Friday, 29 November 2019

Incredible neuroscience - report in The Psychologist

On Monday 25 November I attended the British Neuroscience Association's 'Credibility in Neuroscience' launch at the House of Commons. Professor Dorothy Bishop and Professor Lord Robert Winston spoke. You can read my report from the event here.

Here's a picture of some cards from the event, encouraging funders, researchers, publishers and others to improve neuroscience (click to enlarge).

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

What's the mechanism? Report in The Psychologist

Last week I attended the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development's 21st anniversary celebration. There were 39 speakers so reporting was a challenge! You can read the report here.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Exposing the facts of patriarchy - double book review in The Psychologist

I reviewed The Guilty Feminist: From our Noble Goals to our Worst Hypocrisies by Deborah Frances-White and Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Created for Men by Caroline Criado Perez. You can read the double review here.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Reducing academic flying report in The Psychologist

Last week I attended a symposium at the University of Sheffield about reducing academic flying. My report of the day is on The Psychologist website here: Fly or die in academia? In the article I outline the problem as well as some solutions.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Interview with Susan Cousins in The Psychologist

I asked Susan Cousins about her new book, 'Overcoming Everyday Racism:  Building Resilience and Wellbeing in the Face of Discrimination and Microaggressions'. You can read the interview here.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Should homework be scrapped? New post on BOLD blog

My latest post for the Blog on Learning and Development looks at the benefits and costs of homework for primary and secondary school children. You can read the post here.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Teaching children about diverse families - new post on BOLD blog

My latest post on the Jacobs Foundation Blog on Learning and Development (BOLD) looks at the importance of LGBT-inclusive education for children's wellbeing. It considers the importance for children who may be LGBT themselves, or families who have LGBT members, or teachers who are LGBT. You can read the post here.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Teachers learn about neuroscience - new post on BOLD blog

My new post for the Blog on Learning and Development considers what teachers need to know about neuroscience, if anything. It reports on work by Paul Howard-Jones with secondary teachers and Pete Etchells with primary teachers, that is teaching key principles of neuroscience to teachers in training. You can read the post here.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Supporting school teachers - new post on BOLD blog

My lastest post for the Blog on Learning and Development is called 'Supporting school teachers
How can we keep valuable teachers in post?'. In this piece I look at some concerning data around teacher retention in England, and consider what support teachers might need. You can read it here.

Three new reviews in The Psychologist

This week, three of my reviews appeared on The Psychologist website (also coming in the November print edition).

An episode of the radio programme Desert Island Discs with firefighter and psychologist Sabrina Cohen-Hatton.

The secret to great storytelling

The book 'The Science of Storytelling: Why Stories Make Us Human, and How to Tell Them Better' by Will Storr.

Find the reason
The play 'Reasons to stay alive' at Studio Theatre, Sheffield.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Overcoming students' misconceptions - new post on BOLD blog

My latest post on the Blog on Learning and Development considers where common misconceptions come from, and how teachers can help children to overcome them. Read the post here!

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Promoting teacher autonomy - new post on BOLD blog

My latest piece for the Blog On Learning and Development is called 'Promoting teacher autonomy'. This post is about the importance of supporting teacher independence through educational neuroscience. Some people worry that educational neuroscience aims to give teachers a strict set of guidelines to follow, but researchers actually want to provide teachers with evidence so they can choose the most appropriate strategy in a given moment.

All of my posts for BOLD can be found here.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Relational reasoning in science and maths - new paper

'The unique contributions of verbal analogical reasoning and nonverbal matrix reasoning to science and maths problem-solving in adolescence' is a new paper written by me and my PhD supervisors - Denis Mareschal, Andy Tolmie, and Iroise Dumontheil.

In the paper we explore behavioural and neural associations between two types of relational reasoning, and science and maths, in 11- to 14-year-olds. You can freely access the paper here.

The research was funded by the ESRC, the Wellcome Trust, and Birkbeck, University of London.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Future avenues for educational neuroscience - new paper

'Future avenues for educational neuroscience from the perspective of EARLI SIG 22 conference attendees' is a new paper published in Mind, Brain, and Education, written by me, and Lia Commissar from the Wellcome Trust.

In the paper we talk about the approach we took in organising the EARLI SIG 22 conference, which was based on ideas from the educational neuroscience community contributed during the last IMBES conference. You can read those ideas in our previous paper! The approach included things like inclusivity, including plenty of discussions, and importantly, ensuring those discussions are captured.

We decided that it would be great opportunity to capture the views of the educational neuroscience community, through a survey. We were mainly aiming to capture delegates' visions for research and translation in educational neuroscience. The survey questions can be seen here.

From 88 completed surveys, we first noted a common desire for more discussions and collaborations across disciplines, and between teachers and researchers. More novel ideas included discussion of ethical issues, inclusion of learners in research development, open resources for teacher training in neuroscience, and mentoring networks for community members. Thank you everyone who responded!

