Innovation Investigation

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Perceptions of the role of
neuroscience in education
Paul Howard-Jones, Sue Pickering and Anne Diack
Contents
Foreword 4
1. Historical and literary contexts 8
Historical 8
Literary 10
2. Evidence 14
Initialsurveyofkeyissues 14
Interviewswithteachers 15
DiscussionsfromtheESRC-TLRPCollaborativeFrameworksfor
NeuroscienceandEducationseminars 16
3. Analysis and Discussion 17
Initialsurveyofkeyissues 17
Summaryofthefindingsfromthequestionnairestudy 30
Interviewswithteachers 31
Summaryofthefindingsfromtheinterviewswithteachers 45
DiscussionsfromtheESRC-TLRPCollaborativeFrameworksfor
NeuroscienceandEducationseminars 45
4. Conclusions 47
5. Further Consultation 48
The Innovation Unit 49
Neuroscience and Education Network 49
References 50
4
Foreword
Anne Diack
DirectorofMedia,CommunicationsandResearch,TheInnovationUnit
TheseriesInnovation Investigationis
publishedbyTheInnovationUnitto
makecertainresearchavailableinan
accessibleformattobothpolicymakers
andpractitioners.Perceptions of the Role of
Neuroscience in Educationisthesixthtitlein
theseries
1
.Othertopicscoveredareschool
effectiveness;personalisedlearning;school
councils;usingevidencefromresearchin
schools,transferandscalingupand,tobe
publishedshortly,teachersasinnovative
professionals.
InthisInnovation Investigationpublication
PaulHoward-JonesandSuePickeringofthe
UniversityofBristolpresentthefindingsof
researchcarriedoutforTheInnovationUnit.
Theresearchwascommissionedtoinforma
seriesofseminarsbetweeneducationalists
andneuroscientistsorganisedby
theTeachingandLearningResearch
Programme(TLRP)andEconomicandSocial
ResearchCouncil(ESRC)heldin2005-2006.
ThePerceptionsresearchitselfisnowto
bepublishedintheforthcomingissueof
Brain, Mind and Education,thejournalof
theInternationalMind,BrainandEducation
Society
2
.
TheInnovationUnitfundedthisresearch
followingapresentationPaulHoward-Jones
hadmadetoameetingofagroupofsome
ofthecountry’sleadingneuroscientists,
educators,andBBCeducationpolicymakers,
andlaterTheInnovationUnit.Thisgroup
metfrom2000-2004andwaspartofamore
generaldrivetotrytobuildbridgesand
developacommonlanguage,ormodes
ofdiscussion,betweenneuroscientists
andeducators.(Otherinterdisciplinary
developmentsarecoveredinthebodyof
thisreport.)Thegroupincubatedanumber
ofinterdisciplinaryprojectsofwhichthis
particularstudywasone.
Thisreportdoesthreethings.First,it
documentstheoveralldebateabout
neuroscienceandeducation,andit
shouldbenotedthatalthoughthisisa
developingfieldasnewscientificfindings
1 HopkinsD,ReynoldsD,Gray,J(2005),School Improvement – Lessons from Research,DfESInnovationUnit.
Rudduck,J,BrownN,Hendy,L(2006),Personalised Learning and Pupil Voice: The East Sussex Project,DfES
InnovationUnit.
CUREE(2007)Harnessing knowledge to practice: accessing and using evidence from research,TheInnovationUnit.
CUREE(2007) Transferring learning and taking innovation to scale: case study materials, TheInnovationUnit.
Whitty,G,WisbyE,Diack,A(2007)Real decision making? School councils in action,TheInnovationUnit.
2 Pickering,SJandHoward-Jones,PA(2007)Findings from a study of UK and International Perspectives,in:Brain,
Mind and Education,1(3),109-113.
3 MaguireEAetal(2000)Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers,in:Proceedings of
the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,Vol.97,Issue8,4398-4403,April11,2000.
5
arebeingreleasedonafrequentbasis,
therearesomegeneralissuesthathave
continuingresonance.Second,itinvestigates
theperceptionsofteachersaboutthe
importanceofneuroscienceintheirtraining.
Third,itdocumentswherethissampleof
teachersobtainedtheirknowledgeabout
neuroscienceandwhatimpact,ifany,itwas
havingontheirclassroompractice.
Asthereportshows,currentteachertraining
programmesgenerallyomitthescience
ofhowwelearn,sotheinformationthat
teachersaregettingcomesfromanumber
ofsources.
Onesourceisthegeneralmedia.Thefield
ofneurosciencemakesattractivecopyfor
journalists.Thestudyofthebrainisseenas
excitingandcanlenditselftosomeheadline
grabbingclaimsorfindings.Someofthese
cancoverthesciencewithafairdegreeof
accuracyasinthestoryaboutLondontaxi
drivers
3
whichreportedthatcabdrivers’
’greymatter‘enlargesandadaptstohelp
themstoreadetailedmentalmapofthecity.
Taxidriversgivenbrainscansbyscientists
atUniversityCollegeLondonwerefound
tohavedifferencesinthehippocampus
comparedwithotherpeople.Partsoftheir
hippocampiwerelarger.(Thehippocampus
isthepartofthebrainassociatedwith
navigation.)Thescientistsalsofoundpart
ofthehippocampusgrewlargerasthetaxi
driversspentmoretimeonthejob.Although
notalltheindividualelementsofthe
researchwerereported,thebasicfindings
didgetwidespreadpressattention–helped,
also,probably,bywordofmouthfromsome
Londoncabdrivers!Notallbrainresearch
findingsoffersuchmediafriendly’hooks’on
whichtohangastory.
Othersourcesofinformationforthe
teachingprofessionareconferences,in-
servicetrainingcourses,books,materials
andjournals(bothprofessionaland
academic).Inanumberofinstances
informationfromthesesourcesisbasedon
so-called‘brain-based’teachingmethods.
FollowingthedeclarationbytheUSin1990
forthenexttenyearstobethe’Decade
oftheBrain‘.authorities,teachersand
entrepreneursdevelopedandpromoted
anumberof’brain-based‘educationideas.
Thosethataremoreevidence-based,such
asstrategiesforenhancedmemory,tendto
drawtheirevidencefrompsychology,rather
thanneuroscience.Othershavenotbeen
scientificallyoreducationallyassessedwith
anyrigour,butoftenusepseudo-scientific
explanationstosupporttheircredibility.
6
In2006,theOfficeofEconomicCooperation
andDevelopmentpublishedareportofan
internationalconferenceonPersonalising
EducationheldinLondon,organised
jointlybytheOCED,TheInnovationUnit
andthethink-tankDemos.Oneofthe
paperspresentedattheconferencewas
on’BrainResearchandLearningOverthe
LifeCycle‘inwhichManfredSpitzer,head
ofthePsychiatricHospitalattheUniversity
ofUlminGermany,arguedthatwhilewe
mightbeinthecomparativelyearlystages
ofunderstandinghowthebrainfunctions,
weknowenough“tobetonthefruitfulness
ofpersonalisedlearning”
4
.(Personalisation
andhowitcanberesourcedinschoolsis
oneofthestrandsofTheInnovationUnit’s
NextPracticeinEducationprogramme.)
Itmaywellbethatapartfromtryingto
understandsomeofthepopularideas
aboutthebrainthathaveflourishedandare
impactingonteachingandlearning,more
generalthemessuchaspersonalisation
andtheroleofemotioninlearningdeserve
furtherscientificresearchandwillprovide
fruitfullinesofenquiry.
Whatisclearisthatitisimportantfor
educationalistsandteachersalongwith
scientistsandresearcherstosharetogether
whattheyarefindingoutaboutsuccessful
learninginthisnewinterdisciplinaryfield
ofneuroscienceandeducation,andifyou
wanttotakesomeoftheseissuesfurther,
logontoTheInnovationUnitwebsite
(www.innovation-unit.co.uk)tofindouthow
todebatethefindingsandimplicationsof
thisreport.
TheauthorsofthisInnovation Investigation
notethatifsuchprogrammesareeffective,
wemaynotyetunderstandwhy.These
programmesincludeinitiativessuchasBrain
Gymandmethodsintendedtoappealto
differentbrain-basedlearningstyles(eg
visual,auditoryandkinaestheticlearning
-orVAK).Althoughthescientificbasisof
thesemethodsishighlycontentious,many
teachersreportedthattheyhadfoundthem
veryuseful,particularlywhenchildrenwere
lessreceptivetomoretraditionalteaching
methods.Onerespondentsaidthatsuch
approaches“improvedthesuccessofthe
teachingandlearning”andledto“happier
childrenwhoaremoreengagedinthe
activities”.
However,asDrPaulHoward-Jones,co-
authorofthisreport,says“Muchofwhat
teachersperceiveasbrain-basedteaching,
suchaseducationalkinesiology,ispromoted
inverydubiouspseudo-scientifictermsand
westilldon’treallyknowhow,andevenif,
itworks.Otherprogrammes,suchasthose
involvinglearningstyles,drawonsome
meaningfulsciencebut,whenchildrenget
labelledas‘avisuallearner’or‘anauditory
learner’andareonlyevertaughtineither
avisualorauditoryway,thenthescience
isbeingseriouslyover-interpretedand
misapplied.Thegoodnews,however,is
thateffortstobridgethegapbetween
neuroscienceandeducationaredebunking
manyoftheseideas,andopeningupfresh
opportunitiesforvaluableandexciting
initiativesthatarebothscientificallyand
educationallysound.”
4 Spitzer.M(2006)Brain Research and Learning over the Life Cycle in Personalising Learning (Schooling for
Tomorrow),OCEDParis.
7
8
1. Historical and literary contexts
Historical
In1990,thedecadeofthebrainwas
launchedintheUS.Thisprompted
successfulattemptsbyauthorities,teachers
andentrepreneurstopromoteanumber
of‘brain-based’educationideassuchas
‘Rightbrainversusleftbrain’thinking
andindividuals,BrainGymandlearning
styles.Those‘brain-based’ideasthatare
moreevidence-based,suchasstrategies
forenhancedmemory,tendtodrawtheir
evidencefrompsychology,ratherthan
neuroscience(Bruer,1999).Others,suchas
thosefoundinbraingym,havenotbeen
scientificallyoreducationallyassessedwith
anyrigour,butoftenusepseudo-scientific
explanationstosupporttheircredibility

.
Ifsuchprogrammesareeffective,wemay
notyetunderstandwhy.Thepotentialease
andwillingnessbywhichneuroscientific
findingsare‘re-interpreted’ineducational
andpoliticaldomainswasdemonstrated
mostpowerfullyintheearlyyearseducation
debate.In1996,HillaryClintondecided
toemphasiseatawell-publicisedWhite
Housemeetingthatbrainresearchshowed
howtheenvironmentdeterminedwhether
children“growuptobepeacefulorviolent
citizens,focusedorundisciplinedworkers,
attentiveordetachedparents…”.Such
ideasinevitablyinfluencedattitudesabout
theimportanceofearlyyearseducation
asreflected,intheUK,bytheintroduction
oftheEarlyLearningGoalsin1999.And
yet,alaterreviewoftheneuroscience
literaturehasconcludedthatevidencefrom
brainresearchdoesnotsupportaselective
educationalfocusonchildren’searliestyears
(BlakemoreandFrith,2005,p35).
About10yearsaftertheflourishingofthis
initial,andoftenunscientific,interpretation
ofthebrain’sroleineducation,asmall
numberofneuroscientistsbegan
persistentandactiveeffortstosuggest
thateducationcouldindeedbenefitfrom
greaterawarenessofourunderstanding
ofthebrain.Mostnotably,UtaFrithand
hercolleagueSarah-JayneBlakemore
werecommissionedbytheTeachingand
LearningResearchProgramme(TLRP)to
carryoutareviewofneuroscientificfindings
thatmaybeofrelevancetoeducators
(BlakemoreandFrith,2000).Thisreview
attackedanumberofmyths,includingthose
concerningcriticalperiods,andhighlighted
somenewareasofpotentialinterestto
educatorssuchastheroleofsleepin
learning.Ratherthanpointoutareaswhere
neurosciencecouldbeimmediatelyapplied
ineducation,thereviewsoughttohighlight
neuroscientificquestionsthatmightbe
ofinteresttoeducators,thusmakingan
importantinitialsteptowardsdefining
aninterdisciplinaryareaofcollaborative
research.InJanuary2001,topromote
furtherdiscussionaboutapossibleresearch
agenda,theTLRPwroteto439institutions,
1 ThereisevidencethatBrainGymimprovesreactiontime(SifftandKahlsa,1991),buttheunderlying
mechanismsandtherelevanceofthisfindingtoeducationhavenotbeenwellresearched.
º
including233scientificinstitutionsand
193educationdepartmentsinhigher
education,askingforcommentsonthe
reportbyBlakemoreandFrith.Inaddition
toidentifyinganyomissions,respondents
wereparticularlyaskedtoprovide(inbold)
‘identificationofkeyresearchquestions,
…theirpriority…andestimateoftheir
tractability(intermsofreturnonresearch
effort)’.
Only14educationdepartmentsresponded
totherequest.Twoofthesedeclined
tocommentonthebasisofinsufficient
expertise.Theother12identifiedthe
followingareasshowninTable1.
