Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 0 secondsRachel Jackson: In the topic of recall versus application. And Bernard said that he has a lot of content to deliver to older students. So 16 to 18-year-olds, over two years teaching a level physics. And he's not sure about how to strike the right balance between delivering new content and providing worked examples, and discussing and applying concepts in different situations.

Skip to 0 minutes and 33 secondsTim Jay: My first thought is that thinking about recall versus application might not be the best way to do it. And to think of recall and application at the same time. So I think one of the things we tried to say in the course was that when we're asking students to recall information, we should be thinking of using different contexts, trying to put this information in, use it to solve new problems. So the best way to get that information really embedded in the mind is to record it in different context and different situations solving different problems. And in that way we're thinking about recalling an application together at the same time.

Skip to 1 minute and 19 secondsSo applying that information in different ways is going to make it easier for students to recall that information long-term.

Skip to 1 minute and 25 secondsRachel Jackson: Okay, so the next question is from David, and it's about the idea of a daily review. And he's asking about how it can be done differently in primary and in secondary schools. And if there is any specific research that shows that it helps learners focus their attention on the lesson that they're in rather than the lessons that they've just left.

Skip to 1 minute and 53 secondsPaul Howard-jones: So I think this early research which we referred to on the course about the fact that younger children have more difficulty in making links with what they already know. So when you're revisiting information, I think part of that should be about reminding the children of the relevance of that information and supporting them in making connections with their prior knowledge. So that's certainly something that needs scaffolding, it's something that younger children would need support with. And I guess that's one of the differences between teaching younger children and older children. Is that younger children, in particular, will need more support in understanding the meaning of what it is that they are reviewing.

Skip to 2 minutes and 44 secondsI can't think of any research that shows it helps them attend more to what is currently happening in the present lesson. But I think the important thing is that that will help make what's in the present lesson more meaningful by encouraging links between what they are about to do or what they're doing in that present lesson and what's gone before. So I think it's all about thinking about making those connections and developing a coherence body of knowledge.

Skip to 3 minutes and 16 secondsKaren Hornby: Faith wants to know what have you found the most effective strategies for reviewing and consolidating?

Skip to 3 minutes and 25 secondsPaul Howard-jones: So this idea about effective strategies is quite an interesting one, because I think generally we're always on the lookout for something that's always going to work. And, I mean, there are methods for remembering material. And part of that is making it meaningful, making sure it's connected to prior knowledge. Sometimes it's helpful to make a mind map, so as to build the connections between the different concepts in your mind. But actually, and testing, of course, actually rehearsing knowledge is going to make it more effective for consolidating the knowledge. But I think it's a mistake if we start thinking about lining up strategies in terms of their effectiveness.

Skip to 4 minutes and 12 secondsI think one of the most important things that we're beginning to realize is that even something which is judged as a generally effective strategy, when it's implemented in the wrong way will not be effective. So so much is about the implementation. And I think one of the things that the course is trying to help with is understanding the underlying processes of how these different strategies work. And that should help in the implementation, so that when it goes wrong you can think about why it might be effective. And also when it Is not working out properly, to help think about what the underlying processes are and why it might not be working effectively.

Skip to 4 minutes and 54 secondsKaren Hornby: We've got a couple of questions about engaging students with the research. How would you deal with the complexities of teaching teenagers about the brain and the wider research?

Skip to 5 minutes and 0 secondsTim Jay: I think that there's a lot going on in this question. And I think some of it depends on the ages of the children and the learners, and some of it probably depends on what we're trying to do. I'm not sure that the learners always need to know the teacher's reasons and the science behind the strategies that the teacher is using. But certainly when learners get a bit older, and maybe older teenagers, it is useful for them to have a bit of an understanding of learning so that they can learn to learn, and they can make the best use of their time in and outside the classroom to learn.

Skip to 5 minutes and 49 secondsSo things like revision strategies, putting themselves in the best position to learn from what they've done in the classroom. But I don't know if you had any different ideas about that, Paul.

Skip to 6 minutes and 1 secondPaul Howard-jones: So I'm understanding this in terms of having a classroom of teenagers who are learning economics, and you're trying to support them in thinking about their own learning strategies. That's the way I'm interpreting the question. And getting feedback from the students saying that, they really care about how these work. I suppose to some extent it's true that you don't need to always know how something works to be able to apply it and for it to operate. But I think a lot of understanding around learning processes is reflecting on things which require abstracts. So concepts like working memory and consolidating your learning, those sorts of things are actually quite abstract.

Skip to 6 minutes and 48 secondsAnd I think it can be helpful to [INAUDIBLE] there because it's another source of concrete evidence, it's something that we can see. You can see evidence of the brain functioning, learning, engaging in lots of different ways. So in that sense, I think the brain is potentially quite an effective way of engaging young students in thinking about their learning processes. And we certainly do know that encouraging students to think about the processes by which they think and learn is important, because there's lots of evidence to support the effectiveness of metacognition. But there's very little attempt has been made to talk about metacognition in terms of the brain to young students.

