Does non-invasive brain stimulation produce a cognitive enhancement? Depends!

A new paper published by Amar Sarkar, Ann Dowker, and Roi Cohen Kadosh has shown that identical transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) exerts opposite behavioural and physiological effects depending on individual trait levels. Zapping your brain might make you better at maths tests – or worse. It depends how anxious you are about taking the test in the first place. See here for the paper and here for a recent commentary in the New Scientist about a new meta-analysis which has struggled to find what effect tDCS has on the brain.

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(Note, this image is Doc Brown from the film Back to the Future, not actual tDCS!)

 

Would you like to do a PhD in Educational Neuroscience?

Bloomsbury Doctoral Training Centre Studentship Applications are now invited.

Applications are now open for ESRC studentships via the Bloomsbury Doctoral Training Centre, which offers a training route in Educational Neuroscience. Further details will be available shortly on the DTC website at https://bloomsburydtcacuk.wordpress.com/

Two briefing events for intending applicants and prospective supervisors will also be held in November, both at the Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL:

  • Student briefing session – 12.30 – 2.00 Wednesday 26 November in Room 731
  • Supervisor briefing session – 12.30 – 2.00 Thursday 27 November in Room 642

The closing date for applications is Friday 6 February 2015.

Bilingual children ‘show advantage’ in noisy classrooms

Researchers have found evidence that youngsters who speak two languages maintain their focus better. A study has found bilingual primary school children learn more effectively than monolinguals within noisy environments like classrooms. Bilingual Article

Anglia Ruskin University’s Dr Roberto Filippi carried out research in Cambridge primary schools, focusing on children aged between seven and 10. Michael Thomas, from the CEN, was a co-author on the study. The study found bilingual children were more able to maintain focus on a main task, which in this case was the identification of the subject in a short sentence in the presence of noise.

Pupils who only speak one language did not reach the same level of efficiency, showing that noise negatively affects their ability to sustain attention, especially when comprehending more difficult sentences.

Dr Filippi said: “Previous research has shown that bilingualism has a positive effect on cognitive abilities, but there were no studies investigated whether these advantages extended to learning in noisy environments.

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“Primary schools are the key stages for the development of formal learning in the first years of life. However, they are also remarkably noisy. Therefore the ability to filter out auditory interference is particularly important within the context of an educational environment.”

Dr Filippi was joined by international researchers from Birkbeck in London and the Northwestern University in Chicago. The study provides further evidence of the importance of learning a second language early in the UK educational system. The research is in line with previous research in adult second language learners, which implicated the cerebellum as the neural structure involved in mediating language interference when the bilingual focuses on a single language.

Workshop on the Science of Learning 21 October at the Royal Society

As part of the state visit of the President of Singapore to the UK later this month, the Centre for Educational Neuroscience ran a 1-day workshop in collaboration with Singapore’s National Research Foundation on the Science of Learning at the Royal Society on Tuesday 21st October 2014.

The workshop included presentations from Dr. Hilary Leevers of the Wellcome Trust on current funding developments in the UK for educational neuroscience, from Prof. Derek Bell, Director of Learnus, on how to advance the field of educational neuroscience, from several members of CEN including Prof. Denis Mareschal, Prof. Andy Tolmie, Prof. Michael Thomas and Dr. Iroise Dumontheil on specific research projects, and talks from a number of leading researchers from Singapore including Dr. Mariam Sharifah (Principal Specialist, Educational Psychologist, Ministry of Education), Prof. Ellen Do (Co-Director, Keio-NUS CUTE Center 
Interactive and Digital Media Institute, National University of Singapore), Prof. Ranga Krishnan (Dean, Dike-NUS Graduate Medical School), Prof. Balazs Gulyas (Professor of Translational Neuroscience, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore), and A/Prof Manu Kapur (Head, Learning Sciences Lab, National Institute of Education, Singapore).

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CEN awarded £1m grant to develop and test method to help kids learn maths and science

The CEN was among six projects in educational neuroscience funded by a joint initiative between the Education Endowment Fund and Wellcome Trust to develop and test educational interventions based on latest neuroscience findings.