Inthistable,thosetopicsnotmentioned
inthereviewareshowninitalics.Thus,
morethanathirdofthesuggestionsmade
byeducatorshadnotbeenpromptedby
BlakemoreandFrith’scollationofexisting
neuroscientificevidencebutwerecallingfor
neurosciencetoinitiatenewlinesofinquiry
intoissuesofbroadeducationalinterest.
Thereportontheconsultationconcluded
thatnocollaborativeresearchagendahad
yetemerged(Desforges,2001).However,
italsoreportedhowboththeeducation
andscientificcommunitieswerevery
complimentaryaboutbothcontentsand
timelinessofthereview,and,inresponse
totheconsultation,theLifelongLearning
Foundationwentontoselectandfunda
smallnumberofpilotresearchprojects.
In1999,atthesametimeastheBlakemore
andFrithreportwasbeingcommissionedin
theUK,thesupranationalOECDprojecton
‘LearningSciencesandBrainResearch’was
beinglaunchedbytheOECD’sCentrefor
EducationalResearchandInnovation(CERI).
Thefirstphaseoftheproject(1999–2002)
broughttogetherinternationalresearchers
toreviewpotentialimplicationsofrecent
researchfindingsinbrainresearchforpolicy
makers.Thesecondphase(2002–2006)
channelleditsactivitieson3mainissues
(Literacy,NumeracyandLifelongLearning)
within3trans-disciplinaryandinternational
Table 1
Proposed area for research questions Number of respondents identifying
this area
Developmentaldisorders,includingdyslexia 4
Implicit/explicitmemory 4
Genderdifferences 3
Workingmemory 1
Sensitive/criticalperiodsandplasticity 3
Evidence for Piagetian stages of development 2
Multiple Intelligences 2
Creativity 2
Other 2
I0
networksco-ordinatedincollaboration
with3leadinginstitutions(SacklerInstitute-
USA,INSERM-France,RIKENBrainScience
Institute-Japan).
Anumberofkeyeventstookplacein
2005thathavesupportedfurtherresearch
collaborationbetweenneuroscience
andeducation.ProfessorUshaGoswami
openedtheCentreforNeuroscienceand
EducationattheFacultyofEducation,
UniversityofCambridge.TheTLRPfunded
amajorseminarseries‘Collaborative
FrameworksinNeuroscienceandEducation’
thathasbeenbringingtogetherexperts
ineducationandneurosciencetodiscuss
futureresearchpossibilities.Thisseminar
serieslatergaverisetoaverypopular
commentaryaboutthearea(Howard-Jones,
2007).Abroad,Japanhadalreadyinitiated
2verylargeprogrammesofresearchin
thisinterdisciplinaryareaandtheGerman
governmentbegantheNILNeuroscience
andEducationprogrammeforresearch
fromNovember2005.Blackwellsbegan
publishinganewjournalinNeuroscience
andEducationin2007.
Literary
Theworkcarriedoutatthebeginningofthis
decadebyBlakemoreandFrithhasbeen
updated,extendedandpublishedasabook
(BlakemoreandFrith,2005).TheOECDBrain
andLearningprojecthasalsopublished
asummaryofitsinterimfindings(OECD,
2002).Boththesepublications,atnational
andsupranationallevels,highlightsimilar
areasofinterdisciplinaryinterest,suchas
plasticity,emotionandtheunderstandingof
commondevelopmentaldisorderssuchas
dyslexia.
Thiscontrastswiththeemphasisfoundin
mosteducational‘brain-based’programmes,
whichstillreflectthetypesofunscientific
conceptsfirstpromotedinthe1990s.Some
oftheseapproachesmakefleetingclaims
ofhavingabrainbasisandthendevelop
independentlyofreferencetoneuroscience.
In‘Handson:HowtoUseBrainGyminthe
Classroom’,CohenandGoldsmith(2000)
explain:
“laterality cooordinates the left and right sides
of the brain to communication effectively,
correlating to the midline movements;
centering co-ordinates the top and bottom
areas of the brain for organisation of thoughts
and action, correlating to the Energy Exercises,
and emotions correlating to Deepening
Attitudes; focus co-ordinates the receptive
brain stem with the expressive forebrain for
comprehension and perspective, correlating to
the lengthening Activities. Brain Gym results in
thorough integration of all these dimensions
and leads to significantly improved
performance.” (Authors’emphasisincolour
toindicatetechnicaltermsspecifictoBrain
Gym.)
Thistext,andotherslikeit,expressesthe
beliefthatactivityinawiderangeofneural
mechanismscanbeinfluencedbyspecific
physicalexercises.Inthesensedescribed
here,suchideasareatoddswithpresent
scientificunderstanding.
Anotherbasicconceptexpressedinthis
bookforteachersisthatwaterprovides
II
energy,(eventhoughwaterisoneofthe
fewthingsweregularlyingestthathasno
calorificcontent).Childrenareencouraged
tosingtothetuneof‘FrereJacques’:
“Let’s drink water,
I love water.
It gives me
Energy.”
BrainGymhasalsopromotedtheconcept
of‘brainbuttons’(Indentationsbetween
thefirstandsecondribsdirectlyunderthe
collarbone/clavicletotherightandleftof
thesternum/breastbone).Originallyfrom
acupuncture,CohenandGoldsmith(2000)
claimthatifchildrenprovidethemselves
withpressureatthesepoints,itwillhelp
re-establishtheorganisationnecessaryfor
readingandwriting.Otherexercisesinclude
theCross-crawl,promotedonthebasisof
activatingleft/right,top/bottomandback/
frontareasofthebrainsimultaneously,and
varietiesof‘Hook-up’forcalmingandstress-
relievingeffects.
Approachestolearningthatcomeunder
theheadingofAcceleratedLearningarea
moreeclecticmixtureofpopularly-reported
neuroscienceandpsychology,togetherwith
classroombasedobservation/expertise/
report.Booksthatpromote‘accelerated
learning’oftenincludemanyclaimsthat
conceptsarescientificallybased.Indeed,
conceptsfrompsychologyandneuroscience
areoftenintroducedasameanstopromote
andexplainlearningmechanisms.Asin
BrainGym,thereisastillanemphasison
thedesirabilityofbalancebetweentheleft
andrightpartofthebrain.Forexample,in
Smith(1996),wearereminded“Remember
thatthesynergygeneratedincreatingnew
pathwaysbetweenleftandrightresultsin
all-roundimprovement”.
Acceleratedlearningalsooftenembraces
otherpopularbrainconceptsineducation:
MultipleIntelligences:Gardner’stheory
ofmultipleintelligencespromotesthe
ideaofmanyplastic,ratherthanone
fixed,intelligence(Gardner,1993)
LearningStylePreferences:Here,
psychologicalevidencesupportsthe
possibilitythatindividualpreferences
existregardinghowweliketolearn.In
education,learnersmaybeallocated
tooneofthreetypesoflearningstyle
(visual,auditoryorkinesthetic-VAK).
Itisbelieved,butstillunproven,that
presentationofmaterialinawaythat
suitsalearner’spreferredlearningstyle
canimprovetheirlearning.(Ofcourse,
itcouldbearguedthatthereverse
mightbemorehelpfulasaremedial
interventiontoimproveprocessing
associatedwiththeotherlearning
styles).Othervariationsonthebasic
conceptoflearningpreferences/styles
canincludesortingofpupilsintomoreor
lesscategories.Forexample,sometexts
encourageteacherstodetermineifa
childisleftorrightbrained(egHoffman,
2002).
Anotherwaythatteachersandpupils
encounterideasaboutthebrainis
throughresourcesdirectedatpupils.In
teachingyoungchildrenaboutscience,
provisionaltruthsareoftencreatedwhich
canbeexpectedtovaryintheirrelationto


I2
modernaccounts.However,thecommon
assumptionthatthebrainistheseatof
consciousnesscanaddextradimensionsto
howprovisionaltruthsaboutthisparticular
conceptarerepresented.Someofthese
evenpossessamoraltone.InHoffman
(2002),children(aged9–15)aretold“avoid
sayingbadthingsaboutyourselfandabout
otherpeoplebecauseyourbrainwillbelieve
you”.
Anotherselectionofbooks,intended
exclusivelyforteachers,arecharacterised
byadifferentsetoffeaturesregardingtheir
approach.Thesehave:
extensivereferencingtoscientific
literature
integrateddiscussionofcognitive,
psychologicalandneuroscientificstudies
(ieusingcognitivescienceasalink
betweenwhatweknowaboutthebrain
andwhatweknowaboutlearning)
discussionofbothwhatisandisn’t
known,includingreferencetoresults
showingpossiblelimitationsofpositive
effects
lesstosayaboutmanyofthemost
popularbrain-basededucationalideas
suchasBrainGym,learningstyles,
hydration,left-brain/right-brainbalance
etc.,andmayoftenattempttodebunk
these,someofthesetexts(egWolfe,
2001,Jensen,1998)mentiontheroleof
movementandindividualdifferencesin
learning,butthereisgenerallyadifferent
emphasisprovidedthaninthetexts
discussedabove




criticalreviewsofscientificliterature
focusingonissuesofeducationalinterest
suchas:
attention
motivation,rewardandstress
memory
environments
mathematicsandreading.
Finally,inadditiontotextbyBlakemore
andFrith(2005)thereareotherexamples
ofscientistsattemptingtospeakdirectlyto
educators.AccountssuchasByrnes(2001)
provideaconsiderablymorecriticaland
informedexaminationofthoseareas(and
others)listedinthepreviousparagraph,
butresistprovidingdirectandpractical
classroomadvice.
Tosummarisethisreviewofthecontexts
ofthepresentconsultation,itappears
thateducatorsandscientistsareagain
payingseriousattentiontothenotionthat
educationcanbeimprovedwithinsights
fromneuroscience,andpreparationsare
wellunderwaytosupporttheflourishing
ofanewfieldwithaninterdisciplinary
researchagenda.Centraltothesuccessof
anyefforttoimproveeducationarethe
support,understandingandexpertiseof
teachers–whoremainexposedtobrain-
basedconceptsfromearlierandsometimes
unscientificenterprises.Againstthehistory
ofsuchentrepreneurialbrain-based
programmesandabackgroundofrenewed
globalefforttoconjointhesetwodisparate
fields,thisconsultationreportsuponthe
viewsofteachersabouthowtheyseethe
relevance,orotherwise,ofneuroscienceto
education.

I3
I4
2. Evidence
programmes;earlyscreeningforlearning
problems;provisionforindividuals
withspecialneedsofvariouskinds;and
understandingoftheroleofnutritionin
education
whereeducatorshadobtained
informationaboutneuroscienceand
education
ideasthattheyhadcomeacrossinwhich
thebrainwaslinkedtoeducation
whethertheirinstitutionhadused
educationalinitiativesbasedonideas
aboutthebrain,andifsuchinitiatives
wereuseful
theimportanceofanumberofissues
intheapplicationofneuroscienceto
education,suchas:communication
betweeninterestedparties,relevance,
accessibilityofinformation,andethical
issues.
Theinitialsurveyofkeyissueswascarried
outduringtwoconferencesheldinJune
andJuly2005.Thefirstconferencewas
the‘LearningBrainEurope’conference
heldinManchester.Thisconferencewas
organisedbyagroupofheadteachers
fromtheMacclesfieldarea,followingtheir
attendanceatasimilarconferenceinthe
USA(theLearningBrainExpo-http://www.
brainexpo.com/).Inthedelegatespack
fortheLearningBrainEuropeeventthe
organisersstate:
The next two days represent a unique
opportunity for teachers to hear about how
3.
4.
5.
6.
Evidencefortheconsultationwascollected
intwostages.Thefirststageinvolved
thepreparationanddistributionofa
shortquestionnairedesignedtoidentify
keyissuesineducators’perceptionsof
theroleofneuroscienceandeducation.
Thiswasthenfollowedbyanumberof
semi-structuredinterviewswithteachers.
Additionalinformationabouttheviews
ofeducatorsandothersontheroleof
neuroscienceineducationwasobtained
fromdiscussionsheldattheESRC-TLRP
CollaborativeFrameworksforNeuroscience
andEducationseminars.
Initial survey of key issues
Followingthedistributionofapilot
questionnairetolocalteachers,thefinal
versionofthequestionnairewasdeveloped
(seePickeringandHoward-Jones,2007).
Thisquestionnairewasdesignedtoask
educatorsanumberofgeneralquestions
abouttheirthoughts,beliefs,views
andknowledgeonthelinkbetween
neuroscienceandeducation.Specifically
thequestionnaireincludedbothopen
andclosedquestionsdesignedtoobtain
informationabout:
educators’understandingoftheterms
‘education’and‘neuroscience’
theirviewsonhowimportantan
understandingofthebrainisinarange
ofeducationalactivities(withchildren
andadults),includingthedesign,
deliveryandcontentofeducational
1.
2.
I5
the latest research on brain science can be
adopted to improve the learning experience
for children and teachers.
The inspiration for the conference came from
the Brain Expo conference that teachers ...
have experienced in the USA over the past few
years. Teachers have come back inspired and
invigorated, and have instigated real change
in their classrooms.