Skip to 7 minutes and 32 secondsSo I think this is still a work that needs to be undertaken. It seems like a good idea to me, but we still need to have some research showing that that can be effective. The other part of this is that we're being asked about the teenage brain and development, within the wider context of what we know about brain and learning. And we've talked about quite a few concepts. For example, engagement and the reward system, which we know Is operating in a different way amongst teenagers, and we haven't really had space in the course to go into that. But, I mean, just one example of that is the fact that the reward system is essentially quite mature at 13 years old.

Skip to 8 minutes and 12 secondsAnd that's one of the reasons why teenagers quite often get drawn towards things which appear attractive in a visceral sort of sense. Whereas the frontal regions of the brain are not so mature and therefore they have difficulty regulating that response. That fact that their reward system is really firing at 13 years old. It seems to actually peak. So one study shows it actually peaks at 13 years old. It gives us some sense of the sort of, the world of the teenager. And there are certainly are things we know about the development of the brain that put some sort of more nuanced to interpretation on some of the concepts that we talked about in the course.

Skip to 8 minutes and 58 secondsKaren Hornby: And Karla wants to know how likely it would be that colleges find value in science of learning, and so that students could be required to take a course on it?

Skip to 9 minutes and 12 secondsPaul Howard-jones: So I think there is going to be a cultural shift that is going to occur, and is occurring, really, that's sort of favoring thinking about learning processes. But I think the rate of uptake in colleges is going to really depend on the quality of the course. I mean, people are not going to, people only do things when they find they're really useful and effective. And I think what makes a science of learning course effective, because we do obviously, we sat down and we had to think about these sort of issues. It has to be applicable, so you have to be able to apply the concepts that are being taught.

Skip to 9 minutes and 51 secondsYou have to make sure what you're learning is useful. It's got to be scientifically valid. It's got to be concisely communicated. Because you can't walk into a room thinking about a lot of concepts about learning in a very complicated way. You need really quite simple principles to think about. And so a lot of it is going to depend, I think the uptake is going to depend on the quality of the science of learning courses. If they're provided with good quality, they're going to stay, they're going to become established, and I think it's quite likely that all students in the future will be experiencing them.

Skip to 10 minutes and 28 secondsSo we've really just got to get it right really in terms of developing ways of communicating these concepts that's clear, scientifically valid, and educationally relevant.

Skip to 10 minutes and 38 secondsTim Jay: And the course is being very much for teachers isn't it? And I'm not sure that students always need to know why teachers are doing what they're doing? And I think it can get complicated. I remember a session when I was a teacher and learning styles were all the rage then. And then one of the students said, no, I'm not going to do this because I'm a visual learner. [LAUGH] Or no, she didn't say that. She said, my mum says I'm a visual learner, so I don't think I should do this. And so you do get into trouble when students are learning all about the teachers' rationale for things.

Skip to 11 minutes and 13 secondsI don't know, I think teachers knowing about science of learning is really important. I'm not sure if the children always need to know the rationale for teachers' decisions.

Skip to 11 minutes and 27 secondsPaul Howard-jones: I think we are getting to the point whereby children will begin to ask about these things. And already, we try to talk to students about what's effective for their own learning. But it may be that we have to find a different way of communicating these concepts to make them suitable for children to use as part of their metacognition. And we haven't done that in this course. I think that's the central thing. There's work to be done in learning how to communicate these concepts to children that we have not undertaken. The course was very much about talking to teachers. But I do think that that's an important project especially for the older children.

Skip to 12 minutes and 15 secondsSo when I teach undergraduates or postgraduates of course I very often get asked why we're doing it in this particular way, and I do get challenged. And I think you can certainly expect from the older children those sorts of questions. So probably the sooner we develop a good way, an effective way of talking about these things to children, the better. But I think, as Tim says, it's not wholly necessary at this stage. This is a project that we need to be thinking about, however.

Skip to 12 minutes and 41 secondsKaren Hornby: And Steve would like to know if there's been any longitudinal research, for example, over the entire school life of a group of students?

Skip to 12 minutes and 50 secondsTim Jay: I think this really points to how difficult it is to do rigorous educational research. And I think, what Steve's asking for is evidence on what educational approaches are going to be the most effective over the whole course of a child's school experience. It would be really great if that kind of study could be done. But it would be so difficult to do in practice that I'm not aware of anything like that's happened. Because first of all, you would have to define what is an educational approach.

Skip to 13 minutes and 28 secondsAnd then find a group of teachers in schools that were prepared to stick to that rigorously for a child's home school experience to be able to compare that with a group of schools that weren't taking that approach. And it would just be very difficult to do. So what we do have evidence for tends to be sort of individual aspects of teaching or school management. And then the position we're in at the moment is we need to put all of that evidence together and make some educated guesses about what happens when we put those different components together. So what we've got is quite good evidence for individual components, of teaching practice, school management, curriculum.

Skip to 14 minutes and 7 secondsBut we don't always know what's going to happen when we put those different components together. It's very difficult to actually practically test a whole approach as one holistic thing.

Skip to 14 minutes and 22 secondsKaren Hornby: Thank you, and we've got a question from Dom about why some forms of knowledge, or parts of a subject, are more difficult to learn than others?

