Last night’s chat had a lot of big questions and answers. We wanted to share them a little wider so here are some of the highlight. The next chat is Wednesday 22nd April at 4pm BST.
We started with the difficulty of getting teenagers to listen to research:
MrGSimpson I showed students today this: http://bigthink.com/neurobonkers/assessing-the-evidence-for-the-one-thing-you-never-get-taught-in-school-how-to-learn and as I was telling them, it suddenly occurred to me that there is a paradox at play with regards students and brain research. They are interested to listen but much brain research suggests that due to the late development of the teenage brain, they can be stubborn and refuse to change their minds despite the evidence put in front of them. What do
josephdevlin I guess I wonder whether there is evidence that teens are any more stubborn than others when faced with evidence. Anyone know?
kathrincohenkadosh this is quite common in adults and children as well
mrgsimpson Is there no link between stubbornness and brain development then?
kathrincohenkadosh I think the important bit about the adolescent brain is not so much that it is inflexible or stubborn, but rather that there is a lot going on at the same time
kathrincohenkadosh @mrgsimpson, there is, in as far as slower developing control areas might interfere with controlling behaviour
josephdevlin I’m not familiar with a link between brain development and stubbornness — that certainly doesn’t mean much though as it’s not really my area though 😉
kathrincohenkadosh but this is not the only reason why people refuse to change behaviour
mrgsimpson I’m aware of things like confirmation bias and so on but I always like the quote about insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
kathrincohenkadosh @mrgsimpson, just think about how far adolescents have come already when it comes to controlling behaviour, for example in comparison with toddlers!
josephdevlin @MrG. How important is it, do you think, to get the kids to believe it as opposed to teachers and policy makers? I mean, if we can use the science to change policy locally at a school or more globally within the UK, is that enough?
mrgsimpson I think that’s a good point Joe but we tried the top down approach for growth mindsets and I would argue that a bottom up approach might have worked better.
josephdevlin @MrG, ahh that’s a good one because the evidence is really clear for the value in testing. I’m sorry to hear they aren’t buying into it. Too much work or something else do you think?
mrgsimpson It’s great that so much more information is coming out with regards learning and the brain but if we can’t get students to access it or believe in it, what’s the point? That sounds very defeatist and I know change takes time…
Moving on to control of adolescent behaviour:
amy fancourt Hello. I was just wondering if there is anything that we can do with our adolescent students to encourage them to try to control their impulsive behaviour and plan for the future?
josephdevlin @amy, yikes that’s asking a lot! Teens are particularly good at planning. Some of this is attributed to the development of white matter pathways in their frontal lobe. Not sure how we could speed that up. We really need Iroise here…
kathrincohenkadosh @amy excellent question, I think it helps to highlight to them that some difficult behaviour might be also related to the impressive developmental progress that they are making
kathrincohenkadosh @amy, @mrgsimpson in my neurofeedback training experiments, I am trying to teach participants to actively regulate their brain response using happy thoughts and it seems to work quite well, so, hopefully something to explore further in the future
josephdevlin @MrG, makes sense. What kind of things have you tried with them in terms of presenting evidence and trying to get them to attend to it?
Next @Bracon asked about differences betweeen the sexes:
bracon Is there a lot of difference in the sexies and how they function through the aging process? How can we develop the learning with these differences in mind?
josephdevlin There definitely are differences in boys and girls with respect to attainment at school, but I’m not familiar with much evidence of brain differences, particularly before puberty.
bracon It is very difficult to get the girls in particular to try something they are unsure about because they are frightened of getting it wrong. Any suggestions about how to over come this?
kathrincohenkadosh @bracon would there be a way to get them to try new things without others watching? Peer pressure is massive during these years
mrgsimpson I would suggest a rough book if schools don’t have them. I’m going to introduce it next year for my subject. I’m currently using the back of the book when girls don’t want to use the front because of the fear of mistakes.
