Using an educational neuroscience approach to improve maths and science achievement in primary school

Safina Akram, MA Creative Writing student, shares her experience of attending Birkbeck academic Dr Iroise Dumontheil’s lecture, that took place as part of the lecture series celebrating 100 years of Birkbeck joining the University of London.

Dr Iroise Dumontheil

I recently chose to spend my evenings at Birkbeck trying something different. I’d heard about Birkbeck’s 100th anniversary lecture series, celebrating 100 years of the College being part of the University of London.  And being a Birkbeck student on an MA Creative Writing course, I thought, why not?  It’ll be fun, something different and you never know I might learn something.

I entered the Clore building, to be greeted by the traditional lecture room.  George Birkbeck – what would you think of your Birkbeck now?  I wonder.  What would you think of me coming through these doors?  And what would you think of this lecture series?

The topic, you ask? ‘Using an educational neuroscience approach to improve maths and science achievement in primary school’ by Dr Iroise Dumontheil, Reader in Cognitive Neuroscience at Birkbeck.  Quite a mouthful and yet in one hour, this topic will be justified, explained and I would walk out of this room having been enlightened on what it was all about.

The lecture began, and it was interesting to hear how the series of lectures came about, that each school chose its speaker and the topic.  Dr Iroise Dumontheil was an articulate, informed and mesmerising speaker.  She had grace and elegance, and I was enthralled by the way her hands moved.  They conveyed her passion for her topic and we, her audience, were in safe hands, as step by step, we were led through her research.

The research took a ‘A stop and think approach.’  It’s interesting that neuroscience is working to understand how our minds work and what it is we can do to change the way we think.  Dr Dumontheil spoke about humans having a rational side and an intuitive side and the difference between the two.  She also talked about how the study was spread over different schools in the UK, the inclusion of children from lower socio-economic groups and the number of schools that took part. I took it all in, for it was captivating that research too is like a story.

Dr Iroise Dumontheil's lecture

The questions came from different parts of the room.  The inevitable cross examination of the sample size was there at the end.  This was followed by a question about the data.  Why such an impact on Year 5 and Year 6 children?  This is what education is about, ultimately, questions and answers.

We left the lecture hall and gathered around the table decked with drinks and snacks. I found myself conveniently next to someone, and so we began talking.  She was an alumna, a grandmother, who like me had commuted to Birkbeck that day.  We talked about the lecture, ate a few crisps, she told me how she too had been a student here.  She explained the impact it had made to her life, and how she had been interested in this lecture because she has grandchildren and wanted to understand what the research indicated.  I remember looking around, as people mingled and talked, from such diverse backgrounds, with their unique histories, here they were, in this space.

Reflecting now, I enjoyed the experience, I appreciated the opportunity of learning about something I hadn’t studied.  I liked hearing the stories of others, the people on the stage, and the ones in the audience too.  It led me to booking a place on the other 100th anniversary lectures, hearing from speakers Sir Ed Davey, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, on the climate emergency; Baroness Helena Kennedy QC on the rule of law, I remember her passion and how it was infectious, for at the end of that lecture I too wanted to be like her; and Professor Dame Marina Warner, Re-imagining Place, Re-weaving Story, one word is all I have, inspiring, I dream of being a writer like you.

George, I do believe, you would be rather pleased, if you could see your Birkbeck now.

Share
. Reply . Category: College, Science . Tags: , , ,

The international student experience at Birkbeck: Cooking up a storm

In a follow up to the School of Business, Economics and Informatics’ recent cooking classes at L’atelier des Chefs, students Nomvelo Mlotshwa and Mariem Ben Maallem share their experiences first hand.

“As an international student, the reason why I came to London was to catch a glimpse of the diverse cultures and traditions that are as diverse as the people at Birkbeck, University of London. The cooking classes for international students organised by William Richards have been such a wonderful opportunity to do exactly that.

I have been able to attend the cooking classes at L’Atelier des Chefs on Wigmore Street and all I can say is that it has been a wonderful experience to whip up something so simple and outright delicious in just under thirty minutes. The staff at L’Atelier des Chefs are so friendly and the chefs really make one fall in love with cooking again. The atmosphere of the cooking class starts when we meet at the Malet Street building, the laughs, the walk to L’atelier des Chefs has really cemented friendships that go beyond the class.

The cooking classes have allowed me as an international student to talk to other international students, make friends whom I would have not met as we are all from different levels in our studies. I have met undergraduate and postgraduate students from the Department of Management and this has made my time here at Birkbeck worthwhile.

Not that the time at the kitchen hasn’t come without freak accidents. My first time trying to look all cool and fast with the knife, I then had the knife go into my left forefinger. No one saw really what had happened because it all happened so fast but all I can say is that I have learnt a lesson or two from these classes!