Skip to 14 minutes and 29 secondsTim Jay: I suppose one thing that we tried to do in the MOOC was talk about this, thinking about how to evaluate lessons. And think about how sometimes they've gone well, sometimes they haven't. And draw upon some of the ideas from science of learning to try and figure out why things didn't go as well as they might and how you could interfere it in the future. And one of the things is that there's lots of different reasons why some things are harder to learn or remember than others. So sometimes it might be learner's level of motivation or engagement with the material. Sometimes it might be that learners have different levels of previous knowledge that they're drawing on.

Skip to 15 minutes and 15 secondsAnd they might find it easier or harder to relate the new material with that previous knowledge. It might be to do with the fact that some things are at a higher level of abstraction and just harder to grasp. But it's important to remember so it could be any of those things but it's also likely to be different reasons for different children. And I think that's one of the key things that we were trying to do with the science of learning course, is to help give teachers some different explanations of why some things are easier or harder to learn than others.

Skip to 15 minutes and 50 secondsAnd it's about working in each different context to figure out what might be the problem there, and how we might try other ways To support children in learning that content.

Skip to 16 minutes and 6 secondsRachel Jackson: Primary children always find fractions a really tricky topic, because as you're saying sometimes it's a bit too maybe abstract and you try and make it more concrete for then.

Skip to 16 minutes and 12 secondsTim Jay: I think quite often fractions can be particularly hard for children because they haven't got a really sound understanding of number to begin with. So that example where it's difficult for children to draw on the kind of prior knowledge that they need, and be thinking of, so how do fractions relate to their prior knowledge of a number as well. Because It's quite a difficult thing to understand. First of all you've got fractions in their place on the number line. So you've got different fractions between zero and one. You've got half, and quarters, three quarters in different places. So there's fractions as an ordinal number and a cardinal number, but then it's also fractions as an operation, as a division.

Skip to 16 minutes and 55 secondsAnd so I've been into classes quite recently looking at just supporting children in year three, year four, just to develop arithmetic fluency, so single digit arithmetic problems. And I've seen again how difficult it is for children to do division and understand division. And so if you're trying to introduce fractions, I suppose that's where you where you might be at looking at that link with prior knowledge. So they really need to have a sound understanding of number, cardinal and ordinal aspects of number, but also of that arithmetic. They really need to understand division.

Skip to 17 minutes and 30 secondsAnd so that's where I might be looking at, so looking at that higher level of abstraction, as you said, because you're building on that understanding of number and of arithmetic to create something new with that higher level of abstraction. And it's really difficult to draw on all that prior knowledge and coordinate it in a way for fractions to make sense.

Skip to 17 minutes and 50 secondsRachel Jackson: So it does really rely on a really good assessment for learning, to see where the children are before they start then making links across different topics.

Skip to 18 minutes and 0 secondsTim Jay: And I think especially in something like maths where you are always building on previous knowledge in that way,. it's quite [INAUDIBLE] It's a very structured kind of discipline, out of all the things that students are experiencing in primary school. So it's really important, when you're introducing a new topic, to be thinking about what's the knowledge that they really need to have a good grasp of? And as we talked about before, in primary schools, children really struggle to activate prior knowledge. They don't always know what is the appropriate prior knowledge and what it is they are going to need. So the teacher really needs to have a good understanding.

Skip to 18 minutes and 37 secondsSo what are they going to need to be able to make sense of this new concept? And how can I make sure that they're thinking of that and there's a good grounding there to work with?

Skip to 18 minutes and 48 secondsKaren Hornby: I think as well in science sometimes it's the prior knowledge, that itself can be problemetic if it's common sense style prior knowledge, or what they think they know about the scientific concepts from what they've observed in everyday life and it's not necessarily correct. And I think sometimes for teachers it's about anticipating those misconceptions and being aware of them, and planning to allow students to acknowledge them and understand them, discuss them.

Skip to 19 minutes and 24 secondsPaul Howard-jones: About science concepts, because I mean, there are brain studies that show the naive ideas we have about science don't ever go away. And in fact, part of understanding a new concept in science that's scientifically accurate and valid is suppressing that old idea. So that's additional work that has to be done all the time when you're learning a scientific idea. And that's going to be more difficult for some children then others. And it's also going to be influenced by how prominent that naive idea is in everyday life.

Skip to 20 minutes and 1 secondI think the other way of thinking about why some subjects are more difficult than others, but I think this is really what Tim's saying, I think this is exactly the same thing actually. But, I mean, I would explain it in terms of the fact that there are some bits of information that to be meaningful you have to hold together at the same time with other bits of information. So yeah, other bits of information need to be brought in with that piece of information to make it meaningful, and I guess that's probably particularly true in mathematics. And that means you have to hold several pieces of information in your head, and our working memory is limited, and that's why it's difficult.

Skip to 20 minutes and 40 secondsIf we had a bigger working memory where we could consciously attend to all these bits of information, as many bits as we wanted to without any significant effort, then our learning rate would be fantastic.

Skip to 20 minutes and 51 secondsTim Jay: In English and in reading comprehension of literature, you have the same kind of [INAUDIBLE] abstraction, because then you get very young children are dealing with characters and how they relate to characters. And older children are relating to themes in a story where they're having to put together lots of different sections of a story, and make sense of them altogether, and think about what are the themes. And then later on, again, you've got children are being asked to make sense of the story in the context in which it was written and understand the history around that. So I think we're doing the same kind of abstraction.