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Reaching and interacting with your intended audience as a science communicator

Earlier this month I was in Lausanne, Switzerland, for the World Conference of Science Journalists. I took part in an event organised by the Jacobs Foundation called 'The science of learning and science journalism'. In the morning session, I ran one of four parallel rotating round-table discussions, with the others led by Nora Maria Raschle, Cristina Riesen, and Sabine Gysi. 

My round-table focused on reaching and interacting with your intended audience as a science communicator, journalist, or editor. I used examples of my educational neuroscience work aimed at facilitating conversations between neuroscientists and teachers. Within the group discussions I asked the following questions of the journalists present to stimulate discussion:
  • How can we know whether or not our communications with the public have been helpful and effective and reached the right people?
    This is a challenge I have faced during my science communication work, where I have written blog posts or created some kind of output designed for teachers, and been unsure whether or not teachers have acted on the information, or even accessed the output.
  • Do the best solutions for change come from moving beyond traditional written journalistic pieces?
    When communicating science, we are often hoping to cause some kind of change - for example, thinking about something in a different way, or using a new strategy in the classroom. I wondered if outputs like video or podcast are more effective in causing change than articles or blog posts.
  • If so, what can journalists (and editors) do differently?
    Do more efforts need to be made to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and try something new?
  • What types of format best lend themselves to reaching and getting useful feedback from the public?
    If we want to know what impact we are having, getting feedback from users is essential.
I had engaging conversations with each group that participated, and there were a number of common areas that we spoke about. Most people agreed that a diversity of formats is important for the most impact - and in particular, podcasts were thought to be the best way of reaching audiences. This format allows for more in depth discussion of key issues, and can keep the attention of users for a long period of time. 

Social media was brought up in each discussion. Overall it was felt that this is a valuable tool for sharing information and also for getting feedback. Some warned of the possibility of stories turning into click-bait if social media interactions become the most important metric. Another concern was that this method can only reach a small group of users, potentially those most keen, as many don't use social media. There was agreement that social media isn't enough if we want to truly interact with our audience. Conversations need to happen in real life, and to get the most valuable feedback, we need to embed ourselves into our audiences.

Finally, many of the discussions ended up concluding that while we can and should make efforts to reach our intended audiences and get feedback, we need to accept that we can't always get the feedback we want. Writers, journalists and editors need to create the stories they want to share, and hope that they do have some impact.

Thank you to everyone who engaged in these discussions, to Sabine Gysi for inviting me to take part, and to the Jacobs Foundation for supporting my trip to Lausanne.

Picture: Cristina Riesen. L-R Cristina Riesen, Annie Brookman-Byrne, Nora Maria Raschle, Sabine Gysi.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Fighting for educational neuroscience - new post on BOLD blog

My latest post for the Blog on Learning and Development is inspired by a new paper from Professor Michael Thomas, which calls for an end to the bridge analogies in educational neuroscience. Read the post here.

Reports from the World Conference of Science Journalists in The Psychologist

I was recently lucky enough to go the World Conference of Science Journalists in Lausanne, Switzerland, thanks to the Jacobs Foundation. I have written up reports from my three favourite sessions which were about the balance trap in science journalism, ending the dread of constant negative news, and an indigenous perspective on science. You can read them here.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

School-based advocates for evidence - new post on BOLD blog

My latest post for the Blog on Learning and Development looks at the concept of the Research Lead, and consider the potential for these school-based advocates for evidence. Read the post here.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Translating questionable research to the classroom - new post on BOLD blog

My latest post for the Blog on Learning and Development is a follow up to my previous piece on ensuring that research informs teaching and learning. In my new post I consider the role that the replication crisis in psychology may have had on the finding that many educational trials are uninformative.

You can read the post here.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Ensuring research informs teaching and learning - new post on BOLD blog

My latest post for the Blog on Learning and Development (BOLD) discusses a recent review into randomised control trials in education. This review found that most trials in education are uninformative. I explore the reasons for this, and consider how the research community might move forward. You can read the post here.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

New job!

I'm very excited to have started a new job at the British Psychological Society as Deputy Editor of The Psychologist magazine! Throughout my PhD I was spending increasing amounts of time on science writing and public engagement, so I'm really pleased to be able to focus on this in my new role.

Sadly this means I will be leaving some of my educational neuroscience work behind. I am stepping down from my role as a coordinator for EARLI SIG 22, a position which helped me to get involved with the international educational neuroscience community. A highlight of my time with the SIG was co-organising the 2018 conference with Lia Commissar from the Wellcome Trust.

But, I do still have papers in the pipeline based on my PhD and postdoc research, and I will continue blogging about educational neuroscience whenever I can!

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.