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What can neuroscience teach education?

15 May, 2013

Left and right brain function - artworkDo we really only use 10 per cent of our brain at any one time? And do we use one half of our brain more than the other? The answers are no and no, but that doesn’t seem to stop these claims circulating. The Wellcome Trust’s new education and neuroscience project seeks to banish these and other “neuromyths” and identify well-justified, evidence-based neuroscience interventions in educational settings, where and when appropriate. It’s a very exciting project and there are a number of ways that you can play a part in shaping the future of education.

The Trust spends around £50 million each year funding neuroscience research and many neuroscientists emphasise the potential of their work to affect education and use it to justify their work. However, translating findings into interventions that can be tested in educational settings is more challenging.  Nevertheless, we believe that the interface between neuroscience and education has real potential to improve education. We need to work harder to understand where the greatest potential is and explore what approaches might be most beneficial and also acceptable and realistic. Although this area is at an early stage of development, we cannot sit idly by waiting for it to flourish – activities and technologies are already being developed in this space and we need to understand them better and maximise their potential for improving education.

We are generally interested in establishing a stronger evidence base for educational practice and the Trust’s Education team are developing this approach specifically in relation to neuroscience and education. We’re working in partnership with the Education Endowment Foundation, who are experienced in funding and evaluating evidence-based education projects and sharing evidence of what works using their Teaching and Learning Toolkit.

The vision of this project is to build research expertise at the interface between neuroscience and education, helping educators to make informed choices about different approaches. Ultimately this may enhance educational outcomes. Neuroscience is a strength in UK science and its fast-moving pace means that this project is important in establishing current practice and identifying how things can move forward. This work will explore how understanding about the brain can or does affect education. It fits within our Education team’s focus of Understanding Learning, a key part of the Trust’s 2010-2020 Education Strategy and also responds to one of the Trust’s Challenge areas: Understanding the Brain.

In the first phase of the project, we’re asking:

  • What do teachers, parents and students already do to improve learning, based upon their understanding of neuroscience?
  • What types of evidence convince teachers of the effectiveness of new educational interventions and encourage them to implement them in their own classroom?
  • How strong is the evidence for interventions based on neuroscience that are already in use?

As part of this, we are collecting the views of teachers, students and parents about activities or techniques based upon findings from neuroscience that they use to enhance learning. We’re interested in hearing from teachers in the UK and internationally about examples of activities or techniques they use with an aim of enhancing learning. To this end we have launched a survey for teachers and are also encouraging teachers and parents to help us include the views of students and examples of activities they do to improve the way their brain learns. In collaboration with Mumsnet, we are hosting a discussion thread on their website, to ask parents for their thoughts on how findings from neuroscience might help improve the way children learn. Parents also have the opportunity to share their views through our survey for parents.

Surveys are open until the end of May.

Even if you’re not a teacher, student or parent, we are still interested in your views and we will be involving different groups in different parts of the work in the future. You can stay up to date with through our Education newsletter, follow the Education team on Twitter and keep an eye on our webpage.

Anna Simmonds, Education, Wellcome Trust

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 17 May, 2013 2:06 pm

    We use all of our brain but what Einstein conveyed was we weren’t using all the ‘potential’. The education system is a disaster by itself and I’d say it is quite successful at not teaching about anything in most cases.

  2. 18 May, 2013 2:47 pm

    We already have politicians vying for educational funds at the expense of the children, and at the demoralization of teachers. All we need is eggheads who have the common sense of a flea destroying the educational system even more. Let’s let teachers teach. Most have the heart for it.

  3. Sara permalink
    7 Jan, 2014 1:51 pm

    Hi, I am a mother and I have teach my son with the neuroscience approach since he was born, I mean using the opportunity windows when its are open, still not 5 and can read, 4 languages, add, subtract, tell stories (hear and invented) for just example, always respecting short atention times (seconds).


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