Skip to 21 minutes and 27 secondsI think maybe it's just in maths, there's been more research, perhaps, and you've got more of that structure evident in the curriculum. But I think in all subjects we're doing that kind of increasing the abstraction we can work with, with children. But we've got to recognize that that's really challenging for children to do. And different children are going to be able to do that better at different ages. It takes time to develop.

Skip to 21 minutes and 52 secondsKaren Hornby: Talking about development at different ages, Kristian would like to know, is there a sort of a chart for the representation of the development of the frontal cortex?

Skip to 22 minutes and 10 secondsPaul Howard-jones: There are charts that show how the frontal cortex develops. I think it's, unfortunately, not in sufficient detail. Or rather we don't have sufficient knowledge to be able to make a meaningful interpretation of that in terms of how different skills develop at different ages, not to any sort of detail that could be applied in the classroom, anyway. But, of course, it's not just the frontal cortex, it's the whole of the brain is involved in learning. And what makes it so complicated is that actually, different parts of the brain develop at different rates. So rather than thinking about it as a tree which is just growing, potentially, so the trunk is just sort of getting thicker and thicker.

Skip to 22 minutes and 54 secondsIt's more like a bush where different parts of the bush are flowering at different times and interacting with other parts of the bush, and that makes it very complex. So, for example, yeah, the reward system is mature at around about 13 years old. But then the frontal cortex and the parietal cortices carry on developing until 19 years old, and that creates discontinuities. So working memory, probably largely to do with how that part of the frontal cortex develops, is quite linear in its development. You just get more and more capacity to be able to hold information in your head as you get older.

Skip to 23 minutes and 38 secondsBut then there are other regions of the brain, also in the frontal cortex, which are to do with social representation, which don't follow that pattern. And so we see teenagers sometimes having less Ability to make some emotional decisions than eight year olds and adults. There's sort of a pubical dip if you like. So, yes, all these different regions are developing with age but at different rates. And so that makes it very difficult, because all of those different regions are going to be related to how you might do one simple thing in education, wherein learn something. That makes it very difficult to map it neatly.

Skip to 24 minutes and 25 secondsI think the important thing to remember is that children are developing different abilities at different rates. So there's no simple sort of stage design. And quite often, children will develop an ability and then go backwards and lose that ability, and then come forward again, so this is of the overlapping way of sort of scenario development.

Skip to 24 minutes and 47 secondsKaren Hornby: The next question's about adult learners and it's from Linda. And she's asking if you could point her in the direction of any neuroscientific research on adult learning?

Skip to 24 minutes and 57 secondsPaul Howard-jones: I think the thing we probably should emphasize really is actually most of the cognitive neuroscience research where we're looking at learning taking place in the brain has actually being done with adults. And I think this is one of the flaws in the research body that we have access to at the moment. I don't know about most, but certainly a large part of it. So when we're talking about engagement and the reward system, not all of it, but I would say most of that literature has been based on adult responses. But we don't have any reason to think that there's a qualitative difference between how the reward system operates in a child compared with an adult as yet.

Skip to 25 minutes and 46 secondsBut those differences may come to light at some point.

Skip to 25 minutes and 53 secondsKaren Hornby: Similar question from Simon here as well, who teaches adults at degree level. And a diversability range, anywhere from age 18 to 50. Are there any specific or additional points from the Science of Learning, that need to be considered for teaching older students?

Skip to 26 minutes and 14 secondsPaul Howard-jones: Well, I think there are general differences, but it's important not to generalize too much and to take individuals as they come, really. But, I mean, in a general sense, one example would be feedback, that we know that children tend to respond more to positive feedback than negative feedback, and as you get older, so you become more interested in the negative feedback. And that seems to generate more brain activity. And we also see that learning performance tends to increase more. So with younger children or children generally, if you're negative and you frame your feedback negatively, then there is a higher likelihood that that's going to impact on the learning itself. So there are differences, there are differences.

Skip to 27 minutes and 16 secondsBut I think the important thing is always to be sensitive to the individual.

Skip to 27 minutes and 22 secondsRachel Jackson: The next question is a quite popular question, this particular one is being asked by Daniel, and it's how would you design a year-long INSET schedule on the science of learning?

Skip to 27 minutes and 35 secondsPaul Howard-jones: A year-long INSET. So we've got basically three to five afternoons which are off timetable and what are the important things to look at? I guess I would want some part of it to be getting rid of the myths, that would probably be important. And I wonder whether just talking about the brain and and how the brain learns in a general sort of way can be helpful there. Because a lot of the myths about the brain have arisen from looking at its structure, the fact for example that we have two hemispheres. So let's look at the structure of the brain to start with perhaps, and what that means or doesn't mean for learning.

Skip to 28 minutes and 20 secondsAnd then I think it is important to have some sort of meaningful way of linking it to what happens in the classroom, and that's why we introduce this EBC model to think about learning in terms of engagement, building of knowledge, consolidation of knowledge. And that seems like a useful platform on which you can then bring in the insights about each of those categories of learning process. But I think it's also really important to have an opportunity. So I guess if we're looking at the EBC model in the second session, maybe the first session might be about applying it in practice. That seems to be really important.