josephdevlin @Bracon, I guess we need to create an environment where getting questions wrong is seen as a potential positive because it helps learning. The problem is there are so many reasons for getting something wrong and laziness, not paying attn, etc are not goi
mrsmarkoulides @MrG @Jo – when my students get something wrong I often cheer and say ‘yippee!! That means you can learn something new!! What a waste of time if you do loads of questions and you get them all right – that’s boring. it means you haven’t learnt anything”
mrsmarkoulides and I think overtime because I keep going on about it, it is sort-of sinking in….
josephdevlin @MrsMark — sounds good to me. How do they respond?
mrsmarkoulides @MrG – or miniwhiteboards – so they can write practice answers and then rub them out or correct them easily
westmeadhawk I teach young adults and adults: Adventures in the Margins of Error was a good book with a short video to introduce the idea of learning best whilst being wrong, and how to manage the difficult feelings around that – builds resilience too.
westmeadhawk Sharing the link (not spamming) http://beingwrongbook.com/video Showing it supported Interesting convos with students at the start of a course of learning.
allierinck @westmeadhawk, that video seems promising for helping students with a fixed mindset about their putatively low ability to think about the merit of being wrong. Thank you! It’s true that “what are you most wrong at” is a hard question!
DrBatmo asked about rate development and teaching methods:
drbatmo could differing rates development in different intelligences (e.g. emotional, physical) affect how successful teaching methods are?
josephdevlin Hi DrBat, I don’t know much about different rates of development across different types of intelligence. My (admittedly cursory) understanding was the different intelligences was more a descriptive convenience than an actual different thing in the mind/brain
kathrincohenkadosh @drbatmo this is a really good question but there is currently very little reasearch on this. there is one paper though showing that different trajectories of change in brain development relate to overall intelligence Shaw P, Greenstein D, Lerch JP, Clas
Next brain development:
westmeadhawk When does the average teenage brain finish its major developmental stage – is it possible to put an age range on it or does it vary?
kathrincohenkadosh @west the work by tamnes et al still shows development at 22 years
westmeadhawk Thanks Kathrin, that fits with what a therapist told me last week, so good to hear it verified.
kathrincohenkadosh @west my undergraduate students are less happy to hear this 🙂
drbatmo @kathrin thanks for the ref – fascinating!
And practice testing:
mrgsimpson I have banged at the door with regards ‘practice testing’ but students still like the filtering/summar ising method or re-reading notes. I’m aware that’s not bad but if evidence suggests there is a better way, then why don’t they want to do it. I have shared articles with them and have used the technique in class and encourage them to use the website memrise, which ticks a lot of boxes.
mrgsimpson Better the devil you know. A great Kylie song!
mrsmarkoulides @mrg – I know exactly what you mean. In my experience students often do what feels most comfortable for them and I think often re-reading notes etc can feel quite reassuring whereas doing practice questions is scary because they might get them wrong and t
josephdevlin @MrG, MrsMark — that makes sense. But it is precisely the getting questions wrong bit that benefits them the most in learning the material
And language within social groups:
drbatmo @joe maybe it’s a bit of a silly question, but teenagers (and different social groups in general( do have their own ‘language’
drbatmo …so would that affect how a person learns if the language of that lesson is so different?
josephdevlin @DrBat, definitely. Groups use language as a way to signify “in-group” and “out-group” membership. It varies how strongly this happens but it’s a real phenomena
josephdevlin @DrBat, mostly this plays out with vocabulary and accents. Folks from outside the group trying to put on the group language are often viewed suspiciously
mrgsimpson I think that’s one of the issues of getting students to embrace growth mindset. We need a teenage ‘in-group’ term that can sell it.
drbatmo @joe like the teacher who says ‘innit’ and ‘mate’ a lot!
josephdevlin @DrBat, I guess some teachers probably come from those backgrounds so if it’s authentic, all good. It’s the folks like me (I’m american) who try to put it on and that’s a disaster!
