Category Archives: Neurobiology & Behaviour

8 Mind-Blowing Optical Illusions

Here’s nine neat minutes from Sci Show on illusions – classic and modern – that will be of use to those studying Option A: Neurobiology & Behaviour.


Ed Yong’s TED Talk: Suicidal crickets, zombie roaches and other parasite tales

“Are there any parasites that are influencing our behaviour without us knowing it?”

When I started this blog back in 2007, Ed Yong was a fledgling science writer gaining an audience with his Not Exactly Rocket Science wordpress blog; clear and engaging online articles that opened up primary research to a wider audience. You’ll find many links to his writing throughout this site, connecting the concepts of the IB Biology course to current science and ‘the wow beat’. He has since had a book and is resident at NatGeo’s Phenomena Salon, after moving through Science Blogs and Discover.

He continues to inspire me as a writer and this week he gave his TED Talk, a funny and fact-packed tour of the sinister side of parasites. Enjoy! You will even be able to find some links out to further reading and references.

If you don’t already, you should subscribe to the Phenomena blogs, and if you’re a teacher or student whose schedule are as packed a mine, I highly recommend Ed’s weekly ‘Missing Links‘ roundup of science news and writing – they make for my Sunday morning reading!

Amazing T. rex Illusion

This illusion rocks. See if you can work out how they did it before you see the ‘reveal’.

For more amazing illusions, see the archive of winners and entries in the ‘illusion of the year‘ contest.

Hattie & Yates: Visible Learning & the Science of How We Learn

This is my review of John Hattie’s new book, Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn. If you’re interested, head over to my personal blog to read more.

Samudra, mini-me, having a good think about cognitive load.

Wayfinder Learning Lab - Stephen Taylor

This brief review of John Hattie and Gregory Yates’ Visible Learning & the Science of How we Learn (#HattieVLSL) is written from the multiple perspectives of a science teacher, IB MYP Coordinator and MA student. I have read both Visible Learning and Visible Learning for Teachers, and regularly refer to the learning impacts in my professional discussions and reflections. While reading the book, I started the #HattieVLSL hashtag to try to summarise my learning in 140 characters and to get more people to join in the conversation – more of this below. 

EDIT: March 2017

This review was written right after the release of VLSL, in late 2013. Since then, the ideas of ‘know they impact‘ and measurement of learning impacts have really taken off in education, particularly in international schools. Critics of Hattie (largely focused on mathematics or methodology) are also easy to find, though the

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Are you replacing sleep with food? DBQ practice.

I came across this through Ed Yong’s weekly linklist, but @SciCurious often writes really interesting posts (Neurotic Physiology) on neurobiology. This one is particularly relevant to #IBBio students for a few reasons. First, you guys are up way too late, way too often. Second, it connects directly to our course – read this blog post (based on this paper), especially students working on option A: Nutrition, or anyone reviewing hormonal control.

Click for the graphs & article at the Neurotic Physiology blog.

Click for the graphs & article at the Neurotic Physiology blog.

Finally it is ripe for data-based question practice.

These graphs click-through to the originals posted at SciCurious’s blog. Here are some DBQ-style questions you might ask:

  • Calculate the difference in post-dinner snack energy intake between having a ‘normal’ 9h sleep and the sleep-deprived 5h condition. 
  • Compare the trend in energy expenditure throughout the day between 9h sleep and 5h sleep.
  • Describe the difference between 9h sleep and 5h in terms of eating patterns.
  • Evaluate the hypothesis that “when we sleep less, we eat more” based on the data provided and information in the article.
  • Explain the role of the appetite control centre of the brain on appetite, and suggest how it is affected by the conditions of the experiment.

Appetite Control: from the Wellcome Trust (‘The Anatomy of Appetite’ explainer page here).


So there you go – you learned something.

Get to bed. And leave the snacks in the fridge.

Your Brain: By the Numbers [Video]

Here’s a collection of interesting brain facts from PhD Comics’ YouTube Channel. Could be a useful starter for E5 Human Brain – practice with calculators to convert all the imperial values to metric.

10 Amazing Illusions from Quirkology [Video]

Here is a collection of really simple illusions (including the Hermann Grid) from Richard Wiseman at Quirkology. A nice link to E2 Perception of Stimuli and TOK. Can we really trust our senses?


Thai Kids Anti-Smoking Ad [Video]

This is well done.

I wonder what would happen if a young orangutan asked this adult for a light? (Indonesian zoo aims to stub out orangutan’s smoking habit, Guardian).

Tori the smoking orangutan, from the Guardian

Tori the smoking orangutan, from the Guardian

Joshua Foer: Feats of Memory [TED]: Just in time for exams!

Serendipitously timed in the TED Twitter Stream, here is a talk by Joshua Foer* on feats of memory that anyone can do. In his research for this, science-writer Foer ‘accidentally’ won the US Memory Championship. If you really like his talk, he also has a book: “Moonwalking with Einstein: the Art and Science of Remembering Everything.”

IBDP Biology is quite the memory challenge in itself, so take a break from your review for 20 minutes and see what you can pick up!

“Our lives are the sum of our memories. How much are we willing to lose from our already short lives by losing ourselves in our Blackberries and iPhones, by not paying attention? […] You have to be the kind of person who remembers to remember”

Have a go at the memory palace technique here. Remember – the more outlandish the image, the better.


*He’s also the brother of Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything Is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and one of my favourites, Eating Animals

Teen Brain Videos and Resources

The teen brain is a funny place to live, with unique challenges and threats. There have been some excellent articles and resources produced recently on the subject – useful for students, teachers and parents.

Teen Brain from PBS

Teen Brain from PBS

Carl Zimmer has a great piece on the teenage brain at Discover Magazine. Alison Gopnik has a similar piece at Wall Street Journal. Both explore the risk behaviour of teens. David Dobbs asks ‘Why do teens act the way they do?‘ at National Geographic. Richard Knox at NPR summarises ‘Teen brains are not fully connected yet,’ whereas John Cloud at Time reports on a PLOS One paper that suggests a link between more mature teen white matter and risky behaviour.

There are a lot of teen brain resources at PBS Frontline, including a full documentary. It is available (for now) on YouTube, but head over to their main site for more information and a ability to view the whole video by chapter.

I don’t normally advertise on the site, but here I’ll make an exception.

Teen brains, with their unique needs, need to be looked after to optimise learning. By paying attention to current brain research, we as educators could get more from our students and help them learn. Derek Pugh, a former BIS colleague, now works with schools, students and parents on brain-based learning workshops. He has also written a series of articles and a book: The Owner’s Guide to the Teenage Brain.

Why not visit his website, ( to read more. There are articles and eBooks on sleep, classrooms, diet, water and more.

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