We are determined that this fantastic
experience should be available to a wider
audience in the UK, and have invited key
speakers from the USA and the UK who,
we believe, offer a rare combination of
inspiration, practical strategies and fun!
TheconferenceactuallyformedtwoINSET
daysforteachersinLAsintheManchester
area.Attendanceforlocalteacherswas
thereforefree,andallteachersinthe
relevantLAswerereleasedfromtheir
teachingforatleastoneofthetwodays
inordertoattend.Approximately1300
teachersattendedtheconferenceforeither
oneorbothofthedaysthatitran.
Anumberofinvitedspeakersmade
keynotespeechesduringtheconference
includingAlistairSmith,SpencerKagan
andDavidSousa.Alloftheaforementioned
individualshavepublishedworkon‘brain-
basedlearning’.
Questionnaireswereincludedinthe
delegates’packsandteacherswere
encouragedthroughouttheconference
tocompleteandreturnthem.Thetotal
numberofcompletedquestionnairesfrom
thiseventwas270.
Aquestionnairewasalsoincludedin
eachofthedelegates’packsofallthose
attendingthe‘EducationandBrainResearch
Conference’heldattheUniversityof
CambridgeinJuly2005.Thisthree-day
conferencemarkedthelaunchofthe‘Centre
forNeuroscienceinEducation’atCambridge
andwasattendedbyapproximately250
delegates(includingteachersandother
educationalprofessionals).Speakers
includedestablishedacademicsintheareas
ofneuroscienceandpsychology,suchas
UshaGoswami(conferenceorganiser),Mark
Johnson,UtaFrith,KurtFischer,JohnGeake
andGuyClaxton.
Delegateswereencouragedtocomplete
thequestionnaireandreturnittousduring
theconference.Atotalof71completed
questionnaireswerecollectedfromthis
event.
Interviews with teachers
Onthebasisofthesurveyofkeyissues
carriedoutwiththequestionnaire,a
numberofsemi-structuredinterviews
werecarriedout.Someoftheinterviews
wereconductedwithdelegatesatthe
‘EducationandBrainResearchConference’
inCambridgewhileotherswerecarriedout
withlocalteachersinBristol.
Theaimoftheinterviewswastoprobein
moredetailteachers’viewsabouttheroleof
thebrainineducationandtofollowupon
responsesmadeintheinitialsurvey.Thus,
thestructureandcontentoftheinterviews
variedbetweenparticipants,dependingon
thenatureoftheresponsesmade.Atotalof
11interviewswerecarriedout.
I6
Discussions from the
ESRC-TLRP Collaborative
Frameworks for
Neuroscience and Education
seminars
TheESRC-TLRPCollaborativeFrameworks
forNeuroscienceandEducationSeminar
Seriesconsistsofsixseminars,thefirstone
ofwhichwasheldinApril2005.Theaimsof
theseminarserieswere(Howard-Jonesand
Pickering,2005):
toreviewcontemporaryworkinthe
associatedfieldsofneuroscienceand
humandevelopmentandconsiderthe
existingcontributionsofferedbythese
fieldstothestudyofkeyeducational
issues
toreviewtheextenttowhichthe
fieldsofneuroscienceandhuman
developmenthavesuccessfully
permeatededucationalthinkingandto
exploretheirpotentialandlimitationsin


influencingourthinkingaboutgeneral
teachingandlearningissues
toexplorehowtheoreticalperspectives
arisingfromneuroscienceandhuman
developmentmayconjoinwith,and
enrich,currenttheoreticalframeworks
ineducation
toidentifytheissues,opportunities
andconstraintsthatmayariseinthe
nearfutureasaresultofadvancesin
thefieldsofneuroscienceandhuman
development
toidentifymeansbywhichresearch
capacityinthisinterdisciplinaryarea
canbedeveloped,andtoexaminethe
theoretical,practicalandstrategicbasis
forresearchcapacitybuilding.
Dataforthisconsultationwasgathered
fromdiscussionsheldduringthefirstand
thirdseminarsintheseries.Following
aseriesofpresentationsbyinvited
speakersduringthefirsthalfofeachof
thetwoday-longevents,delegateswere
arrangedintofourgroupsandasked
tospendonehourdiscussingissues
thatrelatetothebringingtogetherof
neuroscienceandeducation.Forthefirst
seminar,discussionswereguidedinpart
bythequestion:‘Whatsortofevidence
shouldinspireeducationalchange?’.
Thethirdevent,heldinOctober2005,
includeddiscussionsaroundthetopic:‘By
whatroutesshouldneuroscienceenter
ourclassrooms?’.Summariesofthese
discussionscanbefoundattheSeminar
Serieswebsite(http://www.bris.ac.uk/
education/research/sites/brain/).



I7
3. Analysis and Discussion
Initial survey of key issues
Datafortheconsultationwasobtained
fromtheanalysisof150ofthecompleted
questionnairesdistributedatthetwobrain
andeducationconferencesheldin2005.
Thesampleincludedthe71questionnaires
fromthe‘EducationandBrainResearch
Conference’inCambridgeplusarandomly
selectedsampleof79completed
questionnairesfromthe‘LearningBrain
Europe’conferenceinManchester.
The150respondentswhocompleted
thequestionnaireswereeducational
professionalsfromschoolsandother
educationallyrelatedinstitutions.The
majority(54%)ofrespondentswere
teachersbasedinprimaryandsecondary
schools(Primary,27%andSecondary,27%),
including17headteachers.Theremaining
46%ofrespondentsheldanumberof
differentpositionsintheworldofeducation,
includingeducationconsultants,school
inspectors,teachertrainersandassistant
teachers.
Aseparateanalysisofresponsesofteachers
(only)intermsoftheconferencetheywere
attendingandtheirphase(primaryor
secondary)wasalsocarriedout.Outcomes
fromthesurveywereessentiallysimilar
acrosstheeducationalcommunity,except
wherehighlighted.Therefore,wefirst
reporttheviewsoftheentiresample
asrepresentativeoftheeducational
communityasawhole,beforefocusingin
depthuponteachers’responsesarisingfrom
theinterviews.
1. Educators’ understanding of the
terms ‘education’ and ‘neuroscience’.
Inanyefforttounderstandeducators’
perceptionsabouttheroleofneuroscience
ineducation,itisfirstimportanttoestablish
howparticipantsviewtheconceptsof
educationandneuroscience.Thus,thefirst
twoquestionsinourinitialsurveyasked:
‘Whatdoyouunderstandbytheterm
“education”?’and‘Whatdoyouunderstand
bytheterm“neuroscience”?’.
Responsestothequestion‘whatdoyou
understandbytheterm“education”?’were
analysedfirst,andfivemajorcategoriesof
responsewerecreatedfromthedata.Thirty-
onepercentofrespondentsgaveananswer
thatincludedtheterms‘learn’or‘learning’.
Examplesofresponsesfromthiscategory
were“giving people the opportunity to learn
effectively”,or“all experiences of learning and
engagement”.Around19%ofparticipants
feltthattheterm‘education’referredto
thedevelopmentofaperson’spotential,as
illustratedbythefollowingresponse:“every
child achieving their academic and social
and emotional potential”.Afurther15%of
respondentsappearedtovieweducationas
beingpartofthepreparationofindividuals
forlifeintheirsociety,whereasaround7%
ofthesampleemphasisedthelife-long
natureoftheeducationprocess.Adefinition
thatinvolved‘knowledge’wasgivenby
8%oftherespondents.Around17%ofthe
respondentsgaveananswerthatdidnot
easilyfitintothefivecategoriesdescribed
above.Someoftheseresponsesincluded
I8
referencestocognition,forexample,“the
development of cognition while actively
engaging curiosity”, whileotherstookamore
pragmaticstance,describingeducation
as“preschool and school based provision as
regulated by government policies ...”.
Respondents’understandingoftheterm
‘neuroscience’waslessvaried.Overhalf
(60%)ofthesampledescribedneuroscience
asthestudyorscienceofthebrain.Around
aquarterofrespondents(24%)indicated
thatneurosciencewasconcernedwith
learningorunderstandingaboutthebrain,
whileafurther13%thoughtthatitwas
abouthowthebrainworks.
2. Respondents’ views on how
important an understanding of the
brain is in a range of educational
activities (with children and adults),
including the design, delivery and
content of educational programmes;
early screening for learning problems;
provision for individuals with
special needs of various kinds, and
understanding of the role of nutrition
in education.
Againstthisbackdrop,respondentswenton
toprovideinformationabouthowimportant
theyfeltanunderstandingofthebrain
wasinanumberofspecificeducational
activities.Viewsweresoughtregardingthe
educationofadultsandchildrenseparately.
Ineachcase,participantswereaskedto
givearatingfrom1to5(with1being‘not
important’and5being‘veryimportant’)
fortherelevanceofanunderstandingof
thebrainineachofthedifferentactivities.
Datawasanalysedbycombiningratings
of1and2intoa‘lowratingofimportance’
andratingsof4and5intoa‘highratingof
importance’.
(a) Children
Figure1indicatesthepercentageof
respondentsgivinglowandhighratings
ofimportancetoanunderstandingof
theworkingsofthebraininthevarious
activitieswithchildren.Overall,itisclear
fromFigure1thatrespondentsfeltthat
anunderstandingoftheworkingsofthe
brainwasimportantinalloftheactivities
listed.Theareainwhichmostrespondents
(83%)feltthatthiswasimportantwas
theprovisionforchildrenwithspecial
educationalneedsofabehaviouraland/or
emotionalandaphysicaland/orsensory
nature.However,otherareasreceived
almostasmanyhighratings,including
thedesign(76%)anddelivery(77%)of
educationalprogrammes,theprovision
forindividualswithspecialeducational
needsofacognitivenature(80%),early
screeningforlearningproblems(76%)and
anunderstandingoftheroleofnutrition
ineducationalachievement(70%).The
onlyareainwhichrespondentsgavelower
ratingsinanysignificantnumberswasthat
concerningdecisionsaboutcurriculum
content,with19%ofthesamplegiving
ratingsofonly1or2here.
(b) Adults
Asimilaranalysiswascarriedouton
responsestoeducationalactivities
concerningadults.Theresultsfromthis
analysisareshowninFigure2.Herewe

Figure 1. Percentage of respondents giving either a high rating or a low rating regarding
the importance of an understanding of the workings of the brain in a range of educational
activities with children.
Designofeducational
programmes
Deliveryofeducational
programmes
Curriculumcontent
Earlyscreeningfor
learningproblems
SENprovision
(behavioural/emotional)
SENprovision
(physical/sensory)
SENprovision
(cognitive)
Roleofnutritionin
education
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Percentage
Figure 2. Percentage of respondents giving either a high rating or a low rating regarding
the importance of an understanding of the workings of the brain in a range of educational
activities with adults.
Highratingofimportance
Lowratingofimportance
Designofeducational
programmes
Deliveryofeducational
programmes
Curriculumcontent
SENprovision
(behavioural/emotional)
SENprovision
(physical/sensory)
SENprovision
(cognitive)
Roleofnutritionin
education
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Percentage
20
canseethatasignificantpercentage
ofrespondentshavegivenhighratings
ofimportancetoanunderstandingof
theworkingsofthebrainineducational
activitieswithadults.Thegreatestnumber
ofhighratingswasgiventotheprovisionfor
individualswithspecialeducationalneeds,
especiallythosewithneedsofacognitive
nature(83%).Thedesignanddeliveryof
educationalprogrammeswerealsothought
tobenefitfromanunderstandingofthe
workingsofthebrain(with79and80%
ofrespondentsgivingratingsof4or5to
theseactivities,respectively).Inasimilar
mannertothatoftheeducationofchildren,
decisionsaboutcurriculumcontentwasthe
onlyareaforwhichmorethan10%oflow
ratingsofimportancewerereceived.
Takingthesetwoanalysestogether,it
isclearthatthesampleofeducational
professionalsthattookpartinthe
questionnairestudybelievethatan
understandingoftheworkingsofthebrain
isimportantinawholerangeofeducational
activities,withbothchildrenandadults.
Respondentsfeltthateducatorswould
benefitfromknowledgeaboutthebrain,
notjustinthedomainofspecialeducational
needs,wheremuchoftheneuroscientific
attentionhasbeendirectedinrecentyears,
butinactivitiesrelatedtothedesignand
deliveryofeducationalprogrammesmore
broadly.Theoneareawherethisviewwas
lessstrongconcernedthecontentofwhat
isbeingtaught.Althoughatleasthalfof
respondentsthoughtthatanunderstanding
oftheworkingsofthebrainwasimportant
forthisaspectofeducationalactivity,just
lessthanafifthofparticipantsfeltthatit
wasnotimportant.
Anadditionalanalysiswascarriedout
toexamineseparatelytheresponsesof
participantswhohadattendedthetwo
differentconferences(LearningBrainEurope
-LBEandEducationandBrainResearch
-EBR).Thepercentageofeachofthetwo
subgroupsofparticipantswhogavehighor
lowratingstotheimportanceofknowledge
aboutthebrainisshowninTable1(a)for
theeducationofchildrenandTable1(b)for
theeducationofadults.
