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Neuroscience & Learning. Year 1 Semester 2 Lead Lecture Week 10 Chris Jenkins. WELL DONE TO YOU ALL!. SEN Personalised Learning Task. The Brain & Learning:. Key Question:.

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Neuroscience & Learning

Year 1 Semester 2

Lead Lecture

Week 10

Chris Jenkins


SEN Personalised Learning Task

The Brain & Learning:

Key Question:

Do you think that knowledge about how the brain works is important in designing approaches to learning / education?

Facts about your brain:

  • An adult human brain is about the size of a grapefruit and weighs about1300-1400g.

  • It is 78% water, 10% fat and 8% protein.

  • It weighs about 2% of your body weight but uses about 20% of your energy and your oxygen.

Neo-cortex Mammalian brain

Reptilian brain


  • Education is about enhancing learning

  • Neuroscience aims to provide understanding of the mental processes involved in learning

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI):

FMRI is an MRI procedure that measures brain activity by detecting associated changes in blood flow.

Electroencephalography (EEG)EEG is the recording of electrical activity along the scalp.


A neuromyth is…

“a misconception generated by a misunderstanding, a misreading or a misquoting of facts scientifically established…”

(OECD, 2002, p111)


Neuromytholgies of quantity:

“If we can get more of the brain to ‘light up’ then learning will improve ...”

Neuromytholgies of quality:

“If we concentrate teaching on the ‘lit-up’ brain areas then learning will improve ...”

So what do we know?

Brain Care:

  • Omega-3 (fish oils)

  • Caffeine

  • Sleep

  • Water

Omega-3 (fish oils)

  • Good regular diet probably most important nutritional issue influencing educational performance and achievement

  • Proven importance / impact of having breakfast

  • NO published evidence to demonstrate Omega-3 supplements enhance school performance in the general population of children

  • Growing evidence for reduced risk of dementia in later life and fish consumption in pregnancy may relate to infant IQ

  • Such oils do work in certain context for children with ADHD – findings as yet unclear


  • A 500ml bottle of cola has same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee

  • Children commonly experience caffeine withdrawal

  • Withdrawal - children aged 9-10 drinking no more than 2 cans a day demonstrate reduced alertness compared with non-users

  • Caffeine raises alertness only to baseline levels and only temporarily – implications?


  • Sleep is an important part of learning

  • Helps us to ‘lay down’ and consolidate memories so we can draw on them later

  • Sleeping brain shown to reproduce neural activity characterising preceding state of wakefulness

  • Helps us prepare to learn more and use what we know to generate insights (‘sleeping on it’)


  • Very few studies investigating effects of dehydration on children

  • Confirm deleterious effect of even mild dehydration on ability to think

  • BUT recent adult study shows drinking water when NOT thirsty has the same effect

  • Encourage children to drink WHEN THIRSTY

  • Exercise & exceptionally hot weather: children’s monitoring systems are less reliable – need encouraging

Developmental Disorders

  • Dyslexia / Dyscalculia

  • ADHD

Dyslexia / Dyscalculia

  • Brain imaging techniques show differences in brain function of those with these conditions and those without

  • Imaging techniques can potentially be used to identify:

    • those at risk

    • the effectiveness of interventions designed to help

  • Demonstrates brain’s plasticity – education can critically affect how the brain operates

ADHD – Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

  • Research suggests:

    • Some children are much more impulsive, restless and disorganised than others

    • Strongest influence is genes that affect brain chemistry and neuropsychological functioning

    • Not a moral failing – children can’t choose to have ADHD

    • Some ways of teaching & managing classrooms suit these children better - schools need to be aware

    • At the extreme – some receive a medical diagnosis and medication (Ritalin)

Brain-Based Learning?

  • Brain Gym

  • Learning Styles

  • Multiple Intelligences

  • Right Brain / Left Brain

Brain Gym

‘ The pseudo-scientific terms that are used to explain how this works, let alone the concepts they express, are unrecognisable within the domains of neuroscience.’

Teaching & Learning Research Programme (2005) Neuroscience & Education

Ben Goldacre (author of Bad Science)The Guardian,Saturday February 16 2008


  • Vigorous exercise DOES improve mental function

  • It also provides a ‘brain-break’

  • There is NO SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE to support the idea that co-ordination exercises integrate the functions of the right and left brain hemisphere


Exercise that increases blood flow anywhere,

increases blood flow everywhere.

(Geake, 2009)

Learning Styles

Brain interconnectivity includes the senses

  • All primates are V A K

    • including humans

  • Congenitally blind children using Braille do so through the parts of their visual cortex sighted children use to learning written language

  • Unsighted people create the same mental spatial maps of their physical reality as sighted people do – information is auditory / tactile but used as if it is visual.

5 year olds can reliably distinguish different sized groups (V x V)



5 year olds can reliably distinguish different sized groups (V x V)



What happens when one group is replaced by as many sounds (V x A)?



5 year olds can reliably distinguish different sized groups (V x V)



What happens when one group is replaced by as many sounds (V x A)?



No change in accuracy!

VAK not learning styles but pre-learning perceptual acuities

  • Input modalities in the brain are inter-linked

    visual auditory

    visual motor



  • Input information is abstracted to be processed and learnt, mostly unconsciously, through the brain’s interconnectivity

VAK classroom paradoxes

  • The V and K ‘learners’ at a concert

  • The A and K ‘learners’ at an art gallery

  • The V and A ‘learners’ in a craft practical lesson

VAK research

  • 121 different learning style inventories

  • Commercially available

  • Independent research: no learning benefit from any

  • No improvement of learning outcomes with V, A, K above teacher enthusiasm

  • “attempts to focus on learning styles were wasted effort” Kratzig & Arbuthnott (2006)

Plato (500 BC)








Gardner (1980 AD)








Multiple Intelligences - nothing new here ...

Plato (500 BC)








Gardner (1980 AD)








Multiple Intelligences - nothing new here ...

Common brain functions for all acts of intelligence: NB school learning

Working memory <= lateral frontal cortex

Long term memory <= hippocampus + …

Decision making <= orbitofrontal cortex

Emotional mediation <= limbic subcortex + ofc

Sequencing of symbolic representation <= fusiform gyrus + temporal lobe

Conceptual inter-relationships <= parietal lobe

Conceptual rehearsal <= cerebellum

Geake (2009)

In other words, there are no Multiple Intelligences, but rather, it is argued, multiple applications of the same multifaceted intelligence

(Geake, 2008 p126)

Left & Right Brain;

  • The brain has 2 halves or hemispheres.

  • They process information differently

  • The left brain is more concerned with logic.

  • The right brain is more concerned with creativity.

  • But it’s far more complex than that. The two halves work together, balancing the abstract, holistic picture with the concrete, logical messages.

The Quiz

Any aspects not covered / unclear?

How did you do?

Bibliography :

  • Blakemore, S-J. & Frith, U. (2005) The Learning Brian: Lessons for Education. Oxford: Blackwell

  • Geake, J. (2008) Neuromythologies in Education Journal of Educational Research Vol. 50, No. 2, June 2008, 123-133

  • Geake, J. (2009) The Brain at School: Educational Neuroscience in the classroom. Maidenhead: OUP

  • Goswami, U. (2006) Neuroscience and education: from research to practice, Nature Reviews: Neuroscience

  • Greenfield, S. The Human Brain. London: Phoenix

  • Teaching & Learning Research Programme (2005) Neuroscience & Education

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