The CEN’s project is called UnLocke and targets the learning of counterintuitive concepts in maths and science in primary age children. It aims to test the benefit of training pupils to suspend their pre-existing beliefs when it comes to solving mathematical or scientific questions, for example correcting the seemingly logical notion that a heavy object will fall faster than a light one, or the impulse that the cells that make up an elephant should be bigger than those that make up a mouse.

The project team is led by Prof. Denis Mareschal (Birkbeck) and includes Prof. Michael Thomas, Dr. Iroise Dumontheil (both Birkbeck), Prof. Andy Tolmie, Dr. Kaska Porayska-Pomsta, Dr. Emily Farran, Dr. Sveta Meyer (all from Institute of Education) and Prof. Derek Bell (Director of Learnus).

For further information, see Birkbeck, Wellcome Trust, Education Endowment Fund.

Listen to Denis talk on this morning’s Radio 4 Today Programme (scroll through to 2:47:00!)

Primary schools are being recruited to take part in the research. For more information contact unlocke@psychology.bbk.ac.uk.

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Here at the CEN, we are excited to get cracking on this innovative project!

 

Forthcoming talk in October: Prof. Daniel Ansari, “Building blocks of mathematical competence: Evidence from brain and behaviour”

Prof. Daniel Ansari, University of Western Ontario, Canada, will be giving a talk at the Centre for Educational Neuroscience entitled “Building blocks of mathematical competence: Evidence from brain and behaviour”, on Tuesday 7th October.

The talk will be at 4pm in the first floor seminar room of the Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, 27-28 Woburn Square.

No need to book – All welcome.

Forthcoming lecture in September: Prof. Chia-Ju Liu – “Affective Learning: Evidence from Neuroscience”

Prof. Chia-Ju Liu, National Kaohsiung Normal University, Taiwan, will be giving a talk on “Affective Learning: Evidence from Neuroscience” on Thursday 18th September.

The talk will be at 4pm in Room 534, in Birkbeck Main Building.

Come on find out about the emotions! All welcome.

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Dr. Chia-Ju Liu is currently the Dean of College of Science, the Director of Science Education Center and Educational Neuroscience Lab at National Kaohsiung Normal University. Her research recently focuses on educational neuroscience, including cognitive science and science learning, scientific thinking and processes. Her current research projects are “The influences of different dimensions of science representations on students’ understanding of science concepts”, “The study of consisted elements of scientific creativity with ERP”, “The study on the effects of spatial ability and visual representation on forming mental image in learning science”, “Exploring the role of imagery ability in learning science concept”, and “Nonlinear analysis of brain dynamics”. These research aims to explore and characterise students’ scientific learning practices and reasoning processes based on educational neuroscience using EEG/ERPs. With the Eye Tracking methodology, Prof. Liu aims to identify learners’ exact scientific learning process, and enhance their science learning experience. Her work has been published in several SCI, SSCI, and TSSCI journals. Her research work has been published in International Journal of Science Education, International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, Journal of Science Education and Technology, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, Neuroscience Letters, Learning Environments Research and other educational journal.

Learnus launch at the House of Lords

Members of the CEN attended the launch of Learnus at the House of Lords on 11 June 2014. Learnus is a lobby group, dedicated to bringing together teachers and those who specialise in the study of the brain, the mind and behaviour in order to bring the insights gained from the scientific study of learning to the practice of teaching. The CEN and Learnus have a strategic partnership aiming to advance dialogue and translation between neuroscience and education.

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From left to right, Prof. Denis Mareschal, Dr. Irois Dumontheil, Dr. Chloe Marshall, Prof. Michael Thomas.

At the Learnus launch, Professor Dame Uta Frith, DBE, FRS, FBA gave a keynote speech where she compared the enterprise of linking neuroscience and education with the construction of the Channel Tunnel – long-term, involving many resources and thousands of people, but with the potential of a great and enduring benefit. See here for a text of her speech.