Theanalysisofresponsestothisquestion,
byconferenceattended,revealsthatthe
generaltrendsdescribedforthewhole
samplearepresentinthedata.However,
someinterestingdifferencesbetweenthe
twogroupsofconferenceattendeesare
noticeable.Inparticular,thepercentage
ofhighratingsofimportanceforallofthe
educationalactivitiesissomewhatlower
fortheEducationandBrainResearch
conferencegroupthantheLearning
BrainEuropegroup.Thereasonsforthis
differencearenotclear,howeversome
possiblecontributorstothisdifference
include:differencesinthetypesof
brain-basededucationalactivitiesthat
werediscussedatthetwoconferences,
differencesintheexperienceofrespondents
inapplyingneurosciencetoeducation,
anddifferencesintheextenttowhich
participantshadbeenexposedtoideas
aboutneuroscienceandeducation.Overall,
then,theEBRgroupseemmoremoderate
intheirenthusiasmfortheroleofthebrain
ineducation,whereastheLBEgroupseem
tobeexperiencingveryhighdegreesof
enthusiasmfortheroleofthebraininthese
differenttypesofeducationalactivity.
2I
Table 1(b). Percentage of respondents giving either a high rating or a low rating regarding
the importance of an understanding of the workings of the brain in a range of educational
activities with adults, by conference attended.
LBE EBR
low
rating
high
rating
low
rating
high
rating
Designofeducationalprogrammes 0 85 11 72
Deliveryofeducationalprogrammes 0 90 10 69
Earlyscreeningforlearningproblems 8 77 25 46
SENprovision(cognitive) 1 90 6 76
SENprovision(physical/sensory) 0 87 3 75
SENprovision(behavioural/emotional) 0 89 11 73
Roleofnutritionineducation 4 80 13 58
Table 1(a). Percentage of respondents giving either a high rating or a low rating regarding
the importance of an understanding of the workings of the brain in a range of educational
activities with children, by conference attended.
LBE EBR
low
rating
high
rating
low
rating
high
rating
Designofeducationalprogrammes 1 82 10 69
Deliveryofeducationalprogrammes 1 89 14 65
Earlyscreeningforlearningproblems 3 87 13 63
Curriculumcontent 13 63 25 41
SENprovision(cognitive) 3 90 7 69
SENprovision(physical/sensory) 0 92 3 73
SENprovision(behavioural/emotional) 0 94 11 72
Roleofnutritionineducation 4 82 13 56
3. Where have educators obtained
information about neuroscience and
education?
Inordertoestablishhowparticipantshave
obtainedinformationaboutneuroscience
andeducation,weaskedthequestion:
‘Which,ifany,ofthefollowingsourceshave
providedyouwithinformationaboutthe
roleofthebrainineducation?’.Wealso
askedparticipantstoratetheimportance
ofeachsourcetothem(usingthe1to5
scaledescribedearlier).Figure3showsthe
percentageofparticipantswhoratedthe
22
differentsourcesaseitherveryimportant
(ratingsof4and5)ornotimportant(ratings
of1and2).
ThegraphinFigure3indicatesthe
significantnumberofhighratingsof
importancegiventobothconferences(71%)
andbooks(62%).Incontrast,onlyaround
20%ofparticipantsgavecommercial
productsandthemediahighratingsof
importance,withthemediareceiving
morelowratingsofimportance(27%)
thanhighratings.Itisnotablefromthe
resultspresentedabovethatin-service
trainingwasthoughttobeanimportant
sourceofinformationaboutneuroscience
andeducationbymorethanhalfofthe
respondents.Journalswerealsolisted
assourcesofinformationonthistopic,
althoughrespondentsappearedtothink
thatprofessionaljournalswereofgreater
usethanacademicjournals,forthispurpose.
Aswellasratingsourcesofinformation
alreadylistedonthequestionnaire,
respondentswerefreetoaddothersources
andratingsoftheirimportance.Eleven
respondentslistedadditionalsourcesas:the
internet(5responses)anddiscussionwith
others(6responses),includingcolleagues,
friendsandchildren.Mostratedthese
sourcesasimportant,althoughsome
viewedtheirdiscussionsaslessimportant
providersofinformationaboutneuroscience
andeducation.
Figure 3. Percentage of respondents giving either a high rating or a low rating regarding
the importance of a number of potential sources of information about neuroscience and
education.
Highratingofimportance
Lowratingofimportance
Commercialproducts
Books
Professionaljournals
Academicjournals
Conferences
INSET
Media
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Percentage
23
Inordertoexploretheresponsesofthe
LBEandEBRconferencegroupsonthis
issueseparately,ratingsofusefulnessfor
thedifferentsourcesofinformationwere
collatedforeachsubgroupofrespondents.
Thepercentageofparticipantsattending
thetwoconferencesthatgaveratingsof1
and2(lowratingofimportance)or4and5
(highratingofimportance)tothevarious
informationsourcesisshowninTable2.
Notabledifferencesinthepercentageof
participantsgivinghighandlowratingsof
importanceareseenparticularlyforbooks
(moreoftheEBRparticipantsfeltthatbooks
wereanimportantsourceofinformation
thantheLBEparticipants)andin-service
training(wherethistrendwasreversed).
AstheLBEconferencewasactuallyanin-
servicetrainingdayfortheparticipantsat
thisconference,itisperhapsnotsurprising
thatmoreofthisgroupratedINSETasan
importantsourceofinformationthanthe
EBRgroup.Thereasonforthemuchhigher
numbersofparticipantsfromtheEBR
conferenceratingbooksasveryimportant
comparedtotheLBEparticipantsisless
clear.Itisevidentfromthisdatathat
informationinwrittenform(booksand
journals)seemstobeviewedasamore
importantsourceofinformationoverallby
theEBRsubgroupthantheLBEsubgroup.
4. What ideas had educators heard
of in which the brain was linked to
education?
Inordertogetasenseoftheknowledge
thatparticipantsalreadypossessedabout
neuroscienceandeducation,theywere
askedtolistanyideasthattheyhadheard
ofinwhichthebrainislinkedtoeducation.
Usingthe1to5scaledescribedearlier,
participantswerealsoaskedtoratethe
usefulnessofsuchideas.
Astheparticipantswereattendingone
oreitherofthetwoconferenceson
neuroscienceandeducation,thereissome
Table 2. Percentage of respondents giving either a high rating or a low rating regarding
the importance of a number of potential sources of information about neuroscience and
education, by conference attended.
LBE EBR
low
rating
high
rating
low
rating
high
rating
Media 20 28 35 15
INSET 9 67 20 34
Conferences 6 71 4 72
Academicjournals 23 24 10 49
Professionaljournals 18 33 6 56
Books 13 46 1 80
Commercialproducts 16 19 15 21
24
inevitablementionoftheideasthathad
beenpresentedduringtheconferences.
Thisisevidentinresponsesthatmention
theworkofkeyspeakers,suchasDavid
Sousa,AlistairSmith(AcceleratedLearning)
andSpencerKagan(CooperativeLearning,
KaganStructures)andBlakemoreand
Frith.However,italsoseemsclearthat
manyparticipantscametotheconferences
withpriorknowledgeofbrain-related
educationalconceptsandinitiatives.
Theideasprovidedweregroupedinto
sixcategoriesasfollows:educational
kinesiology(includingBrainGym),
learningstyles(includingmultiple
intelligences,VAK,andleft-brain/right-
brainlearning),ingestionandthebrain
(includingnutrition,wateranddrug-use),
emotionandlearning,teachingand
learningapproaches(suchasmindmaps,
cooperativelearningandaccelerated
learning)andmorespecificcognitive
andneuropsychologicalknowledge.The
numberoftimesthatideasinthesesix
domainswerelistedbyrespondentsis
indicatedinTable3.
FromTable3wecanseethatrespondents
mentionedideasabout‘brain-based’
teachingandlearningapproaches64
times.Examplesofinstancesfromthis
categoryofresponsesinclude:mindmaps,
cooperativelearning,acceleratedleaning,
wholebrainlearning,thinkingskills,brain-
friendlylearningandKaganStructures.As
notedabove,anumberoftheseideaswere
presentedtoparticipantsatthe‘Learning
BrainEurope’conference,soitislesseasy
todeterminewhetherthehighincidenceof
thistypeofresponseisdependentuponthis
recentexposureorifitreflectsknowledge
thatparticipantshadbeforeattendingthe
conference.Analternativeexplanationfor
thedominanceofthistypeofresponse
isthatideasthattranslatedirectlyinto
practicearetheonesthatrespondents(as
educators)aremostlikelytobeawareof,
andpayparticularattentionto.
Thisviewgainssomeadditionalsupport
fromthefindingthatideasrelatedto
educationalkinesiologywerementioned
atotalof48timesbytherespondents.In
mostcasestheterm‘BrainGym’wasactually
Table 3. Six categories of brain-based ideas listed by respondents, the number of times each
was mentioned, and the number of ratings of very useful (5) or not useful (1).
no. of times
mentioned
very useful
(5)
not useful
(1)
Educationalkinesiology 48 16 6
Learningstyles 45 17 4
Ingestionandthebrain 13 7 2
Emotionandlearning 14 9 0
Teachingandlearningapproaches 64 29 1
Cognitiveandneuropsychological
knowledge
49 23 2
25
used.Educationalkinesiology,andmore
specifically,BrainGym,appearstoshare
somecommonfeatureswiththeteaching
andlearningapproachesmentionedabove,
namelyabrain-basisissuggested,andthe
conceptreadilytranslatesintopractice.
Ideasconcerningdifferencesinstylesof
learningwerealsomentionedover40times,
althoughhereanumberofdifferentspecific
conceptswerenoted,including:learning
styles;multipleintelligences;preferred
learningstyles;Visual,Auditory,and
Kinaesthetic(VAK)learners;rightandleft
brainthinkers;andmultisensorylearning.
Responsesgroupedinthesixthcategory
(cognitiveandneuropsychological
knowledge)werethoseresponsesthat
indicatedawarenessofideasthatemanated
fromcognitiveorneuropsychological
academicresearch,suchasknowledgeof
neuropsychologicaltechniques,brain-based
disorders,cognitiveskillsorbrainprocesses.
Ideasofthiskindwerelisted49timesbythe
sample.
Participantsmentionedideasthatwere
linkedtotheingestionofaparticular
substance13times,includingissuessuch
asprenatalnutrition,drinkingwater,fish
oilsupplementsandtheimpactofalcohol
anddrugs.Knowledgerelatingtotherole
ofemotioninneuroscienceandeducation
wasevidentin14oftheresponses.These
includedmentionofemotionalintelligence
andtheroleofemotioninlearning.
Notallrespondentsgaveratingsof
usefulnessfortheirresponses.Inthecases
wherethisdidhappen,someinteresting
variationsoccurred.Ideasineachofthe
categoriesattractedarangeofratings
from1(notuseful)to5(veryuseful).Table
3indicatesthenumberoftimesthateach
ofthesetworatingswasgiveninthesix
categoriesofresponse.Thegreatestnumber
ofratingsof‘veryuseful’wasfoundinthe
teachingandlearningapproachescategory
(29)whilethenumberof‘notuseful’ratings
inthisgroupofresponseswasjust1.
Ideasgroupedinthecategoryofcognitive
andneuropsychologicalknowledgealso
receivedahighnumberofratingsas‘very
useful’(23)andonly2ratingsof‘notuseful’.
Overallthenumberof‘veryuseful’
ratingsforeachcategoryofresponse
significantlyexceedsthenumberof
‘notuseful’responses.However,the
numberof‘notuseful’ratingsforthe
educationalkinesiologyisthelargest.Here
6respondentsindicatedthatthattheydid
notthinkthatthiswasuseful,justoverone
thirdofthenumberofrespondentswho
feltthatitwasveryuseful.Clearlyopinions
aredividedonthisaspectofeducational
practice.
5. Have respondents’ institutions used
educational initiatives based on ideas
about the brain, and if so, were such
initiatives useful?
Followingonfromquestionsaboutideas
thatrespondentswereawareofinwhich
thebrainwaslinkedtoeducation,we
wantedtogaininformationaboutthe
extenttowhichbrain-basedteachingand
learningtechniqueshadactuallybeenused
intheirinstitutions.Tothisend,weasked
26
participantstolistanyeducationalinitiatives
basedonideasaboutthebrainthathad
beenusedintheirschools,collegesand
otherteachingandlearninginstitutions.
Onehundredandeightofthe150
respondentsinthesampleindicatedthat
theyhadusededucationalinitiativesintheir
institutionsthatwerebasedonideasabout
thebrain.Nineteenparticipantsindicated
thattheyhadnot.Someparticipantsdid
notmakeanyresponsetothisquestion,
whileothersmadearesponsetoindicate
theirviewsonthematter,butnotwhether
theyhadusedtheinitiativeassuch(eg ”as
a member of the LA, I am concerned that staff
in schools have too many initiatives - they
need ideas that will make their work easier”).
Asmallnumberoftheresponsesrevealed
thatwhileparticipantshadnotusedsuch
initiativesyet,moveswereunderwayto
incorporatethistypeofapproach(eg
“tutors are finally taking on board some of
the ideas’and‘whole school staff training in
progress”).