Many thanks go to William and the entire team at the School of Business, Economics and Informatics.” – Nomvelo Mlotshwa, Sport Management (MSc)

“This cooking class is my favourite event and I have not missed any Friday class. We meet in front of our university and we will go together to the cooking class. It is a very nice walk where we look forward to what new dish experience we will have (and also to catch up on our life in London’s premier University😊), some of which I have cooked at home, to the delight of my flatmates.

Our exceptional plate this week was to prepare Japanese noodles with fish.

This was my third class, and I always have the same feeling, impressed by the chef and his passion for his work. As a start, the chef shows us all the steps to prepare our lunch, explaining all the ingredients that we will use for today’s meal. I like this chef, he is very energetic, very communicating, and he will continuously try to get all our interest by telling us the story behind each meal. He will make us understand every technique that he is using while cutting the onions or slicing the pepper. The chef was not only teaching us how to cook, but also sharing the best tips that he learned during his career.

The cooking class was about discovering new recipes, but also, about teaching us how to work in a group, it was teamwork! We were 5 members per table, and were sharing tasks between us, in order, to prepare our lunch. It is not a competition, but we found ourselves competing; who is going to finish the first using the same techniques as the chef, who the chef will say is best 😉. The funniest part of this class is that we all followed the same instructions, the same chef, but almost none of us was doing it in the same way. What is also hilarious, is that we were waiting for the first person to start so we all will follow, and copy, him or her immediately.

This meal was extremely delicious, like all the previous ones, but this time it was with a special flavour “orange”. I ate it all… everything I had on my plate, while also, of course, enjoying the interesting and different company, of fellow Birkbeck international, students. My favourite part was the dessert time. I wait excitedly for the surprise, because we do not know what we are having, but what I know is, that it is always very delicious! Let’s not forget the group photo; it is becoming a ritual to have a picture every time.

I will keep going to these classes because I am truly learning new recipes and I am always trying to cook the same thing at home. Sometimes, I am even adding my Tunisian touch 😎” – Mariem Ben Maallem, Business Innovation with International Technology Management (MSc)

Further Information:

Share
. Reply . Category: Business Economics and Informatics . Tags: , , , , , , ,

Reverie: Taking time out to care for you

Held in collaboration with the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research (BISR), this Astrea event took a light-hearted approach to understanding the value of taking time out to care for yourself.

I am relaxed … I am alert … I am relaxed and alert at the same time.

Reciting meditative platitudes with mobile phones clasped firmly between hands in prayer pose, Sophie Huckfield and Sophie Bullock (together known as Ambience Factory)’s portrayal of the modern worker’s idea of taking ‘time out’ was simultaneously eye-wateringly funny and alarmingly close to the bone.

While convincingly masquerading as Chief Happiness Officer and Chief Resilience Officer, the pair’s real aim is to use play and comedy to investigate work practices.

Kicking off Thursday’s Astrea workshop on taking time out, Ambience Factory’s performance parodied some of the ways in which modern organisations pay lip service to work life balance, from mandatory mindfulness to unhelpful advice such as “don’t give in to stress: get over it.”

The science behind rest

The ice-breaking introduction was followed by a panel discussion featuring Ambience Factory, Dr Caroline Kamau (Organizational Psychology), Prof Felicity Callard (director of BISR) and Lise Groenvold (former graduate intern of Birkbeck Institute of the Humanities and BISR), and chaired by Lou Miller, BISR manager. The panellists began by exploring our understanding of rest. The picture that each of us conjure into our minds with the word ‘rest’ is likely to be very different. As one panellist put it: “Doctors will prescribe rest to patients, but rest is an undetermined term. While for one person, going for a run at 6am will put them in the most restful state of mind, for someone else, that won’t be the case.”

Historically, scientists have had a very black and white view of rest: you’re either doing a task or you aren’t. But social scientists are now collaborating with neuroscientists to show that some parts of the brain are far more active when we’re off task, pointing to prolonged benefits of taking regular moments of rest.

You are not alone

Another key point that came out of the discussion was the idea that people often feel that they must deal with stress in isolation. Dr Caroline Kamau from the Department of Organizational Psychology, whose research explores burnout and stress in NHS doctors, highlighted the severity of the issue – doctors suffering sleep problems or alcohol abuse caused by stress may be struck off – but also the fact that this is surprisingly common: “We want to normalise stress for doctors and find out the mechanisms of it.”

Stigma and guilt

Audience questions focused on the feelings of guilt that are so common when we take time to rest. Often, we feel we are letting colleagues, friends and family members down by prioritising ourselves. These feelings of guilt are a symptom of a culture where success is equated with busy-ness. These issues are social and it is everyone’s responsibility, including employers’, to introduce policies and enforce rules around absence, sick leave and working hours, to ensure everyone is well rested enough to work at their best.