modannie @mrgsimpson We’ve had one great question and answer about growth mindset here too: http://learning.imascientist.org.uk/2015/04/13/theres-a-lot-of-talk-about-growth-mindset-in-education-at-the-moment-im-pretty-sure-theres-something-in-it-but-to/
And gender differences returned, and probably not for the last time…
mrsmarkoulides slightly different question… is there any truth in the idea that males are better at things like directions, spatial awareness etc… or is that just a myth?
josephdevlin @MrsMark, I think there is some truth to this in general, but not at an individual level
josephdevlin How does gender bias play out in your school? Do boys typically do better/worse in any specific areas?
mrsmarkoulides @Joe – I don’t really understand what you mean… (sorry!) can you explain a bit more?
josephdevlin @MrsMark — my bad, let me try again. I think there is some evidence that boys are better at spatial reasoning than girls are, but only on average. Individual girls can be off the charts good and better than all the boys. So it doesn’t mean that any in
mrsmarkoulides @Joe – Yes that makes sense now. Thank you for explaining. Does anyone know why there are these differences on average? Are male and female brains physically different?
josephdevlin @Kathrin, feel free to say I’m speaking nonsense, btw. Lots of topics here and I only know little fragments!
mrgsimpson I read ‘Gender Delusion’ and found it incredibly interesting with regards all the stereotypical stuff related to males and females. Worth a read!
kathrincohenkadosh @mrsmarks yes, definitely some evidence for difference in brain development and mature brain, male brains tend to be bigger and heavier
kathrincohenkadosh @mrsmarks this is difficult to interpret though, we don’t really know what that means
josephdevlin @MrsMark. There are some differences between male and female brains, yes, but they are subtler than normally made out. Obviously there are different levels of hormones running around the brains of boys and girls. The levels even change across the menst
mrgsimpson Isn’t the gap closing with regards brain sizes between the sexes?
josephdevlin @structurally, women have more fibres linking the two hemispheres but normally these are interpreted in outdated terms of left-brain, right-brain
allierinck And aren’t female brains more highly folded, compensating with surface area for size?
kathrincohenkadosh @mrgsimpson no, the gap does not close
mrsmarkoulides @Kathrin @Joe that’s really interesting!
josephdevlin The gap in brain size is almost entirely related to body size — on average males have larger bodies and therefore larger brains. I’m not aware of any gender differences in brain size outside of body size
kathrincohenkadosh @mrgsimpson: good paper showing different growth curves for boys and girls Giedd JN, Blumenthal J, Jeffries NO, Castellanos FX, Liu H, Zijdenbos A, Paus T, Evans AC, Rapoport JL. (1999): Brain development during childhood and adolescence: a longitudinal M
kathrincohenkadosh @mrgsimpson happy to send a pdf if difficult to get hold off
kathrincohenkadosh @mrgsimpson @joe I seem to remember that brain size still differs if taking into account body size
josephdevlin @allier, all human brains are folded like a wrinkled cloth. I’m not aware of any evidence that this differs between men and women. In fact, the few cases where I’ve seen evidence of folding differences are when additional folding is associated subtypes
kathrincohenkadosh could remember wrongly though…
josephdevlin In general, the human brain, if unfolded, is roughly the size and thickness of a large pizza (thin crust — not Chicago style)
eerussell I saw dolphin and human brain images recently. Probably twitter. They were clearly implying dolphin brain was more complex. Looked like more folds. True?
mrgsimpson I think I may have made that up…I might be getting into a muddle with regards a talk I saw Prof. Hood do about reduced brain size since the ice age. Or something like that. Ignore me…
josephdevlin @eerussell, you’re right- dolphin brains are more folded than human brains. Not sure this implies more complex, though. In general dolphins have bigger bodies than humans so that may explain it. Lots of mammals have highly folded brains (even sheep and
And self-efficacy and over-praising:
ccr2 Hello! I am interested in supporting students to develop their self efficacy, in order to encourage them to put more effort into their work. How is it best to do this? I want to encourage them but not fall prey to over-praising which is patronising (and, according to research, not likely to be believed by savvy students if it’s not true!).