Ofthe108positiveresponsestothis
question,manyincludedreferencesto
initiativesthathadbeenmentionedin
answertothepreviousquestion.Twenty-
fourrespondentsindicatedthatthey
usedBrainGymintheirschools;thesame
numberlistedinitiativesthatwereearlier
groupedundertheheadingof‘learning
styles’(suchasVAK,multipleintelligences,
leftbrain/rightbrain,andvisualthinking).
Afurther42respondentsnotedexamples
ofthe‘teachingandlearningapproaches’
describedabove,includingmindmapping,
learningtolearn,cooperativelearning,
mind-friendlylearning,KaganStructures,
brain-friendlylearning,cognitive
27
acceleration,assessmentforlearning,and
thinking/questioning/criticalskills.
Onlyonerespondentmentionedthatthey
hadusedinitiativeslinkedtothebrainthat
concernedemotionandlearning(emotional
intelligence)andsimilarly,onlyone
respondentindicatedthattheyspecifically
usedwaterintheirinstitution.Initiatives
notfittingintothecategoriesderivedinthe
analysisofthepreviousquestionincluded:
angermanagement,self-esteem,dyslexia-
friendlyapproach,multi-sensoryteaching
schemeforreading,gender,cognitive
interventionprogrammes,neurofeedback
andworkingmemorytestbattery.
Responsestothisquestiongosomewayto
describingtherangeofperspectivesthat
educatorshaveonthisissue.Forexample,
somerespondentswereclearlyvery
enthusiasticabouttheuseofsuchinitiatives,
asevidencedbycommentssuchas:
“yes, massive whole local authority
development”
“not yet, but soon!”
“we are undertaking whole school staff
training at the moment”
“not to the extent needed”
whereasothersclearlyreflectedamore
scepticalapproach:
“not yet - management sceptical of new ideas”
“as a member of the LA, I am concerned that
staff in schools have too many initiatives - they
need ideas that will make their work easier”
“Detached CPD. Engagement of all staff in
having a clear understanding”.
Thislastcommentisquiteinterestingin
thatitappearstoconveyasensethatthe
schoolhasmadeadecisiontotakeacritical
stanceinitsdealingswithinitiativessuch
asthosediscussedhere.Thecomment
aboveitindicatesanawarenessthatbrain-
basedinitiativesarejustoneofanumber
ofdifferentideasthatarepresentedto
educatorsforinclusionintotheirpractice.
Anadditionalquestionaskedrespondentsif
they(orothersintheirinstitution)hadfound
theinitiativestheyhadmentioneduseful,
andifso,how.Ninety-sixrespondents
indicatedthatthey,orothers,hadfound
theinitiativesmentionedaboveuseful;two
saidtheydidnot.Afurther12respondents
gaveanswersthathavebeenbroadly
characterisedhereas‘notsure’,howeverthe
individualresponsesinthiscategoryappear
tocommunicateanumberofdifferent
viewpoints.Somerespondentsindicated
thattheyhadnotfoundtheinitiatives
useful“yet”,whileothersfeltthattheydid
notknowiftheyhadbeenuseful.Some
degreeofuncertaintywascommunicated
byrespondentsinthe‘notsure’group,as
evidencebyresponsessuchas:
“I am now confused as to the usefulness of
learning styles”
“lack of clarity about theories behind
approaches have prevented full scale
adoption”
“don’t know if directly linked to brain research”.
Yetothershaverespondedinsuchasaway
astosuggestthattheinitiativeshavebeen
ofmoderateuse,orthatwhilesomeintheir
institutionhavefoundthemuseful,they
personallyhavenot.
28
Manyoftherespondentswhohadgiven
apositiveresponsetothequestionofthe
usefulnessoftheinitiativesthathadbeen
usedprovidedanexplanationoftheir
response.Instrongevidencehereisthe
issueofmotivationandenjoymentofthe
learners.Responsessuchas:
“motivates children”
“see the pupils faces - they tell us every time!”
“yes - the fun element is particularly useful
within the tight structures of the literacy and
the numeracy flow”
“yes, helps motivation, decreases depression”
revealthedegreetowhicheducatorsseem
tofindinitiativesusefulinincreasingthe
positivefeelingsthatthelearnershave
abouttheirstudies.Yetanotherthemethat
emergesfromtheseresponsesisthatof
havingmoreoptionstodrawuponinthe
teachingofbothmainstreamandspecial
needschildren.Thisviewisillustratedbythe
followingresponses:
“yes, better choice of teaching strategy to
match learning styles”
“yes as part of a rich and varied ‘pull down
menu’ of strategies and techniques available
to our teachers”
“yes in teaching literacy to dyslexic pupils”
Afurthersetofresponsessuggeststhatsome
of the initiatives used help the children to
workmore effectively:
“yes, students more engaged in own learning”
“improved the success of the teaching and
learning, happier children who are more
engaged in the activities”
“gets engagement which leads to improved
behaviour and greater understanding of
lesson content”
“yes, the class seems more animated and they
concentrate better”
Overall then, it appears that a significant
number of the questionnaire sample had
usedteachingand learningtechniquesbased
onideasaboutthebrainandhadfoundsuch
techniquesuseful.
6. How do educators view the
importance of issues arising in
the application of neuroscience to
education, such as: communication
between interested parties, relevance,
accessibility of information, and
ethical issues?
Thefinalmatterexploredinthe
questionnairestudyconcernedarange
ofissuesthatmightariseinthecourse
ofapplyingneurosciencetoeducation.
Respondentswereaskedtoratethe
importanceofeachoftheissues(using
the1to5scaledescribedearlier).Aswith
previousquestionsthataskedforaratingof
importance,responsesweregroupedintoa
‘highratingofimportance’(ratingsof4and
5)anda‘lowratingofimportance’(ratings
of1and2).Thepercentageofrespondents
givinglowandhighratingsofimportance
forthefiveissuesisshowninFigure4.
ThegraphinFigure4veryclearlyillustrates
thehighdegreeofimportanceascribed
toeachoftheissuesarisingfromthe
applicationofneurosciencetoeducation.
Around80%ofrespondentsfeltthata

two-waydialoguebetweeneducators
andneuroscientists,relevancetothe‘real’
classroom,avoidingthemisinterpretation
ofscienceandeasilyaccessibleinformation
wereveryimportantaspectsofthismulti-
disciplinaryventure.Ethicalissuesinbrain
researchwereratedasveryimportantby
only51%ofrespondents,however,and12%
ofrespondentsratedthelevelofimportance
ofthisissueaslow.
Thesampleofparticipantswhotookpart
inthisquestionnairestudyclearlyvaluea
genuinedialoguebetweenbrainresearchers
andeducationpractitioners.Similarly,
respondentsappeartofeelthatworkthat
linksneuroscienceandeducationshould
berelevanttowhatactuallygoesonin
theclassroomandbeeasilyaccessibleto
educators.However,itisapparentthatthe
misinterpretationofscienceintheprocess
ofitsapplicationisalsoofconcerntothis
group.Whyethicalissuesshouldnotbe
ofasgreataconcerntoeducatorsisnot
clearfromthisanalysis.
Analysisoftheimportanceratings
forthetwosubgroupsofconference
attendeesrevealedfewdifferences,
exceptintheareaofethicalissues(see
Table4).Theoverallpatternofresponses
isverysimilaracrossthetwogroups,
withonlyoneexception.Thisconcerns
thepercentageofrespondentswho
rated‘ethicalissues’asnotimportant.
Althoughthenumberofhighratingsof
importanceforthisissueisverysimilar
acrossthetwosubgroups,substantially
moreoftheEBRsubgroupratedthis
issueasnotimportant.Asindicated
above,theprecisereasonforthelarger
percentageoflowratingsofimportance
Figure 4. Percentage of respondents giving either a high rating or a low rating regarding the
importance of different issues arising from the application of neuroscience to education.
Highratingofimportance
Lowratingofimportance
Ethicalissuesinbrain
research
Informationiseasily
accessibletoeducators
Avoidingmisinterpretation
ofscience
Relevanceto‘real’classroom
Two-waydialogue
betweeneducatorsand
neuroscientists
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Percentage
30
intheCambridgeEBRconferencedelegates
isunclear.Perhapsthetwoexamplesof
ethicalissuesthatweregivenwiththis
question(useofanimals,scanningchildren)
werenotperceivedasbeingespecially
relevanttothetypeofneurosciencethatis
beingappliedtoeducationatthepresent
time.
Summary of the findings from the
questionnaire study
Responsestothequestionnairestudy
indicatethedegreeofinterestthat
neuroscienceandeducationholdsfor
manyeducationprofessionals.Asignificant
proportionoftheparticipantsappearto
feelthatknowledgeoftheworkingsof
thebrainisimportantinboththedesign
anddeliveryofeducation.Thisistruefor
theeducationofchildrenandadults,both
inmainstreamandspecialeducational
domains.Theonlyareaofeducation
wherethisknowledgewasthoughtto
belessimportantwasindecisionsabout
curriculumcontent.
Manyofthesamplethattookpart
inthisstudyhadgainedinformation
aboutneuroscienceandeducationfrom
conferences.Thisisperhapsunsurprising
asthequestionnairestudywascarriedout
duringtwoconferencesonthesubject
ofthebrainandeducation.Respondents
gavethegreatestnumberofhighratings
ofimportancetothissourceofinformation,
howevertheyalsoappearedtoplace
considerablevalueonbooksandin-service
trainingdays.Whilesomerespondentsfelt
thatcommercialproductsandthemedia
wereimportantsourcesofinformation
aboutthebrainanditsroleineducation,
almostasmanyparticipantsfeltthatthese
sourceswerenotuseful.
Mostrespondentshadheardofideas
inwhichthebrainhasbeenlinkedto
education.Sixcategoriesofresponse
werederivedfromthedata:educational
kinesiology,learningstyles,ingestionand
thebrain,emotionandlearning,teaching
andlearningapproaches,andcognitive
andneuropsychologicalknowledge.A
Table 4. Percentage of respondents giving either a high rating or a low rating regarding the
importance of a different issues arising from the application of neuroscience to education, by
conference attended.
LBE EBR
low
rating
high
rating
low
rating
high
rating
Two-waydialoguebetweeneducatorsand
neuroscientists
1 66 0 97
Relevancetothe‘real’classroom 0 84 4 82
Avoidingthemisinterpretationofscience 4 66 3 87
Informationiseasilyaccessibletoeducators 1 76 1 87
Ethicalissuesinbrainresearch 5 54 20 48
3I
furthercategoryof‘other’wascreated
tocoverresponsesthatdidnotfallinto
thesixcategorieslistedabove.Practical
strategiesforuseintheclassroom(including
educationalkinesiologyandteaching
andlearningapproaches)dominated
theresponses.However,ideasfrom
theacademicworldsofcognitionand
neurosciencewerealsoinevidencehere
too.Overall,mostoftheideaslistedwere
ratedasveryuseful,howeveropinionwas
clearlydividedinsomecases(egregarding
BrainGym).
Manyoftherespondents(108ofthe
150)reportedthateitherthey,ortheir
institutions,hadusedteachingandlearning
techniquesbasedonideasaboutthebrain;
96respondentshadfoundthesetechniques
tobeuseful-forimprovingtheaffectof
learners,increasingtheeffectivenessof
teachingandlearning,andprovidinga
greaterrepertoireofteachingoptionsfor
educators.
Respondentsratedissuesrelatingto
communicationandrelevancetopractice
andpractitionersasveryimportantin
bringingneuroscienceandeducation
together.Theyappearedtobeless
concernedabouttheissueofethicsinbrain
research,however.
32
Interviews with teachers
Elevensemi-structuredinterviewswere
carriedoutwithteachers.Fourofthe
teacherswerefromLAschoolsintheBristol
andsurroundingareaandsevenwere
fromarangeofschoolsandLAs,buthad
attendedtheEducationandBrainResearch
conferenceinCambridge,whereinterviews
werecarriedout.
Interviewsweretranscribedandthen
examinedforkeythemes.Threekeythemes
emerged:
Whatteachersknowaboutthebrainand
howtheycametoknowit.
Teachers’viewsonhowbrain-based
informationshouldbeusedineducation.
Issuesinbringingtogetherneuroscience
andeducation:pitfalls,problems,barriers
andchallenges.
Thesethemesarediscussedingreaterdetail
belowinthecontextoftheresponsesof
participantsduringtheinterviews.
(a) What teachers know about the
brain and how they came to know it.
Anumberoftheteachersappearedalmost
embarrassedtoadmitthattheyhadspent
manyyearsasteacherswithoutthinking
aboutthebrainatall.Forexample:
“... it‘s an awful thing to say, being a teacher,
but I think you’d probably find a lot of people
in the same boat - I’d never really given
the brain much thought, because it‘s just
something that you take for granted.”
a)
b)
c)
However,nowthattheyhadbegunto
thinkaboutthebrain(asaconsequence
ofcoursesorconferencesthattheyhad
attended,thingsthattheyhadread,etc.)
theybelievedthatconsiderationofthe
workingsofthebrainwasimportantto
education:
“And I’ve gone from one extreme to the other,
from not thinking about it at all to suddenly
thinking, oh my God, it‘s crucial for everything,
it‘s really, really important ... the impact that
it might have on our thought processes, and
then also our physical actions.”