Stress less

Based on her research, Dr Kamau hosted an adapted version of her Working Stress board game and app. Playing head to head (or in this case, table to table), each team had to not only use their knowledge and understanding of stress to answer multiple-choice questions, but also have open discussions about how we deal with stress and whether our strategies might be helpful or maladaptive.

There was even a task to develop and draw a novel idea for stress-relief in the workplace. The results ranged from the sensible to the bizarre. Some of the innovative ideas – inspired by the tech solutions hailed by the likes of Google but satirised by Ambience Factory — included a sustainable outburst booth (or SOB) for controlled venting of frustration through crying, and the popular Positivity Portal for My Birkbeck, which displays positive messages to boost your motivation – no PIN required! It was a hilarious end to a stress-busting event.

Further Information:

Share
. Reply . Category: College, Institute for Social Research . Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The Map is not the Territory: Re-imagining Place, Reweaving Story

Natalie Mitchell, a first-year MA Contemporary Literature & Culture student, shares insights from Professor Marina Warner’s lecture that took place as part of the celebration of the 100-year anniversary of Birkbeck joining the University of London.

City of women map by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, ‘City of Women 2.0’, 2019. Courtesy: the artists

Professor Dame Marina Warner took her audience on a fascinating journey through the role of mapping in storytelling and memory, in her lecture, which forms part of the 100 Years of the University of London lecture series. Using Alfred Korzybski famous axiom ‘the map is not the territory’, which suggests that a map cannot encompass the true quality of a place, Professor Warner considered the re-imagining of place and how mapping can become a rebellious act.

She began the lecture considering the many roles of cartography in territory making, defining borders, resources, military and governance, and how this informs our memory of place. The map attempts to ‘actualise history’ through naming, marking and dividing, but the construction of history is a type of narrative. A point Professor Warner emphasised through the words history and story, which are the same in many languages. As such, mapping can control the narrative of a place and becomes an important tool for colonisers, although it may bear little resemblance to the reality of a place by its indigenous people.

Adam Dant – Shoreditch as New York – 2018

The activity of creating maps can also realise fiction, such as the detailed fictional maps in the novels Gulliver’s Travels and The Lord of the Rings. Similarly, star maps give mythical gods a presence in reality through the stargazer’s eye and theme parks and Disney castles parody real locations through the child’s imagination. In this way, the fictional locations of stories can become real locations; these narratives ‘folding back’ onto the actual.

Professor Warner went on to suggest that the map can function in time as well as space, making the past present. This was particularly notable in Emma Willard’s mapping of aboriginal tribes in America and her Progress of the Roman Empire, charting time using the course of the Amazon river. These reworkings of maps can also perform a ‘historical resistance’ as seen in Layla Curtis’ NewcastleGateshead collaged map of all the places renamed after those cities, which highlights the colonial activity of claiming places through naming. Such use of cartography revealed the potential rebellious nature the renaming of maps can perform.

Artist Mona Caron and cartographer Ben Pease - Monarchs and Queens - 2010

Artist Mona Caron and cartographer Ben Pease – Monarchs and Queens – 2010

This type of resistance was expanded further by Professor Warner through many recent examples of the renaming and reworking of maps and places. In Paris in 2015, Osez le Feminisme flyered the city’s street signs, renaming them to notable women from history. Artists have also reimagined places via the redrawing of maps, such as Rebecca Solnit’s and Adam Dant’s maps, which create a visual narrative, questioning the authority of the map and returning to a cartography blending art and science. Similarly, Simon Patterson’s iconic reworking of the London tube map in his work The Great Bear renamed the stations after a myriad of famous and forgotten figures from history. Through each of her examples, Professor Warner showed how the reimagining of the map ‘makes the familiar unfamiliar’ and how a sense of place can be reclaimed by those in situ.

Simon Patterson - The Great Bear - 1992

Simon Patterson – The Great Bear – 1992

Professor Warner’s lecture was bookended by her recent work with a collective of young migrants in Palermo, Sicily, through the Stories in Transit workshop project Giocherenda. These workshops involved the young people developing stories of the city using the figure of The Genius of Palermo, a 15th century icon who has become a synonymous symbol of the city. The workshop took place around the city, where the young people placed the historical figure in different locations. Through this, they could develop their own sense of their new home in Palermo, but through the use of the city’s history. She expressed how it was the children who wanted to use mapping in their story creations and in doing so created a sense of belonging in an unfamiliar place.

Professor Warner concluded her lecture by emphasising the importance of continuing to create stories. Storytelling is an action and a way of history-making and in the days of fake news and big data, it is even more paramount.

Further information: 

 

 

Share
. Reply . Category: Arts, College . Tags: , , , , , , , , ,