BrainCanDo Conference

Friday 16th March 2018

On Thursday 15 March we hosted our third annual BrainCanDo Conference and the theme for the day was ‘Pathways from Neuroscience to the Classroom’. Our speakers included Professor Michael Thomas, Dr Dean Burnett and Dr Amy Fancourt, who spoke on behalf of Dr Joni Holmes in her absence.


Session 1: Professor Michael Thomas


Plenary 1: Addressing current neuromyths in education

After a warm welcome and introduction from Julia Harrington, Founder and CEO of BrainCanDo and Headmistress of Queen Anne’s School, we heard from Thomas Ingram from the Wellcome Trust, a non-profit supporting scientists and researchers.

For the first session, Professor Michael Thomas discussed the relevance of neuroscience in the classroom. Since 2010, Michael Thomas has been the Director of the University of London Centre of Educational Neuroscience, a cross-institutional research centre which aims to advance translational research between neuroscience and education, and develop practical applications within education.




Session 2: Dr Dean Burnett

Plenary 2: Emotional Contagion 

After a short break we returned to the Performing Arts Centre for the second session of the day. Here we heard from Dr Dean Burnett, a doctor of neuroscience, psychiatry tutor/lecturer, writer and stand-up comedian. Dean is primarily known as the writer of the Guardian Science blog Brain Flapping, which focuses on combining science and humour. As well as this, Dean works at Cardiff University as the course tutor and lecturer for the world’s first MSc in psychiatry to be delivered entirely online. He completed his PhD on behavioural neuroscience of memory formation and was able to share his insight into the topic to our audience on Thursday.

For the second plenary session, chaired by Jonnie Noakes, Dean was joined by Professor Patricia Riddell, whose focus is Applied Neuroscience. The audience were engaged as they were given the opportunity to ask questions and interact with Dean and Patricia.



Lunch sponsored by Thomas Franks

Our sponsor Thomas Franks Catering provided a fantastic lunch spread with food from around the world. Delegates were able to chose from a variety of options from freshly prepared omelettes, a Turkish grill, Falafel wraps and a big pan of paella. If you had room for more, there were beautifully decorated cupcakes and a guilt free ‘create-your-own’ smoothie station.





Session 3: Dr Amy Fancourt presenting Dr Joni Holmes’ Research

Unfortunately, due to illness, Dr Joni Holmes was unable to present her session on working memory and classroom learning. Dr Amy Fancourt, who is a teacher of Psychology at Queen Anne’s School was able to discuss the findings from Joni’s research in her place. Dr Joni Holmes run a research clinic for children with difficulties in attention, learning and memory, which aims to illuminate the cognitive, neural and genetic underpinnings of learning difficulties.



Plenary 3: BrainCanDo led session

The final plenary session featured research updates from each of our BrainCanDo university collaborative research projects. We heard from Dr Daniel Mullensiefen (Goldsmiths, University of London) who discussed his research into music and the brain. Dr Kou Murrayama (Reading University) followed with his ongoing research on emotional contagion. Lastly we heard from Dr Daniel Lamport (Reading University) who spoke about research conducted into self-affirmation and cognitive performance. All interesting topics which sparked lots of discussion in the final Q&A session with the audience.



BrainCanDo Student Conference

Alongside the main conference Queen Anne’s hosted an exciting and interactive BrainCanDo Student Conference. Three excellent external speakers were brought in to deliver sessions that included a mental, musical, and physical aspect, in an overall application to life and learning.




A fascinating and exciting session was held by UK Memory Champion Mr. James Paterson on the practical application of different memory techniques to allow for advanced recall. Students were in awe of Mr. Paterson’s ability to recall the first 314 numbers of Pi (and in reverse order!) as well as an impressive recollection of an entire deck of playing cards, in which the girls were in charge of shuffling the deck and left Mr. Paterson only five minutes of looking at the cards to memorise them. In an impressive display of memory, Mr. Paterson then showed the girls that they too could learn techniques to help in recall. Ask them who the top 12 most populated countries are in the world and you are sure to get a correct answer, as the girls used memory places to trigger connections between the room they were in and information given to them. Just don’t be surprised if you hear words like Pac-man, Indiana Jones, and sombrero being used, as these were some of the important recall trigger words! We hope that the girls enjoyed learning this new technique and had fun along the way!



This interactive musical session was led by Mr. Paul Smith. Author of the VOCES8 Method and founding member of VOCES8, Paul led the girls through an amazing workshop that intertwined different musical instruments, sounds and vocal noises (all provided by the girls) to create engaging rhythms and melodies. This was then linked to the field of education, as potential techniques were discussed that our girls could use and apply to a number of different subjects. Both listening to music and playing a musical instrument (including singing!) has been found to have a positive impact on revision and overall academic attainment. Those who engage in musical activities have demonstrated more cognitive engagement within the academic environment and a more positive approach to their own learning. This engagement is associated with current and future outcomes within academics and inspiration for future learning successes. We hope that the girls enjoyed this session and have taken away another valuable learning technique from this experience.



We all know that exercise has many different physical benefits, but did you know that exercise can actually help improve mental performance as well? Exercise can provide a nice break from long revision sessions and releases a number of different hormones that impact the brain. Serotonin is released and can help regulate sleep cycles and boost your mood. Dopamine can positively influence your attention span. Norepinephrine can impact your motivation and mental stimulation. Research has even found that exercise reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol! With this information, the girls were led by Zumba and fitness instructor Anna Monita Burgess in a fun cardiovascular exercise session of Zumba. Many smiles were seen throughout this session, as the girls learned different dance moves combined with energizing music and a workout they are sure not to forget anytime soon! We hope that the girls had a fun time in this session and learned about the importance of exercise, whether this was a one-time Zumba experience or a new found exercise activity that they would love to try again.

Throughout the day, the girls were also surprised with a number of treats. This included a goody bag that contained a BrainCanDo pen, notepad and stress ball, given to each student who was present on the day, a break and lunch full of food that was connected with the theme of the day and, as always, was delicious and a special treat at the end of each session. All of which contributed to the overall positive and fun atmosphere that the girls experienced all day long.