josephdevlin @Caroline, Sorry! Just tracked that down from Lia’s heads up. Tricky question because praise/reward, if genuine, is the best incentive that I am aware of. But you’re right that over-praise doesn’t help
ccr2 Thanks @Joe! If I am correct, the greatest influence on self efficacy is one’s own success (rather than encouragement of others), so would gradually, but explicitly make takes harder over time and signposting this clearly support students conception of what they are capable of. I am sure this is something teachers do anyway, but do you think there is value is make this more explicit?
kathrincohenkadosh @caroline I believe there is some research showing that over-praising can actually be detrimental. This is not my area but you might find this link helpful, it has several references at the bottom of the article: http://www.parentingscience.com/effects-of
josephdevlin @caroline, Seems sensible to me. Signposting the fact that they are getting better can only help to reinforce their positive self-image and self-confidence I would think. Has that been your experience?
ccr2 Thank you @Kathrin, they’re very helpful!
ccr2 @Joe – good question – I have been trying it with one class in particular and showing newer work compared to older work (which can show a big difference) but their responses to this can vary – some are pleased, others play it down etc. As a teacher it ca
josephdevlin @caroline. Sounds impressive. I guess it’s inevitable that some will downplay the significance but I bet they still take it in. And if your class is working harder, that’s a major accomplishment. Nice one!
All together now: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
westmeadhawk It’s often said that neurons that ‘fire together wire together’ is this the case? And do repeated patterns of thought create strong neurological links (if that’s the right term)
mrgsimpson Neurons that fire together wire together is one of my class chants thanks to Lia!
josephdevlin @west, it is true, yes. This is basically what we think underlies learning (of most types) in brains. There are different forms of wires-together-f ires-together but yes, it does suggest that repeated sequences/patter ns become more learned or even entr
josephdevlin @MrG, Lia is cool — she provides great chants. Can’t argue with that
westmeadhawk Thanks @Joe – I also understand that pruning back of the weaker? connections does occur throughout life?
mrsmarkoulides @Joe is that where the idea of ‘muscle memory’ comes from? i.e. when you do an action repeatedly your muscles ‘remember’ it… (clearly it’s not your muscles).
josephdevlin @west, yes — connections are being pruned throughout life and this is a critical component of learning. In fact, you have the most connections in your brain by the age of 2 and it’s down hill ever after!
eerussell I was told recently that ‘experts’ in a subject still have the natural misconceptions of others, but can somehow override these assumptions due to regular reinforcing of correct pathways. . . pruning of sorts?
wellcometrust Relief my chants are not neuromyth or I’d be out of a job!
mrsmarkoulides so learning a new concept is not the formation of new connections in the brain?
drbatmo I read recently about the importance of the white matter in learning – Kathrin, do you see much change in white matter density or myelin location in
josephdevlin @MrsMark. I think so, yes. But as you say, it definitely is not the muscles that remember the movement but the neurons (brain and nerve cells). In fact, initially the movements are difficult/awkwar d before getting easier (with lots of practice). Even
josephdevlin Learning definitely affects connections but it doesn’t always affect white matter. The white part of white matter is a type of fatty sheath that covers axons — the wires linking brain cells together. But synapses are the ends of axons that actually talk to other cells. So you can make a change to a synapse (to prune it or make it stronger) without affecting the white matter per se.
mrsmarkoulides @Joe would that be expertise in just movements or also for conceptual stuff?