Skip to 29 minutes and 0 secondsSo with the students on our teacher training courses we have a session where they can bring in a piece of work where they want a work scheme for their classes. And think about what are the principles of learning that underly the decisions they've made in that work scheme. And that's a good opportunity for discussion, and bringing together some critical thinking about that. And then of course, I would also like there to be an opportunity for people to feedback on how that work scheme went, I think that's really important.

Skip to 29 minutes and 35 secondsSo, I think on the last session would be really nice, if people could bring back and say, well look I tweaked my work session on the basis of the science of learning, this is how it went. May have gone wonderfully, may have gone terribly. What does the science of learning tell us about how that happened, and is there an insight we can gain from that to think about how we might do it differently again. That would be [LAUGH] my pitch I suppose, what do you think Tim?

Skip to 30 minutes and 7 secondsTim Jay: I think that's great, because it's pretty much how the MOOC's been designed, is along those lines. And, hopefully the MOOC will be that-

Skip to 30 minutes and 19 secondsPaul Howard-jones: [INAUDIBLE]

Skip to 30 minutes and 20 secondsTim Jay: I can definitely see a group of teachers doing a MOOC over four or five afternoons, together as a group, and discussing some of those points along the way.

Skip to 30 minutes and 28 secondsKaren Hornby: We've had quite a few examples of whole departments doing the MOOC together. Doing the MOOC, say, when they've got time during the week, but using the time together to discuss what it means, how they might implement it, or what they've tried. So it does work quite well to do the MOOC as a departments.

Skip to 30 minutes and 51 secondsPaul Howard-jones: Yeah, I think there's not just one perspective on this thing. I think that's really important and this is about really enriching the expertise of teachers and not substituing it with any list of what science is telling you what to do in the classroom. And this is something we try to emphasize in the course. So I think when people are working together critically on it, and discussing ideas, and chipping in their own thoughts, and commenting on each others approach. I think that's really really important. So I love that idea of whole departments working on it together.

Skip to 31 minutes and 24 secondsKaren Hornby: Ben would like to know, what strategies are most effective for enrolling teachers into the science of learning? Or how you might persuade teachers who are clinging onto neuromyths to try out science of learning ideas.

Skip to 31 minutes and 45 secondsTim Jay: I think this really goes on what Paul was just saying, is that I think this works best when teachers feel like they've got some ownership of what's going on. I think quite often What's happened. And one of the reasons that the neuromyths get hold is because teachers sometimes just told things, this works, do this, it'll definitely work in your classroom, without supporting teachers to get into and understand and work with some of the research. I think, at the moment, there's a lot more good research and good syntheses of the research that are out there. So I think the best way is to find some of these more readable syntheses of the research.

Skip to 32 minutes and 34 secondsI think there's some references that we've given in the course, so the deans for impact document on science of learning. There's the recent issue of impact, the new journal of the child psychology of teaching, where we've got some of this research in sort of teacher-friendly publications, if you like. And I think having a research group or a reading group, it's quite an investment of time. But teachers in a school working together to choose some of these key documents to read, compare their different perspectives, and then how it relates to their work in the classroom. I think that's the kind of thing that can really, really help change practice based on the research.

Skip to 33 minutes and 14 secondsRachel Jackson: And Adam has asked, how would you suggest that schools become more willing to implement valid approaches to teaching and learning?

Skip to 33 minutes and 24 secondsPaul Howard-jones: Yeah, I think it's really interesting, this idea. Adam didn't mention evidence-based, but I think that the term valid and evidence-based tend to sort of go together quite often. And I'm beginning to see that there's so many different ways in which you can interpret what you mean by evidence-based and valid. I'm not so sure really whether you can have a list of valid teaching approaches in quite same way that many people think you can. Yeah, I've seen some really barmy ideas in terms of the scientific basis in the classroom that still seems to have a positive effect, because the teacher is implementing them in such a thoughtful way, and attending and nurturing learning very carefully.

Skip to 34 minutes and 12 secondsSo I think, what is valid? And I think the really important aspect of validity is the depth of thought that goes into implementing an approach. So,

Skip to 34 minutes and 32 secondsPaul Howard-jones: How can I suggest that schools become more willing to implement valid approaches? I think the important thing is to look at the issues that the schools are facing. Teachers know, generally, what's not working out in their classroom. They carry with them a list of things that they'd like to see happening better. And it's a matter of drawing attention to what the science of learning can do in respect to both those issues. It's not about providing a list of good practices. And if you do these good practices, then you're going to get really effective learning outcomes.

Skip to 35 minutes and 14 secondsActually, attempts to produce a tick list of teacher behaviors, those seem to fail when it comes to actually correlating them with good outcomes in the classroom, because every context is so different. And what really makes a difference is that the depth of thinking and critical reflection of the teacher in the classroom about what's going on in their specific individual context. And I think that's where the science of learning can fit in.

