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.

IMBES conference 2018 and award

I'm currently on my journey home after a great time in LA at the University of Southern California for the 2018 International Mind, Brain, and Education Society (IMBES) conference.

There was a fantastic pre-conference for trainees, where I was lucky enough to give a talk about my research in collaboration with teachers, and the public engagement work I've been involved with. Thanks to the Jacobs Foundation I was one of six awardees to be named an "Exceptional Trainee" in the field of mind, brain, and education, in policy and practice. I was delighted to be given the award, and am thankful for the appreciation of work that is not always recognised in this manner within academia. I'm looking forward to continuing more work that brings science to education, with the help of teachers.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

PhD submitted!

Last week I submitted my PhD thesis! As you can imagine, it was a huge relief, and now I await the viva. My thesis is entitled "The cognitive and neural bases of science and maths reasoning in adolescence". I put my abstract into a word cloud generator which gave me this cool image:

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Desirable difficulties - new post on BOLD blog

My latest post on the BOLD blog introduces the concept of desirable difficulties in learning. This is the idea that making learning difficult can sometimes lead to better outcomes.

You can read the post here.

There are some handy resources on this topic from the Learning Scientists, and this topic was covered on the Learning Zone.