Students take part in interaction 'Brain Day' with Dr Guy Sutton

Psychology students at Queen Alexandra Sixth Form College have tested and stretched their ‘old grey matter’ through an interactive day of learning led by an expert on the workings of the brain.

Dr Guy Sutton, Director of Medical Biology Interactive and an Honorary Consultant Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham Medical School, helped them explore the brain and its functions.

Focusing on the biopsychology element of their course, the event developed the A level students’ knowledge of the organ and mental illness and taught about new research including the effects of drugs and diet, and other influences.

It also supported the first and second year learners to understand concepts of plasticity and lateralisation, and the role that brain structure and neurochemistry play in mental illness.

Plasticity is the ability of the brain to change throughout an individual's life, such as whether an activity associated with a given function can be transferred to a different location.

And lateralisation is the idea that the brain’s two hemispheres are functionally different and that each has its own functional specialisations, for example that the left is dominant for language, and the right for visual motor tasks.

Highlights included Dr Sutton, who is also Director of Medical Biology Interactive, an independent consultancy providing nationwide seminars in epidemiology and medical genetics, demonstrating a sheep brain dissection, with learners being asked to identify the different parts, and seeing how similar it is to that of humans.

Students also learnt about the role of the brain in the developing foetus, and advances in brain scanning.

Magenta Stonestreet, Teacher in Psychology at Queen Alexandra Sixth Form College, which is part of Tyne Coast College, said the ‘brain workshop’, had proved a powerful learning tool.

She added: “About twenty A level students participated in what was a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding day of learning.

“It helped them gain confidence around the biology and psychology of the brain, and they came away with a deeper understanding of the subject, which is exactly what was intended.

“Dr Sutton is an acknowledged expert in his field of study and he proved a highly impressive tutor to whom the students positively responded.

“We are all very grateful to him for the expert insight he was able to give us on the workings of the body’s most incredible yet least understood organ.

“His visit is an example of the exceptional learning that is delivered at Queen Alexandra Sixth Form College to students from across the North East.”

Other areas of study examined included the concept of the brain having a criminal-leaning element, autism, post traumatic stress, mental illness, schizophrenia, and genetics and therapies.

The session also benefited students through a discussion on possible pathways to university in a variety of psychological areas.

Funding came from Future Me, a programme of activity which works to encourage university participation in students who might not otherwise apply. Operated by the North East Collaborative Outreach Programme, a consortium of all universities and colleges in the region, it supports young people to think about their futures and how higher education can help them reach their goals.