Skip to 35 minutes and 43 secondsTim Jay: Yes, it's less about having encouraging colleagues to have valid approaches and it's more about encouraging everyone to be a reflective practitioner and think carefully about what's working and what isn't.

Skip to 35 minutes and 57 secondsKaren Hornby: Natalie wants to know is there any research work on focus shift, and what are the mechanisms for voluntary focus shift?

Skip to 36 minutes and 5 secondsPaul Howard-jones: I mean in terms of focus shift, what do we know about focus shift? A lot of things can cause focus shift, but part of it. But part of the story is the engagement that we've been talking about on the course and the role of those subcortical structures. And actually what we do know, for example, with children with ADHD, well, the most popular theory is that scientists have put forward about what underlies ADHD is a difficulty with that reward system, actually an under-functioning of it. So that it's not maintaining focus on one particular stimulus. So actually, educational activities can activate the reward system very much like chocolate cake or something like that, and it helps us maintain our focus.

Skip to 37 minutes and 7 secondsBut if you have a very weak response in the reward system, and this is called the dopamine deficit theory of ADHD, then it makes it much more likely that your attention is going to wander off somewhere else. So that's one of the reasons why children with ADHD are often given medication, because things like Ritalin actually enhance the stimulus specific dopamine response in the reward system. But what we're being asked about here is also hypersensitivity. And there is some research coming through that shows hypersensitivity can increase enhanced atttention in children developing AST on the autistic spectrum. But how you link that with normal development, normal behavior in the classroom, I couldn't say, because I'm not really an expert in that area.

Skip to 38 minutes and 8 secondsBut hypersensitivity is likely to impact on shifts in focus of attention.

Skip to 38 minutes and 16 secondsRachel Jackson: The next question is from Ben. And he's asking, are there approaches to behavior management that you see as complementary to the EBC model?

Skip to 38 minutes and 24 secondsPaul Howard-jones: I would say that there is some complementarity there because, I think, approaches that are positive, that emphasize reward rather than sanction, are aligned with this idea of using things that do capture the attention and engage children, like novelty and sharing attention with others, and rewards, those positive things. So I think there are some approaches to behavioral management that, yeah, do align with the EBC model. Because we try to emphasize the importance of positive rewards and the risks of behaviors by the teacher that may raise anxiety and fearfulness.

Skip to 39 minutes and 20 secondsRachel Jackson: The next question from Macy J is asking, what ways do you suggest for students who are constantly bored or uninterested?

Skip to 39 minutes and 24 secondsTim Jay: So I think this is about finding where the children are coming from. And I think sometimes you can make the choice, you can start by introducting a subject where the curriculum is and where the textbooks are, or you can start where the children are. And I think it can really help, especially in primary schools, and especially, where you're working with a classroom that's relatively diverse To find out what is the children's background knowledge in this area. What are the things that you know your class of children care about and how can you use some of that to introduce a new concept?

Skip to 40 minutes and 5 secondsI think, especially in maths, it can be quite abstract and teachers can quite often draw on ideas that aren't familiar to children. In one project, we were looking at use of children's everyday experiences to improve their understanding of math in classrooms. And in that project, one of the teachers was telling a story about how he had taught a whole lesson on probability, the first lesson on probability to class of year threes. At using dice and at the end of the class, he says I've got some homework for you to do, you'll need to find a dice at home..

Skip to 40 minutes and 45 secondsAnd it was then he found out that none of these children had a dice at home, and they hadn't been [INAUDIBLE] So he built his whole lesson assuming that they knew what a dice was and using that to explain probability. And then find out that that wasn't something they were drawing on. So spending a bit of that time thinking where were your children coming from? What did they already care about? What concepts are they familiar with? I can go ahead on is what Mike has said, try and make that they're engaged in the beginning. Because if lessons stop, we're talking about a lot of things, a new concept In contexts that are unfamiliar.

Skip to 41 minutes and 19 secondsThen that can be quite off-putting particularly and they can just find it hard to engage with it, even if they want to. So I would say trying wherever possible to start with where the children are, rather than where you want to get to.

Skip to 41 minutes and 31 secondsPaul Howard-jones: Yeah, so everything Tim just said, [LAUGH] definitely.

Skip to 41 minutes and 36 secondsRachel Jackson: [LAUGH]

Skip to 41 minutes and 36 secondsPaul Howard-jones: But I suppose the other thing is gamification and the use games. So disengagement is a risk for all learners, including students at the University of Bristol. So in a recent study, we decided to look at disengagement in the brain scanner. And we asked students to read some information that they knew that they were going to be tested on later in an exam. And there were rewards and all this sort of stuff to incentivize. But we could see this activation of this network called default mode network, which is the mind wandering network.

Skip to 42 minutes and 20 secondsSo actually in the brain scan, you can see people disengaging, and their minds wandering off as they think about things like, I wonder what I'm going to have for tea tonight. And then the other conditions we gamefied it, so increasingly we made it more like a game. In the first instance, we got them to self-test, so they're getting some points back if they got the answer correct. And then in the final condition, we have them competing with a friend outside the scanner. And winning points not just from luck, they're not just from learning, but from luck as well, so spinning a wheel of fortune.

