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Stuff about the brain for teachers

Posted By Jeremy Dudman-Jones, 28 February 2020

Jeremy Dudman-Jones previews his upcoming live webinar, exploring research from neuroscience and cognitive psychology and what it means for those working in schools…

As a teacher of over 30 years I now think that it is vital that as a profession, or indeed as anyone remotely interested in working with people, teachers should know a great deal more about the important new discipline of neuroscience. As a result I became a founder member of Learnus: a voluntary group that sets out to form bridges between academics and practitioners, striving to inform those at the “chalk face” with knowledge and ideas that are currently sitting on the desks of various departments of neuroscience and cognitive psychology. If you are a curious teacher or an interested parent, if you are a student currently intrigued by changes in behaviour or a lay person simply wondering about brain processes, join me on 10 March 2020 for a live webinar on “Stuff about the brain for teachers” (sign in to the NACE members’ site for details and registration).

In the webinar I will talk about some case studies that drew me into the world of educational neuroscience before I try to unpick ideas on how memories are formed and indeed lost. A memory is an interesting biological idea. To form a memory new synaptic connections need to be produced; this requires effort and amino acids. Memories are also difficult to maintain; why for example do I tend to only remember about 10% of a book I have read, even though at the time I really enjoyed it? I will talk about synaptic pruning in adolescents and how brain maturation in the same age group can lead to interesting and sometimes challenging patterns of behaviour.

It is nearly universally accepted that sleep is vital to a healthy mind, but why is it that as humans we spend nearly 23 years of a normal lifetime engaged in such an unconscious state? Recent research on the eye has unearthed new cells that are responsible for our sensitivity to circadian rhythms, but why does it seem to have a different rhythm if you are an adult compared to a teenager? If we really need a certain amount of sleep, what is happening in the brain whilst it is happening? How does all of this impact on the daily life of a school or a family or an individual? I hope to delve into some of these questions using easily accessible research findings.

Interestingly as one grows from a baby to an adult the brain itself changes; cognitive psychologists refer to this as brain plasticity and brain maturation. Again, what are the cognitive psychologists talking about when they use such terms? How can a brain change fundamentally from the age of 10 to the age of 20 and what impact will this have on people’s behaviour? It is possible to learn things later in life, but why is it so much easier as small child? As I work through the presentation, hopefully some of these questions will be answered, although no doubt they will raise even more for future discussion and possible research.

Lastly I will touch upon the power of chemicals and in particular neurotransmitters. After all much of what the brain does and in a sense what it feels is directed by these chemicals. I will hopefully explore the impact of at least three of these chemicals; on memory acquisition, on behaviour, on sleep and on relationships. It is strange to think that we are slaves to these chemicals, but can we also control them or synthesize them?

To finish I will touch upon other ideas in behavioural psychology, taking some inspiration from a range of research that basically divides our behaviour into two main categories, some of which we find easy and some of which we find difficult. How do these systems alter life in a school or simply a classroom? How do the two systems impact on us as parents, leaders and managers?

Finally, I will ask about next steps. Any bridge is incomplete without two-way traffic. What is it that those of us that are not academics want researchers to do next? What questions in neuroscience do we have that need answering and how can we assist each other in coming up with answers that will go on to inform best practice in life?

Jeremy Dudman-Jones is Assistant Headteacher at Greenford High School and a Founder Member of Learnus, a community dedicated to bringing together educators and those who specialise in the study of the brain, using insights from high-quality research to improve and enrich learning for all. On 10 March 2020 Jeremy will present a free webinar for NACE members. To join the live session and/or to access recordings of all past webinars, visit our webinars page (login required).

Tags:  adolescence  CPD  myths and misconceptions  neuroscience  pyschology  research 

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