“I think it’s incredibly important, because
particularly now I find it’s affecting my
teaching already and particularly my reading
groups ...”
Manyoftheteachersthatwereinterviewed
indicatedthattheyknewaboutsomeof
theeducationalinitiativesdescribedinthe
analysisofquestionnaireresponses,such
asBrainGym,thinkingskills,learningstyles
acceleratedlearning,learningdifficulties
(suchasdyslexia,autisticspectrumdisorders
andADHD),multi-sensorylearningand
water/fishoil.However,otherideasabout
theroleofthebrainalsoemerged.One
participantattendingtheCambridge
conferencetoldus:
“I was told that if you tilted your head it would
release a chemical into the brain that prepared
it for learning more.”
Whenaskedaboutwhereparticipantshad
obtainedinformationabouttheroleof
thebrainineducation,responsesagain
echoedthosemadeinthequestionnaire
33
study.Anumberofparticipantsindicateda
centralroleforin-servicetrainingorteacher
conferences.
“In-service training I’ve found very beneficial,
particularly training that we did in conjunction
with the educational psychologist when they
ran things for us like Brain Gym and teaching
thinking skills, they were really, really good.”
“... the rest of the school had an INSET day the
other day and they were talking about Brain
Gym, which is the latest thing ...”
Anumberofparticipantswere,orhadbeen,
SENCOs,andthisseemedtoplayarolein
theirabilitytoattendspecifictrainingdays:
“... I got to choose my INSETs, so therefore I
would choose INSET which would help or
would move me just a little bit closer. But I
wouldn’t have been offered those had I not
been a SENCO ... I think it should be more
widely available to classroom teachers, I don’t
think you need to be a SENCO for it to be
important really.”
In-servicetrainingseemstohavetakena
numberofforms.Insomecases,interested
stafformembersoftheseniormanagement
teamhavereceivedtrainingonatopicand
thenmadedecisionsaboutwhethertorelay
thisbacktotherestoftheschoolstaff:
“... I think it was one of the teachers had gone
to a conference or something and they just ...
gave the information about [Brain Gym].”
“Bits and bobs from INSET, bits and bobs that
other people have been on and they’ve come
back and they’ve cascaded to other teachers.”
“... I think that as a headteacher I should know
about all of the different ways ... and then it‘s
up to me to work out how we can share it in
the school ...”
Inothercases,classroomteachershad
attendedconferencesorformsoftraining
thathavebroughtthemintocontactwith
knowledgeabouttheroleofthebrainin
education.
“... as a dyslexia tutor you get a certain amount
of training but it‘s probably not deep enough,
and obviously as an individual we try to
pursue it a bit more.”
Othersourcesofknowledgeaboutthe
brainwerealsomentioned.Theseincluded
theInternet,TV(forexample,theBBC
programmeChild of Our Time),andfrom
books.Professionaljournalsandnewspapers
suchastheTimes Education Supplement
werealsomentionedaspotentialsourcesof
informationforteachers.Someinterested
teachershadreadpapersinacademic
journals,butatleastoneparticipantmade
thepointthatthiscanbe:“quite challenging,
particularly if your previous educational
experience has not been scientific.”
Oneviewpointthatdidseemtoemerge
fromtheinterviewswithteachersconcerned
theabilityoftheinformationsourceto
beaccessible,inspirationaland,aboveall,
abletodealwiththepracticalneedsofthe
teacher’srole.
“Where did I get that? I think it may have been
from Alistair Smith or somebody like that,
who was brilliant. I suppose this is where I
got a few of my ideas from, when you go and
see someone who puts what they’re talking
34
about into practice, they try it out on you, so
instantly it‘s more memorable anyway - you
think, oh yeah, I remember that INSET, he had
us standing up and trying to rub our tummy
and pat our head at the same time ... you
remember it more.”
InreferencetotheLearningBrainEurope
conferenceinManchester,oneparticipant,
whohadattendedboththatconferenceand
theCambridgeconferencenoted:
“I did feel, though, that [the Learning Brain
Europe] conference helped people to leave
with practical strategies that they could use
tomorrow in their classrooms. This [Education
and Brain Research] conference will require
teachers to be able to interpret what’s been
said to them - which is fine for those teachers
that are so interested that they will have given
up 3 days of their holiday to come to it ... But
for the teachers who would rather sit at the
back of the training session with their arms
folded and say ‘I’ve been teaching for 25 years,
what can you tell me about teaching’, this
format [Cambridge conference] would not be
acceptable to them, they would vote with their
feet and walk out.”
Onthesubjectofwhatteachersknowabout
thebrainandhowtheyknowit,itisclear
thatresponsesmadeduringtheinterviews
maponto,andextend,thosefromthe
questionnairestudy.Teachersareawareofa
numberofbrain-relatededucationalissues
includingteachingandlearningapproaches
andeducationalkinesiology,plussome
knowledgefromtheacademicworldsof
psychologyandneuroscience.Theprocess
bywhichthisinformationreachesteachers
seemstoinvolveinterestedteachers
(includingspecialneedsco-ordinatorsand
headteachers)goingoutfromtheschool
toeventssuchasconferencesandtraining
days.Ideasthatlinkneuroscienceand
educationseemtohaveconsiderableappeal
andhavebeentakenbackintoschoolby
theinterestedteachers.Theprocessof
knowledgedisseminationisquitecomplex,
therefore,andanumberoffactorsseem
toplayaroleinwhetheraschooltakeson
neuroscienceandeducation,andhow.One
importantfactorseemstobetheextentthat
theknowledgecomesfromasourcethat
ismemorableandthatprovidesteachers
withpracticalstrategiesforworkingwith
learners.However,itisclearthatsome
educationalprofessionalsarekeentomake
themselvesawareofthescientificbasisof
neuroscienceandeducationinitiatives,even
thoughthismeansthattheywillberequired
toengagewithconferencepresentations,
journalpapersandbooks,whichare
perceivedasmorechallengingtoconsume:
“Because if I read in the TES that there’s
something going on that I’m interested in, then
I’ll write it down ... for instance, a few years ago
somebody had done some really big research
on spelling and I sent off for the book, and that
was from reading about some research that
had been done and who to get the book from
... I think it was one of the universities ... And I
sent off for it.”
Theissueofhowbesttodisseminate
informationaboutneuroscienceand
educationwasastrongthemethroughout
manyoftheinterviewsandregardlessof
howtheteacherswhotookpartinthis
studyhadobtainedknowledgeaboutthis
topic,manyofthemhadstrongviewson
howtheprocessofdisseminationmightbe
35
handledinthefuture.Inparticular,teachers
stressedtheimportanceofaccessibility
ofknowledge.Twokeyissuesemerged
inrelationtothispoint:thelackoftime
availabletoteacherstofindoutabout
scientificinitiativeslikeneuroscience,and
themismatchbetweenthenatureofthe
informationdisseminatedbyacademics
andtheexistingknowledgeandneedsof
teachers.Inrelationtotheissueoftime,one
interviewparticipanttoldus:
“I feel ... inspired to find out the truth really,
and not so readily believe what you read in the
TES or any other article, where you just blindly
believe it and don’t actually find out the facts
for yourself. But like lots of people have said
today, there isn’t the time, I barely ever read
the TES, let alone any other publication, let
alone finding journals in libraries, etc. And I
know that seems like an excuse, but teachers,
unless they’re in the Summer holidays - they
don’t have the time to pursue things like that
- whether they’re interested or not, they just
don’t have the time.”
Thisviewpointwascommonintheinterview
responses.Althoughmanyoftheinterview
participantshadobtainedinformationabout
neuroscienceandeducationfromacademic
sources,theywerescepticalabouthowthis
processwouldworkforallteachers.
“I feel very privileged that I’ve got the time ...
[to read], but when you’re teaching you’re too
tired.”
“I’m just trying to be realistic and thinking
about lots of teachers that I know within the
profession, there are some that are really,
really enthusiastic and will go out of their way
to take on new ideas and learn about new
36
things, but then there are a lot more who are
simply trying to keep up with things and trying
to keep a balance between their home life and
their school life, so they don’t really have the
time, or feel that they have the time, to look
into these things in a lot of depth.”
HereweseethatalthoughINSEThadbeen
seenasagoodwayofprovidingteachers
withknowledgeaboutneuroscienceand
education,therewerealsolimitstotherole
thatthisformofdisseminationmightplay:
“... with [teaching and learning] products, what
happens is, oh, right, we’ve got an INSET day in
3 weeks time ... And then when [the teachers]
turn up at the INSET day and the subject is
presented to them, that’s when they’ll maybe
start thinking about it and then maybe they’ll
make links with what they’ve heard before, or
maybe what they’ve read somewhere but not
really taken on board.”
“... when you go to in-service training for those
sort of conditions [eg ADHD], the real causes
and what might be able to be done about
those causes are skimmed over, I think, very,
very quickly, because usually what teachers
are concerned about is how they deal with
the outcomes, it‘s not sort of considered that
it’s our job to think about why it’s actually
happening ...”
“... I think INSET days are a really good
opportunity ... but they tend to be quite short
and there’s so many things that the school
wants to cover. ... I’ve always thought that the
information they give you is very good, but
it’s never in-depth enough. And what you’re
wanting is to be able to read something and
digest it and understand it and then have an
opportunity to talk about it afterwards.”
Manyrespondentsseemedtofeelthatthe
language,toneandmessageofsomeofthe
moreacademicinformationonneuroscience
andeducationwasnothelpfultoteachers.
“The neuroscientists ... some of them have
got a fantastic wealth of knowledge, but it‘s
difficult for them to translate that knowledge
into a format that is comprehensible to the
teachers and relevant to the teachers.”
Thisviewpointwascommonamongstthe
respondents,someofwhomappearedto
feelthatthiswasaproblemcreatedbythe
academicsthemselves,whileothersputit
downtotheirownignoranceandinability
tounderstand.Indeed,someteachers
appearedtodiscountthemselvesfrom
beingabletodealwithneuroscientific
knowledgeinitsacademicform.
“I did a few of those conclusions myself
listening to [academic researchers’] results,
I’d say, oh well, that must mean that I can
do this in the classroom, when actually
they concluded it in a completely different
way because ... I’d misread the result, or
misinterpreted it, or overgeneralised it.”
“I wouldn’t like to know all of [the brain’s]
ins and outs, because I probably wouldn’t
understand it, to be honest, knowing my
limitations.”
Someofthosewhotookpartinthe
interviewsacknowledgedthattherewasa
bigdifferenceintheskillsofcommunication
betweenmanyacademicsintheworldof
neuroscienceandtheindividualsassociated
withtheteachingandlearningapproaches.
Therewasasenseamongstsometeachers
thatasuggestedlackofscientificbasis
37
tosomeoftheteachingandlearning
approacheslentweighttoaviewofthe
individualsthatpromotedtheseas‘snake
oilsellers’.Despitethis,onerespondentfelt
thatthemorepopulistdisseminatorshadan
advantageovertheacademicsintermsof
theirabilitytocommunicateeffectivelywith
teachers:
“... [the academics are] not seen as
communicators always, whereas the snake oil
sellers are often gifted communicators, and
they’re the ones that the teachers take home to
come and teach them on their INSET days.”
Thecommentsinthissectionpaintan
interestingbutcomplexpictureofthe
extenttowhichtheneedsofteachersare
beingmetintermsofthedissemination
ofknowledgeaboutneuroscienceand
education.Althoughasignificantnumber
ofeducationprofessionalsdoseemto
haveacuriosityaboutthebrainanditsrole
inteachingandlearning,itwasfeltthat
notallteachersareinterested,certainly
atthisstage,infindingoutmoreabout
neuroscienceandeducation.Muchof
theinformationthatdoesfinditsway
toteacherscomesviaINSETdays,and
oftenconcernsteachingandlearning
approaches,suchasBrainGym,which
translateeasilyintopractice.Someteachers,
particularlythosewitharesponsibility
forpupilswithspecialeducationalneeds,
mayhaveencounteredinformation
aboutcognitiveandneuroscientificbasis
oflearningproblemsthroughtraining
courses,conferencesandtheirownreading.
However,mostteachersfeelthatacademics
arenotalwayswellplacedtodeliver
informationinawaythatisaccessibleand
usefulforthem.Thisisdespitethefactthat
asmall,butapparentlygrowing,number
ofteachersarebeginningtofeelaneedto
establishascientificbasisforsomeofthe
teachingandlearningtechniquesthatthey
havebeenusing.
Onepossibleroutefordisseminating
knowledgeaboutneuroscienceand
educationisthroughteachertraining.This
ideawasdiscussedduringanumberofthe
interviews.Regardlessofwhethertheyhad
undertakenaBEdorPGCE,respondents
reportedthattheyhadnotreceived
informationabouttheworkingsofthebrain
duringtheirtraining.Thisisunsurprising,
asmostrespondentshadtrainedatatime
whenrelevantneuroscientificknowledge
wasunlikelytohavebeenavailable.More
tellingperhapsisthelackofpsychological
inputreportedbyrespondents.Although
oneoftheteachersdidfeelthatshe
hadbenefitedfromtraininginchild
development,othersindicatedthatthey
wouldhavelikedtohavelearnedmore
aboutpsychologicalandneuroscience
issuesastheyrelatetoteaching.Participants
certainlyfeltthat,asknowledgefromthese
domainswasnowdevelopingwell,itshould
beincludedintoinitialteachertraining.