kathrincohenkadosh @drbatmo i recently read some papers showing that white matter development (which is ongoing and does not stop at age 22 btw) is an indicator of brain plasticity
josephdevlin @MrsMark, From what I know I think it is more general than just movements — even things like becoming more familiar with language would follow this same trajectory. We just wouldn’t call it muscle memory 😉
josephdevlin @MrsMarks. Learning a new concept almost certainly happens by changes to functional connections between brain cells but it may not mean actually creating new connections, no. It depends a bit on what we mean by “connections”. As long as these don’t req
kathrincohenkadosh @drbatmo in these papers, which were in mice only for now, social deprivation for a period of time was related to changes in white matter and difficulties in social behaviour and performance in a memory task. This this was reversible in adult mice but not
mrsmarkoulides @Joe so the overall network of neurones does not change dramatically but the connections between them is what changes following experiences
eerussell So we should really be putting maximum effort into child learning and support before primary age…maybe reverse the funding model? I teach at high school so this would not be popular with colleagues!
josephdevlin @MrsMark, That’s right. The main pathways and connections (wiring) are laid down before birth and then just refined by experience. Some continue to develop through the late teen years but these aren’t new pathways, just refinements. Even the growth of
kathrincohenkadosh @eerussell I am not sure, but maybe take more care in training EYFS teachers and paying them better?
josephdevlin @eerussell, I’d hate to give up on kids just because they made it to school age or to secondary school — they’ve got a ton of plasticity left in them. In fact, the evidence seems to suggest we all do pretty much until we die. So yes, there are big gain
kathrincohenkadosh @eerussell @ joe absolutely agree, still, I think that it would help to raise appreciation of EYFS teachers
eerussell As a governor I am aware of the sheer magic of great EYFS teachers. I think we should better value and support skills of nursery staff too.
josephdevlin One of the really clear findings to come out of recent human neuroscience is that the brain is a remarkably plastic place even through adulthood. The old adage about new tricks and old dogs just isn’t true. It may be harder for us elders to learn something but we definitely can and it definitely changes our brains
kathrincohenkadosh @eerussell, totally agree, got a boy at nursery and they are doing a great job. I would hate to see them under more pressure though re teaching reading and writing skills
mrgsimpson The funding model of education is odd given the research linked to plasticity of the brain. Isn’t this the problem though that old school traditions like school times and long summer holidays (for harvesting) and the funding model go against much of the research that would create better learners?
susannamartin1 @MrsGsimpson, not sure on the research for reducing the holidays, but what might be better is to offer more hands on learning opportunities at these times to show how learning can occur outside the traditional classroom
kathrincohenkadosh @eerussell not much evidence that all this early pressure actually gets us anywhere…
eerussell Kathrin. Ah yes, I don’t want them to have any more pressures of ‘measurement’ in nursery. I just wish people in general understood the complexity of what they do
josephdevlin @MrG. Lots of what we have in education is really dictated by funding models more than by what we know about the science. I guess that’s just reality but it can be discouraging.
kathrincohenkadosh @eerussell big thumbs up to that
drbatmo @mrg and taking into account especially teenagers delayed circadian clock – some of these school traditions definitely adversely affect learning
susannamartin1 @MrsG I think a big problem is lumping everyone in together and expecting everybody wanting/needing to work in the same way and to the same times
josephdevlin @MrG. Politics is another killer — it doesn’t help to have a government choosing education policy to fit their a priori ideological plans and then cherry picking evidence to support it. This happened in the US with reading policy and it was grim
And finally asking if we could find an effort gene:
mrgsimpson What are the chances of ever finding an effort gene in the brain?
westmeadhawk @mrg I love that question. I have the opposite problem – my brain makes the effort when I don’t want it to!
josephdevlin @MrG. No chance at an effort gene. Genes code for proteins and these a miles removed from something as complex as effort. I can imagine we could (someday) learn about combinations that are related to effort through some sort of brain chemistry, but I’m
wellcometrust @mrg with regards to your gene question – you might be interested in the paper shared by Michael Thomas in this strand of conversation http://learning.imascientist.org.uk/2015/04/12/nature-vs-nurture-what-does-the-research-say-are-there-some-areas-in-whic
This is the majority of the conversation from last night. There were a few questions that did not get an answer and there will be posed in the ASK section. Sadly some answers are incomplete because the chat software has a character limit in place.