writing up papers and analysing data from my PhD, and the other half will be spent working on a public engagement project with Georgie Donati. We will be creating a short film (with the help of professional film makers!) about the adolescent brain, designed with and for teachers. If you're a teacher and would like to be involved in this project please do get in touch. Our aim is to make it as useful and engaging as possible. Watch this space for the final finished product!

Thank you to Birkbeck and the Wellcome Trust ISSF for supporting this work.