“I think that as a start it should be more of an
important issue in terms of teacher training,
because ... I just find with the education system
that you’re ... almost like a rat in a wheel once
you get into the system, because there’s never
enough time for anything ... Whereas I think
if it’s something that is kind of embedded at
teacher training level, so when people start
on their career at that stage they think, oh
yes, this is really, really important and this is
38
something which needs to have an impact
throughout my teaching career, because it’s
something that’s always going to be influential
in terms of maybe how children are learning
and responding to what I‘m doing.”
Participantsnotedthatteachersalready
inpostmightbenefitfrominputon
neuroscienceandeducationthrough
ContinuingProfessionalDevelopment,
althoughaswehaveseen,ifthistakes
theformofINSETdays,thereareissues
regardingtheeffectivenessofthe
disseminationprocessthatmayrequire
furtherattention.
(b) How might knowledge from
neuroscience be used in education?
Animportantissueinthebringing
togetherofneuroscienceandeducation
concernsteachers’viewsonhowbestto
usethegrowingbodyofknowledgethat
isdevelopingfromacademicresearch
inneuroscienceandrelateddisciplines.
Anumberofthemesemergedfromthe
discussionswithteachers.Thefirstmadea
linkbetweenneuroscientificknowledgeand
specialeducationalneeds.However,itwas
clearthansometeachersfeltverystrongly
thatneuroscienceshouldbeinaposition
toinformtheteachingofalllearners,not
justthosewithpurportedneurological
differences.Afurtherthemewasthat
ofthedevelopmentofabroad-based
understandingofhumanlearningprocesses,
whichmightthenenableteacherstowork
confidentlyandflexiblytomeetthevarying
needsoflearners.Theseideasareexamined
inmoredetailbelow.
Indiscussingtheroleofneuroscientific
knowledgeintheeducationofchildren
withspecialeducationalneeds,oneteacher
commented:

“I think what I would really like to find out is
how you can take the information that you’ve
got about problems within the brain and turn
that into practical ways of overcoming those
problems.”
Interestingly,theemphasishereisonthe
translationofknowledgeintopractice:
“Because at the moment I feel that I am sort
of beginning to get an understanding of why
things for some children are not going right,
but having that knowledge doesn’t make me
know what to do to help them in practical
terms. So it’s kind of linking the knowledge
about specific difficulties with specific ways of
teaching to overcome those difficulties.”
Thesameparticipantalsopointsout:
“If you go into schools and say, right, we’ve
identified that this is happening within the
brain and it affects children in this way, we
now know why children are having problems
with, say, literacy or numeracy, because such
and such is occurring in the brain, we’ve
scientifically proved that it‘s happening in all
of them ... I don’t think that that’s enough for
teachers, because what they’re looking for you
to say is ... what do we have to do to make
sure we can help children, that we can help the
children to overcome that problem?”
Thus,fromthisrespondent(andothers)
comestheviewthatitisnottheroleof
theteachertocarryoutthetranslation
ofknowledgefromacademicresearch
inneuroscienceintospecificteaching
strategies.Thisprocessneedstohave
occurredbeforeteachersbecomeinvolved.
However,anotherperspectivestressesthe
collaborativenatureofthedevelopmentof
educationalpracticefromneuroscientific
knowledge:
“... what I think teachers benefit from most
in terms of training and new initiatives is
being given the time and money to be able
to go off for a day or whatever to talk to
other professionals, not just teachers but also
neuroscientists, any other scientists, anyone
else who’s got anything relevant to say, and
actually talk about the evidence that there is
to support these new things, so that teachers
can make their own mind up about how they
fit into the classroom.”
“... before [researchers] go about applying
information, I think [they] should visit [schools]
and see what it’s like in order to be able to do
that, because otherwise [their] suggestions just
might not be suitable at all.”
Regardlessofthespecificsbywhich
theprocessoccurs,otherteachershave
voicedtheirenthusiasmfortherolethat
knowledgefromneuroscienceappearsto
playinteachingindividualswithspecial
educationalneeds:
“… we’ve got a programme that works for
children who have reading difficulties … And
I think that that’s directly coming from studies
on neuroscience that have looked at working
memory and the workings of the brain and the
impact of language and so on … I think that’s
been really useful.”
“It helps me. And I think it would also help
particularly support assistants in school, who
tend to be the people who generally work with
these children. If you can say so and so does
this … because … and he has to do it this way
because of that, then it would actually help
them.”
40
Knowledgefromneuroscienceappears
tobeviewedasapotentialexplanatory
forceforthedifficultiesexperiencedby
individualswithspecialneeds.Thisviewis
illustratedbythefollowingcomment:
“I think knowledge of why children have
problems learning what they do is powerful
both for the teachers and for the pupils and
their parents, because it takes some of the
pressure off … it takes away a lot of the …
emotional overtones of finding it difficult to
learn to read, or not being good at maths, or
whatever else it is.”
Neuroscienceknowledgewasfelttobe
relevanttomainstreameducationtoo.
“I’d like to see it focussing on what typical
learners do and how they learn, because
there’s a lot of children in our schools that
aren’t learning as effectively as they could
be doing and I think that it’s important to
focus on them as well as the special needs
kids … And I think that teachers will be very
interested in what they can do for the majority
of children.”
“… if you understand more of the workings of
the brain – if that informs teaching then that
informs all teaching.”
Inmanywaysthisviewrelatestothe
thirdthemethatemergedfromthedata,
theideathatknowledgeaboutthebrain
mightprovideteacherswithagreater
understandingoftheneedsofalllearners,
and,therefore,beabletodelivertheir
teachinginamoreflexibleandconfident
way.Whenaskedhowknowledgeabout
thebrainwouldbeused,oneparticipant
replied:
“To inform my teaching and to have a better
understanding of the individuals that I’m
working with.”
Inresponsetothesamequestion,another
participantsaid:
“Just to support things in the classroom, just
to have a knowledge. It’s lovely actually …
it feels better if I’ve got a background that I
can … and I’ve used the background of child
development, and the background of the brain
might actually just be strength really. And I
think that would impact on other things that I
decide to do.”
Yetanotherparticipantindicatedaview
thatknowledgefromneurosciencecouldbe
incorporatedintoeducationalpracticeina
verybroadbutpervasiveway:
“I think it’s probably in the context of what
teaching actually is – the sort of ‘meta-view’
of it, because at the moment in secondary
schools, teachers are very much subject-
based and now with the development of
neuroscience you have to see teachers more as
educators … so they actually understand the
stages that children learn at, how they learn
more …”
Interestingly,someteachersexpressed
opinionsthatlinkallthreeofthethemes
thathavebeendiscussedhere,namelythe
potentialroleforneurosciencetoinform
inclusive education.
“… if those activities can be activities that will
be good for dyslexia, Aspergers, etc. … as well
as the normal learners then you’re talking
about quality education or inclusive education
… It’s all about inclusion …”
4I
Whenaskedwhetherteacherswouldview
whatgoesoninthebrainasimportantas
theotherfactorsaffectingachild’slearning,
oneparticipantanswered:
“I think that they’d consider it amongst
everything else, probably as equally important.
Particularly now, because if you have an
inclusive setting and you’ve got lots of people
with differences and difficulties …”
Thus,onefactorthatmayhaveabearing
onteachers’desiretolearnmoreabout
thenbrainmaybetheincreasinglyinclusive
approachtoeducationinBritishschools.
Ifteachersarefacedwithamorediverse
populationoflearners,knowledgefrom
neurosciencemayprovideonewayto
understandthispopulationbetterandmake
appropriateprovisionfortheirneeds.
Theteachersthattookpartinthisinterview
studyhaveclearlyarticulatedanenthusiasm
forknowledgefromneurosciencetobe
appliedtoeducationalsettings.Thisdoes
not,however,meanthatthisgroupof
teachersdoesnotrecognisethatsome
seriousissuesmustberecognised,and
dealtwith,forthisinitiativetobesuccessful.
Someoftheseissuesarediscussedinthe
followingsection.
(c) Issues in bringing together
neuroscience and education: pitfalls,
problems, barriers and challenges.
Issuesarisingfromtheapplicationof
neuroscienceandeducationthatwererated
asveryimportantbyparticipantsinthe
questionnairestudyincludedtheneedfora
genuinedialoguebetweenbrainresearchers
andeducationpractitioners,relevanceto
whatactuallygoesonintheclassroom
andeaseofaccessibilitytoeducators.The
teacherswhotookpartintheinterviews
echoedtheseviews.
Onthesubjectofcommunicationbetween
teachersandneuroscienceresearchers,one
participantsaid:
“I think it would be a great shame not to have
that communication. But how you do it to
suit both parties I think would need a lot of
consideration, because … as interesting as
the information is, for a teacher you have to
have some practical implication and it has to
be deliverable and manageable … and I think
previously that’s what’s caused difficulties …
people don’t suggest how you might go about
it. And I think that it’s important to think about
that.”
Theissueoflanguagewasraisedbyanother
teacher,whosaid:
“The other thing that I sort of noticed is that
there’s two different sorts of language. In terms
of how things are presented there’s a different
language that labels things … teachers will
say one thing and the researchers will say
something else.”
Thisparticipantwentontosuggestthat
therewasaneedfora “common ground of
what things are called or guide notes so that
people know what it is that they are talking
about.”
Thematchbetweentheoutcomesof
researchandtheneedsofteacherswas
raisedbyyetanotherparticipant,whosaid:
“I think one of the things that I am looking
for when I am reading lots of these journal
42
articles and things when they’re talking
about their findings and they’re talking about
implications, they don’t seem to match what
goes on in a classroom and how you would be
able to deliver it to the majority.”
Anadditionalissueforthelinkbetween
researchandpracticeconcernsthenatureof
theresearchprocess,andthedisagreement
thatoftenexistsbetweendifferent
researchersinthesamefield. “I think that
possibly one of the biggest hurdles, though,
is where there isn’t a consensus amongst
researchers. How do you present your findings?
Because whatever one group says, somebody
else says something different.”
Atleasttwosuggestionsweremadeduring
theinterviewsregardingapproachesto
dealingwithsomeoftheproblemsof
bringingpractitionersandresearchersfrom
twoverydifferentdomainstogetherto
providefruitfuloutcomes.Onesuggestion
concernedgettingteachersmoreinvolved
intheresearchprocess:“… I think there’s
much more of perhaps opportunity for
getting interested teachers to conduct full-
scale research…some teachers would be very
interested and would have the background
where they could actually do it … Just trying
things out, or saying this is what we see from
the MRI scanning, this is what the effects you
might see as a result of it are.”
Anothersuggestioninvolvedthe
developmentofco-ordinators
–professionalswhoareabletoactasa
bridgebetweenthetwodisciplines.Within
schoolsitwassuggestedthat,ratherthan
requiringindividualteacherstodevelopa
knowledgebasearoundneuroscienceand
assesstheusefulnessofinitiativesbasedon
neuroscientificknowledge,theremightbe
aneedforaco-ordinator–“… somebody
within the school who is perhaps given
responsibility for keeping updated on all sorts
of recent developments …” or“some experts to
bridge the gap … people that understand the
educational terms and the scientific/technical
terms to be able to see how it sort of translates
from one to the other to make it useful … you
need someone to be really picking holes in
things and really getting the essence of what
that experiment has or hasn’t found out and
then how that translates into layman’s terms
or teacher’s terms to help in the classroom.”
Participantsinthequestionnairestudywere
overwhelminglypositiveaboutthebenefits
ofmanyoftheteachingandlearning
initiativesusedintheirinstitutionsthat
werebasedonideasaboutthebrain.This
enthusiasmisreflectedinthediscussions
withinterviewparticipants;however,
someoftheteachersthatspoketoushad
beguntoquestionthescientificvalidityof
someoftheseinitiatives.Acontributing
factortothisprocessofre-evaluationwas
undoubtedlytheinformationthatwas
presentedbysomeofthespeakersatthe
EducationandBrainResearchconference
(wheresomeoftheinterviewswerecarried
out),whichindicatedalackofscientific
supportfortheeffectivenessofeducational
programmessuchasBrainGym.When
facedwiththisconflictbetweenwhatcan
besupportedscientificallyandwhatis
seentobeaneffectiveteachingtoolinthe
classroom,someinterestingpointswere
madebytheinterviewparticipants.Atlast
oneparticipantcommunicatedasenseof
embarrassmentandbetrayalonhearing
43
thatthemethodsthatshehadbeenusing
inschoolhadbeenproperlyscientifically
scrutinisedbeforetheywerepromotedto
teachers:
“It almost sounds silly now I say it, but I was
so convinced by it … So I guess it’s a bit
disappointing when you find out that
something actually isn’t … how you were led
to believe it was …”
Thisparticipantwentontosay:“There isn’t
one person here [at the Education and Brain
Research conference], I’m sure, one teacher,
who doesn’t know about visual learning,
auditory learning, Brain Gym, and it’s because
… I guess it’s something easy to understand
and I don’t mean that in a patronising way,
it‘s something that you can grasp onto, it‘s
something that you know what you can do
about it … And I guess that that’s sort of
got watered down more and more, people
don’t need to see the evidence that it works
any more, they’re just told it so they believe
it because they haven’t got time to go and
investigate it for themselves.”
