The BrainBank

Five years ago, I had the honour of being selected to present the Royal Institution Lectures, “Meet Your Brain,” that were broadcast first on BBC4 and then again later on BBC2– a rare double billing that I am proud of. I gave three lectures – “What’s inside your heads?”, “Who’s in charge here anyway?”, and “Are you thinking what I am thinking?” Each lecture dealt in turn with basic neurophysiology, higher order thinking, and social cognition, all suitable for students of psychology.

The three lectures were an ambitious attempt to provide a state-of-the-art introduction to our current understanding about mind, brain and behaviour, illustrated through lively demonstrations and audience interaction – features that the Ri lectures are world-famous for. It was a fantastic experience and for a full year afterwards, I toured the world recreating versions of the lectures for different audiences.

Two years on, I realized how much of the content that we had produced for the lectures could be really valuable for students. The lectures are stored for posterity on the Ri channel,  but I also wanted to try and capture some of the interactive aspects of the lectures by building a resource for teachers which identified the main learning points for different key stages.

We built the BrainBank – a free resource for teachers in psychology who want to add some creative interactive demonstrations into their teaching. The BrainBank has been designed to be used by teachers and science-centre staff who would like to incorporate demonstrations and activities into their presentations to help students understand concepts about the brain. The teaching materials are broken into sub-categories:

  1. Brain Biology–focuses on the physical make-up of the brain and how messages are transmitted between neurons, neural networks and the nervous system. The cortex is discussed as well as its relation to body size and intelligence across animal species. This section ends with demonstrations illustrating how the human brain develops.
  2. Brain Function–explores how information is represented in the brain and how memory and vision works, and then looks at how and why the brain is deceived by illusions.
  3. The Social Brain–describes how adapted the human brain is to process social signals such as facial expressions and non-verbal behaviour. We explore how automatically the brain processes social stimuli and how proficient it is at recognizing faces.

We evaluated the content and produced a set of instructor’s guidelines that explain how to start a class with a question to get the students to think, watch or engage in a demonstration and then a set of follow-up or discussion points.

Each demonstration is marked as being appropriate for different key stages, based on their curriculum and an extensive literature on science learning at different ages. Most of the demonstrations are appropriate for students across the key stages, but you might like to challenge older students more in subsequent discussion. To allow for this, each demonstration has a basic and a more advanced discussion point that you can choose between. Obviously class groups differ widely so these are considered guidelines and give the presenter the option to choose which they think is most appropriate.

Of course, this is never a good substitute for excellent teaching, but I think it is a very useful site for those that want to liven up their teaching. It is also part of a general plan to bring the science to life for students.

I guess after giving such high-profile public lectures, I have been bitten by the bug for immersive-interactive learning.  In my next blog, I will tell you how I built the world’s largest network of expert speakers who can come into schools to talk about their research – www.speakezee.org.

Prof Bruce Hood is Chair of Developmental Psychology in Society at Bristol University. He’s also the founder of Speakezee, an organization which puts schools in touch with academic speakers.

Leave a Reply