Skip to 42 minutes and 54 secondsAnd as it became more gamified, so the work that they're revising they scored higher points on in the exam that followed. And also we saw deactivation of this default mode networking indicating that they were becoming more and more engaged. And the more their default mode network deactivated, the more that mind-wondering started disappearing that we were looking in the brain. So we could see the scores rise in the fake exam that we gave them afterwards. So yeah, we're beginning to understand. I mean the fact is that no child is unable to pay attention. It's just that they're not always paying attention to the things that you want them to pay attention to.

Skip to 43 minutes and 41 secondsAnd I mean, that's one of the reasons why Tim and I are particularly interested in looking at video games at the moment. And because quite often, you see children who can't pay attention apparently in lessons really, really engaged in these sorts of activities. So I don't know, games appear to be a good route to follow.

Skip to 43 minutes and 59 secondsKaren Hornby: Faith would like to know About cognitive load and how to reduce cognitive load and still convert all of content?

Skip to 44 minutes and 12 secondsTim Jay: Cognitive load is way of understanding what is happening in a moment, whereas I wonder where [INAUDIBLE] thinking about over a whole. Year's worth of curriculum, we've obviously got a lot of content. But that's not so much a problem for our minds. Practically our long term memory can fit as much as we want in there. So cognitive load is more about in the moment, how can we present things so that children can focus enough on the things we really need them to focus on. Without being overwhelmed by the amount of information in that moment, at that time. So I think there's two kinds of things going on here.

Skip to 44 minutes and 54 secondsThere is an very extremely diverse and big curriculum, and that is a problem in some ways, because you need to cram it all in. But it's not a cognitive load issue, because a cognitive load is just about managing things in that moment and not presenting so much to children at once at any given time. That it's too much for them to take in all at once.

Skip to 45 minutes and 13 secondsPaul Howard-jones: Yeah, so a simple example of what not to do, would be to have a diagram where there was lots of information that was actually unneccessary. You might think well, why on Earth would I do that? But you think, well actually I wanna show them this diagram, there's a couple of things on it, which are relevant. And I haven't got time to remove all the things that are not relevent, so you find yourself overloading their working memory in that way. So a little bit comes down to conciseness and simply explanations, clarity, choosing media [INAUDIBLE] that are efficiently expressed the ideas, it's this idea of efficiency of communication.

Skip to 45 minutes and 54 secondsAnd, there are other little things worth remembering, like if you're talking to the children at the same time as expecting them to read something, and that's never going to work. Because actually talking and reading activate similar parts of the brain that [INAUDIBLE] spoken language. And that's like listening to two people at the same time, and very difficult to attend to. And then other things that sort of overload working memory Are things which are completely irrelevant to your peers around you. And if you're worrying about something or getting distracted, that could also really impact on your working memory.

Skip to 46 minutes and 42 secondsKaren Hornby: And Daniel would like to know s there any research against Cognitive Load?

Skip to 46 minutes and 47 secondsPaul Howard-jones: So Cognitive Load Theory, to me it summons up ideas that we've been talking about for decades. And tends to develop quite a simple model of working memory of the type that we have and she told by the course. So it's not inappropriate to be talking about Cognitive Load Theory in relation to this course tool. But whether being right or wrong, what has happened has happened with many concepts inside, it actually just become much more complicated. [LAUGH] So we now think about working them really much more in numerous way.

Skip to 47 minutes and 26 secondsAnd part of that has come about as a result of neurocytes as well where we see different representations, different types of information in working memory being held in different parts of the brain. And for example, the limit on how much you can hold in your working memory is actually, to some extent, a function of what sort of information it is. So there may be a different Different capacity for figures as compared with concepts, for example. So it's not that it's right or wrong, it's just that it is developed and now the literature is a lot more complex. We've present quite a simple model here, which feels like a good starting point.

Skip to 48 minutes and 18 secondsBut I guess science of learning two, or science of learning three, might actually [LAUGH] start expanding and putting more detail into the model that we've presented.

Skip to 48 minutes and 29 secondsKaren Hornby: Thank you, and Faith would like to know how to get over negative connotations of physics.

Skip to 48 minutes and 37 secondsRachel Jackson: I think it's the idea that people say physics is really hard, and how do you get over these kinds of negative connotations when you're trying to teach children that they can access the learning in physics?

Skip to 48 minutes and 52 secondsPaul Howard-jones: So finding a subject daunting can be about a subject, but it can also be about your self-concept as well, and feeling that you're not up the task. And sort of low self-concept tends to be associated with thinking that you have the intelligence that you're born with. That your brain is a limitation to what you can achieve, and that your brain is not going to cope with physics. And that's when this concept of brain plasticity can be really helpful, I think. Showing images of how the brain changes as a result of learning and understanding that you have a role, as does your teacher.