Theaboveparticipantwentontodescribe
teachersasbeing“a bit vulnerable to
somebody in the know telling us that works”,
however,notallteacherswereasunsettled
bythesuggestedlackofscientificbasisfor
theinitiativesthattheyhadbeenusing.In
44
factsometeachers,aminorityoflessthan
aquarteraccordingtothesurvey,didnot
seemtofeelthatalackofscientificsupport
wasnecessarilyrelevanttothesuccessofa
teachingtoolintheclassroom.Whenasked
whetheraparticipantneededascientific
underpinninginordertouseateaching
technique,theresponsegivenwas:“No,
because if it works it means that we’re quite
happy to do it. We’ve been doing it for years
without scientific underpinning … What the
scientific underpinning does tell you is why it’s
working, why it works; as opposed to we know
it works.”
“I suppose scientifically if they can say that it
doesn’t [work] then it doesn’t, but it‘s not going
to stop people doing it if it actually works with
kids and they can see benefits.”
Thus,oneofthechallengesforthose
seekingtobringneuroscienceand
educationtogetheristheneedtodevelop
anunderstandingofthecriteriausedby
thedifferentprofessionalgroupswhen
assessingeffectiveness.Arelatedissue,and
onewhichlinkstotheviewsexpressedby
theparticipantwhofeltratherletdownby
thesuggestedlackofscientificsupportfor
somebrain-basededucationaltechniques,
ishowinformationabouteffectiveness
canbestbemadeavailabletoeducators.
Asuggestionmadeduringthediscussions
atthefirstESRC-TLRPNeuroscienceand
EducationSeminar(Group3)concernedthe
developmentofadatabaseofeducational
initiatives,similartothatdevelopedin
medicine,providinginformationabout
researchcarriedoutwiththedifferent
initiatives.Anotherapproachtothe
challengeofhelpingteacherstobeableto
makeinformeddecisionsabouteducational
initiativesisbasedupontheprovisionof
trainingincriticalskillsfortheteachers.
Anumberofteachersintheinterview
studyfeltthatthesemightbegoodideas:
“because I just think … it would give you
more autonomy then. Because I think it’s a
great shame that there’s so many initiatives
and ideas and opportunities to experiment
and try things out, but … if you have more
experiments that are not successful or don’t
think are having an impact, then it become
very tiresome. And you really want to cut that
out because it can also create inconsistencies,
which then affect the students … I think it can
also perhaps even create a feeling that you
lose trust if someone keeps telling you to do
lots of different things without any validity
to it. And instead of making people cynical, I
think it would be more beneficial if you could
make them critical.”
Oneadditionalissuethatwasdiscussed
brieflyduringsomeoftheinterviewswas
thepotentialforneuroscientificknowledge
tobringwithitsomerisksaswellas
opportunities.Suchknowledgemight,for
example,lenditselftothedevelopmentof
ahighlybiologicallydeterministicapproach
tolearnersandlearning.Anumberof
participantsfeltthatthismightbeoneof
therisksofencouraginganeuroscientific
perspectiveoneducation: “I think that
there would be a danger that you pigeon-
hole people, and if you class people purely
on biological definitions then there perhaps
would be a danger that you give them a kind
of finite ability … it‘s like, oh, they’ve got this
and therefore can only do it this way and they
can only learn so much …”.Arelatedissue
concernsteachers‘viewsontherelationship
45
betweenmedicalandeducationalconcerns,
asembodiedbylearningproblemssuchas
ADHD.Here,rightlyorwrongly,teachers
mayfindsomecomfortintheideathat
childrenwiththisconditioncannothelp
howtheybehave.Suchperspectivesmay
benefitfromtheuseofneuroscientific
knowledgeforsupport.Onamorepositive
note,however,anumberofteachersappear
tobeinterestedintheconceptofneural
plasticity,anideathatmayhelptochallenge
viewsoffixedlearningabilitiesforall
people.
Summary of the findings from the
interviews with teachers
Thereremainanumberofquestionsto
beansweredregardingthebestwayto
deliveradditionalknowledgeandskills
concerningneuroscienceandeducationto
teachers,ifindeedteachersareinterested
indevelopingsuchskills.Itseemsclear
fromtheresponsesofquestionnaireand
interviewparticipantsthat,whiletheyhave
expressedaninterestinneuroscienceand
education,notallteacherswillsharethis
enthusiasmandinterest.Anadditional
challengetothedevelopmentofthis
multidisciplinarydomainisthelimitedtime
thatteachershaveavailabletointeract
withthisdevelopingarea.Giventhe
existingpressuresonteachers‘time,ease
ofaccessibilityofinformationseemstobe
crucial,butcanthisbeachievedwithout
sacrificingsomeoftheintegrityofthe
neuroscienceresearch?Therecertainly
seemstobeadesiretoestablishaformof
disseminationthatis‘teacher-friendly’in
structure,toneandpurpose.Whatform
thismighttakehasyettobeestablished,
althoughINSETdaysappeartobeapossible
candidate,alongwithprofessionalteaching
journals.Manyparticipantshavesuggested
thatinformationabouttheroleofthebrain
ineducationmaybebestdeliveredduring
initialteachertraining,inordertoprepare
teacherstobeabletodelivereducation
usingarangeofapproachesasneeded.
Discussions from the
ESRC-TLRP Collaborative
Frameworks for
Neuroscience and Education
seminars
AnimportantcomponentoftheESRC-TLRP
CollaborativeFrameworksforNeuroscience
andEducationseminarserieswasthe
opportunitytoassembleprofessionals
fromanumberofrelevantdisciplinesto
discusshowthedomainsofneuroscience
andeducationmightworktogether.Four
discussiongroupswereformedineachof
thefirstandthirdseminarsintheseries.
Ineachcasethegroupsweremadeupof
representativesfromanumberofdifferent
disciplinesincluding:neuroscience,
psychology(researchandpractice),
educationresearch,teaching,teacher
education,andothers.
Discussionwasinformedbyaseriesof
presentationsthathadoccurredduring
themorningoftheseminar.Inaddition
tothis,participantsinthediscussionwere
askedtoconsideraspecificquestion
foreachofthetwoseminars.Inthefirst
seminarthisquestionwas:“Whatsort
46
ofevidenceshouldinspireeducational
change?”andinthethirdseminar:“By
whatroutesshouldneuroscienceenterour
classrooms?”.Discussionswereaudiotaped
andtranscribedaspartoftheworkofthe
seminarseries.Summariesofthediscussions
arelocatedattheseminarwebsite(http://
www.bris.ac.uk/education/research/sites/
brain/).
Anumberofinterestingthemesemerged
fromareviewofthediscussions,mostof
whichechotheideasthatemanatedfrom
boththequestionnaireandinterview
studiesdescribedabove.Forexample,many
ofthediscussiongroupsidentifiedthe
significantinterestthatteachersappearto
haveinthebrain,butalsocommentedthat
thisisoftenmanifestedintheadoptionof
teachingandlearningapproachesthatseem
tobebasedonthebrain,butactuallyhave
noneuroscientificresearchtosupportthem.
Theviewthatteachersare,foranumberof
reasons,particularlyvulnerabletotheideas
putforwardbycharismaticfiguresselling
various‘brain-based’teachingstrategieswas
alsovoicedbyanumberofthediscussants.
However,anumberoftheparticipants
raisedtheissuethatsomeofthese
strategieshavebeenfoundtobeusefulin
theclassroom.Canneuroscienceprovide
informationthatcanbeusefullyappliedina
classroomsetting?
Thevoiceofneuroscientistswasevident
indiscussionswheretheywereableto
provideasenseoftherelativelyearlystage
ofdevelopmentoftheirdiscipline.Itwas
suggestedthattheavailabletechnology
placeslimitsonwhatcanbeinvestigated.
Althoughtechnologyischangingallthe
time,techniquessuchasMRImaynotbe
abletoprovidethekindofdatathatmakes
agreatdealofsenseinrelationtotheworld
oftheclassroom.Othertechniquessuchas
MEGandEEGmayhavemorepromisefor
this,however.Anumberofthediscussants
alsopointedoutthatthetasksthatcanbe
investigatedusingneurosciencetechniques
areoftenverysimple,anddonotnecessarily
reflectthecomplexityofwhatachild
experiencesintheclassroom.
However,anumberofthecontributors
tothediscussionsdidhavepositive
experiencesofknowledgefrom
neurosciencebeingrelatedtoeducation,
andtherewasageneralviewthroughout
discussionsthatthiswasanendeavour
worthpursuing(especiallyasmanyschools
seemtohaveembracedtheideaanyway).
Someofthegroupsdiscussedtheproblems
associatedwithbringingtwovery
differentdisciplinestogetherandnoted
thedifferencesinlanguage,perspective
andneedfoundinneuroscienceand
education.Asuggestionwasmadethata
hybridprofessionalmightbedeveloped—
someonewhowasabletoworkcomfortably
withbothdisciplinesandtoactasabridge
betweenthem.Ideassuchasthesewere
alsofoundintheinterviewswithteachers
describedabove.Issuesconcerningthe
trainingofteacherswerealsodiscussed.
Overall,manyoftheparticipantsinthe
discussionsfeltthattherewasscopefor
bothprofessionalgroupstodevelopan
understandingofeachother’sworlds,
forthesakeofthedevelopmentofan
interdisciplinaryperspectiveonhowbestto
delivereducationtoall.
47
4. Conclusions
Insummary:
Thereisgenerallyapositiveinterest,
acrosstheeducationalcommunity,in
applyinginsightsfromneuroscienceto
education.
Educatorsconsiderboththeevaluation
ofclassroomimpactandtheverification
ofanyproposedscientificbasisas
importantinsuchventures.
Perceptionsofapplyingneurosciencein
educationhavebeenpartlyinfluenced
byso-called‘brain-based’learning
programmeswhosescienceisnow
seriouslycontested.Whilemany
teachersfeeltheyhaveobserved



improvedlearningoutcomesfrom
theseprogrammes,theteacherswe
interviewedwouldappreciategreater
accesstoevaluativeevidencethat
scrutinisestheirscientificbasisandtheir
effectiveness.
Irrespectiveofdebatesaboutcurrent
brain-basedlearningprogrammes,
thoseworkingineducationare
supportiveoffuturecollaboration
betweenneuroscienceandeducation,
butemphasisetheneedforimproved
communicationandatwo-waydialogue
thatisgroundedinthepracticalneedsof
educators.

48
5. Further Consultation
WithhelpfromtheOECD,thesamesurvey
wascarriedoutonlinefromtheOECD
BrainandLearningwebsite.48responses
werereceivedbetweenSeptember2005
andJune2006fromaroundtheworld(US
=19,UK=8,Australia=3,Germany=3,
Netherlands=2,andoneresponseeach
fromSweden,Spain,Mexico,Canada,China,
Sudan,Ukraine,Malaysia,Greece,Poland,
Singapore,SaudiArabiaandItaly.Analysis
ofthedatarevealednonotabledifferences
fromtheUKsurveyresults,suggestingthe
trendsreportedabovemaybereflected
globally.
49
The Innovation Unit
The Innovation Unit is one of the country’s
leading organisations for innovation in
education. We act as a catalyst for change,
drawing on talent from both the public and
private sectors, to improve education and
other related services. We have extensive
experience in school leadership, education
system reform, policy making, universities,
the BBC, local authorities and the private
sector. We also draw on a network of
thought leaders from the UK and around
the world. Our goal is to improve education
by combining the expertise of people who
work in schools with the ambition of policy
makers.
We have a range of projects in our portfolio,
the largest of which is our Next Practice
Education Programme, in which we support
schools and local authorities as they take
forward their own cutting-edge ideas
to improve education. Next Practice is
disciplined innovation — a new approach
to stimulating, incubating, and accelerating
innovation, which is strongly driven by
users’ needs. The current programme
covers system leadership, resourcing
personalisation, communities for learning,
and parents and carers.
We also support the web-based Research
Informed Practice Site (TRIPS) and the
National Teacher Research Panel (NTRP),
as well as promoting teacher discussion
about research in the online Innovation
Community. The Innovation Unit is also
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Cabinet Office looking at Innovation in the
Third Sector.
www.innovation-unit.co.uk
Neuroscience and Education Network, University of Bristol
about the brain, mind and education.
Research projects include consultation,
practitioner-based studies and experimental
neuroimaging projects.
www.bris.ac.uk/education/research/
networks/nenet
The report is authored by members of
the Neuroscience and Education Network
(NEnet), an interdisciplinary group of
researchers based at the Graduate School of
Education, University of Bristol. Researchers
within NEnet seek to answer questions
involving the interrelation of concepts
50
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