Neuroscience is the study of the brain and the nervous system. The brain is the organ that enables us to adapt to our environment - to learn. The brain is constantly changing and everything we do changes our brain - this allows us to continuously take account of the environment and store memories to use in the future.

This activity is based on a report published by the Royal Society in February 2011. It is the second report from the Brain Waves policy project entitled "Neuroscience: implications for education and lifelong learning". The full report is available here.

This podcast March 2011: Brainwaves (mp3) summarises this Brainwaves report. The relevant part starts about 4 minutes in (after an article on the day in the life of a quantum physicist) and lasts about 5 minutes. This would be a good introduction to the activity.

Depending on the ability of the group, you could give them the whole report to read (there is a printer friendly version that can be downloaded) or you can give them a summary of the findings here.

After reading about the findings ask the students to redesign the education system based on these findings. How would they structure the school day and how would they structure the teaching of different subjects? They can use this table to help them structure their proposal.

Students should work in small groups and present their proposals to the rest of the class. Alternatively, students could write their proposals as homework and then present them.

Highlight some of the major changes that the students have come up with and ask what implications they may have on the school and society as a whole. For example who will pay for the changes or extra equipment required? Will their changes affect the way that the teacher's day is structured and will it need to be reflected in salaries? How might it impact on the parents especially of younger children who need to be looked after when not at school?

Point for discussion - should boys and girls be educated separately? The brain changes a lot during adolescence. The overall pattern of neural development appears to be very similar between genders but it happens at a slightly different pace. Boys tend to reach full brain maturation slightly later than girls. Some might suggest this is a good reason to educate boys and girls separately especially around puberty. However gender is only one factor that influences brain development.

Students could be given some time to adapt their proposals before the class vote for their preferred option.

A useful teenage brain animation can be found on the New Scientist website.

Curriculum links

All sciences 3.6 Specification content
• Consider ethical issues in the treatment of humans, other organisms and the environment.
• Appreciate the role of the scientific community in validating new knowledge and ensuring integrity.
• Appreciate the ways in which society uses science to inform decision making.
5.6 AO2: Application of knowledge and understanding of science and of How science works
a) analyse and evaluate scientific knowledge and processes
b) apply scientific knowledge and processes to unfamiliar situations including those related to issues
c) assess the validity, reliability and credibility of scientific information.
Psychology 4.3 AS level specifications must require candidates to develop knowledge and understanding from all of the following areas of psychology:
• cognitive
• social
• developmental
• individual differences
• biological.
4.5 In 4.3 and 4.4 above, there is a minimum requirement to relate to the following:
c) ethical issues in psychology
f) the contribution of psychology to an understanding of individual, social and cultural diversity.
4.6 A level candidates must have an understanding of the major approaches in psychology including cognitive, biological, behavioural and psychodynamic. Knowledge and understanding must be related to:
a) the applications and implications of psychology to cultural, social and contemporary issues
b) the interrelationship between different areas of psychology
c) the scientific nature of psychology
d) the selection and application of knowledge and understanding of theories, concepts and approaches to the solution of problems
h) an appreciation of issues and/or debates in psychology.


Scottish Curriculum

Human Biology Higher Potentially relevant to modules:
Neurobiology and Communication (the links between neurotransmitters and behaviour, while considering personal and social citizenship. Human communication is linked to social behaviour and includes looking at the effects of infant attachment, group behaviour, social influence and learning.)

A new school day!

school_300If you are looking at this you are probably a student, a teacher or someone with an interest in learning. Learning is a process that occurs throughout life, not just at school, and neuroscience studies have just begun to unravel some of the mental processes that take place during learning. We know that education changes the brain and it is the most powerful method of cognitive enhancement.

Neuroscience has revealed much more about the way we learn and there may be certain environments which enhance our learning. We could use this information to optimise the way education is delivered. For example, we know that during adolescence male and female brains mature at slightly different rates, so should girls and boys be taught separately to take this into account?



Activity: How would you change the education system?

Look at the background information sheet, which gives you information about some research into learning, and also the information in the 'Want to find out more?' section on the main web page. A useful teenage brain animation can be found on the New Scientist website.

  • How would you structure the school day?
  • What would you change about the way that different subjects are taught?
  • Should teaching and learning be different for different ages/genders?
  • What effects might your proposed changes have on teachers' work and lives, and on families?

You can use this table to help you construct your proposal.