It's time for teachers to wake up to neuromyths

Over recent years a new industry has exploded that sells educational interventions purportedly based on neuroscience to schools. In 2006 a paper published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience reported that teachers were receiving 70 emails per year marketing these tools and it seems the problem has only got worse. Unfortunately, neuroscience research simply doesn't even remotely back up a great many of the claims that are now being made.


Earlier this month Sense about Science published a great list of neuromyths that have found their way into education and called on Ofsted (the UK regulatory body for schools) to stand up to the use of neuromyths in the classroom. The methods and ideas highlighted by Sense about Science include the assumption that children have fixed auditory, visual or kinetic learning styles; methods based on Gardner's discredited model of multiple intelligences and the teaching of left/right brain theory. We also saw the publication this month of an extensive review of educational approaches informed by neuroscience by the Education Endowment Foundation.

A Wellcome Trust teacher survey published this month produced a number of worrying statistics, for example a stunning 39% of teachers used to use (and 16% still use) the discredited Brain Gym approach which is based on flawed, non peer-reviewed research. Thankfully only two of the over a thousand teachers surveyed said they planned to start using Brain Gym but for every non evidence-based intervention that is on its way out, there is a new one to take its place.

All of the above is important reading for educators but somehow seems to miss the sheer outlandishness of the rationale that many of the packages being marketed as brain based methods are based on. As Oxford developmental neuropsychologist Dorothy Bishop explained in a blog post earlier this week, at the present time neuroscience is of precious little use in the classroom when compared to behavioural indicators  - what use are abstract measures such as brain activation when we can directly assess educational outcomes with methods that teachers can actually use in real life?

A recurring theme in the conversation on educational neuroscience is the fact that teachers are simply not given formal science based guidance on what works, leaving a vacuum eagerly filled by those out to make a buck by masquerading unsupported techniques as based in science. So what does work? The resounding conclusion seems to be that for now, teachers should look to psychology and cognitive science research rather than neuroscience research. This time last year a fantastic literature review of learning techniques was published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. I'd urge any teachers to read it in full, but as it's a rather dense document I've done my best to paraphrase it here.

Hopefully if we shout loud enough the message will get through and we won't see another generation of students wearing "VAK" badges pigeonholing them as a "V" an "A" or a "K" (for visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner); or schools spending thousands of pounds on brain training software based on research that demonstrates nothing but that children who play a game repeatedly get better at that game.

To keep up to date with this blog you can follow Neurobonkers on TwitterFacebookRSS or join the mailing list.

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

Meet the Bajau sea nomads — they can reportedly hold their breath for 13 minutes

The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.

Wikimedia Commons
Culture & Religion
  • The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
  • Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
  • Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
Keep reading Show less

Golden blood: The rarest blood in the world

We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
  • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
  • It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists create a "lifelike" material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
Keep reading Show less