Skip to 49 minutes and 38 secondsBut very importantly you have the role in constructing your brain and your abilities will change as a result of applying effort. And you'll be able to achieve things that you never think, at the moment, you could possibly achieve. And so there is some evidence to back that up, there's at least two studies that show a course learning about learning, which includes thinking about brain plasticity, can impact positively on self-concept as well as academic achievement. I should also add, I suppose that my teacher actually told me that I would never get my, well, he didn't say I'd never get it but he said I would struggle to get my GCSE physics and I did eventually get a PhD in it, so-

Skip to 50 minutes and 35 secondsKaren Hornby: David has used and talked about four academic mindsets of self-efficacy, purpose, growth and belonging. And thinks that growth mindset concept of Carol Dweck is a consequence of the biology of the brain, neuro-plasticity. Is that something you could confirm or is it a valid interpretation?

Skip to 50 minutes and 56 secondsPaul Howard-jones: So there are, at the moment, I think there's one, no I think it's two actually, it's two studies that have studied looking at what growth mindset, and a related concept of grit, that ability not to give up, what those actually have to do with brain function. And the results are quite interesting in so far as both growth mindset and grit are related to more connectivity between the reward system and the prefrontal cortex. And that is interpreted as meaning that those people with more growth mindset and more grit are able to control a little bit more the way in which their reward system is influencing their cortex.

Skip to 51 minutes and 48 secondsAnd therefore they have a better chance of not being distracted by things. Not being distracted by things that they should not be distracted by in order to get on with their work.

Skip to 52 minutes and 0 secondsKaren Hornby: Ben wants to know, do you think neurosexism has perpetuated myths about the differences between boys and girls and their brains and abilities, etc?

Skip to 52 minutes and 15 secondsTim Jay: And there's some gendered ideas about the kinds of students that are good at maths and go on to have maths careers and the kind of students that are good at science and go on to have science careers. But I would say that that stereotype is actually getting weaker over time, rather than stronger. I think there's been a lot of challenge to the idea that, first of all, people have a maths brain or they don't. I think we're learning more about the brain to suggest it's not true that people either have a math brain or they don't.

Skip to 52 minutes and 46 secondsAnd there's more and more evidence that gender differences aren't as big or influential as people have thought they are in the past. I think the main thing to bear in mind is that the variation within each gender is much bigger than the difference between genders. So I would hope that in schools and among teachers, there aren't very strong ideas that boys or girls are better or worse at different subjects. And in all subjects, there's much, much more variation within genders and within sexes than between them.

Skip to 53 minutes and 18 secondsPaul Howard-jones: Yeah, I mean I think it's quite likely that sexist biases tend to impact on how we think about the brain, and some of these false ideas in how we think about the brain. And in fact, when it comes to the gender differences that we can see in the brain, we don't actually see very much that we can make sense of. So I'm sure that there is a sense in which neurosexism has impacted on some of the myths that we have.. I think probably that it comes back from the sexism to begin with, I'd like to think, in a way [LAUGH] That then impacts on the neuroscience or the way in which the neuroscience is interpreted.

Skip to 54 minutes and 9 secondsAnd that seems to be how these myths form. There's a vacuum between education and neuroscience. There's no enough discourse and dialogue there. And that creates a space in which ideas evolve. And those ideas are quite often influenced by the popular biases of the time. And so sometimes people look into the brain and they see whatever they want to see, if you like. But I certainly would agree with Tim, really, about the reality of that.

Skip to 54 minutes and 43 secondsKaren Hornby: Well, thank you for answering all the questions, that's all we've got time to go through at the moment. Have you got any final thoughts?

Skip to 54 minutes and 53 secondsPaul Howard-jones: I'd just like to say how much I've enjoyed reading the comments and looking at the dialogue and the conversations that have been going on on the science of learning course. I've been really, really impressed with the depth of thinking, and that's been fantastic really and very rewarding. My reward system was becoming very stimulated just [LAUGH] seeing the way in which people were talking about the science of learning and what its meaning is in the classroom. Not taking everything on board as gospel, but actually challenging it and think about it critically in terms of what it means. And not taking it as a prescription, using it as a tool to think more deeply about practice.

Skip to 55 minutes and 43 secondsI think the way neuroscience is just there to contribute a bit more to that expertise.

Skip to 55 minutes and 49 secondsTim Jay: It's been really good to have an opportunity to see the questions, actually. Because I think the range of questions and the depth of some of them just show that the participants in the course have been really thinking deeply about how what they're seeing in the course relates to their practice in the schools. So it's been really good to have the opportunity to see the questions. and be able to start to answer some of them [INAUDIBLE]

Skip to 56 minutes and 17 secondsRachel Jackson: Okay, well thank you for your answers, and thank you for all the questions that the participants have sent through. And for all the participation on the course, because there has been lots of really interesting questions. And as you said, Paul, it's great that everyone is questioning what they're hearing and having a dialogue about it. And yes, [LAUGH] it is something as well that I think was mentioned in the course that you could actually run this as a department, or take it to your colleagues so more people can have a dialog about it. And so-

Skip to 56 minutes and 52 secondsKaren Hornby: Thank you, yeah I would just ask about the discussion's being absolutely fantastic. To read peoples' viewpoints and the fact that people have been answering each other and questioning each others' viewpoints and you can see ideas have evolved as a result. So it's been really interesting for us.

Q&A session with course educators

On all our courses we provide a question and answer (Q&A) session. This is your opportunity to discuss your understanding of the course content, ask a question about your teaching context or explore an issue in more detail.

Thank you for your questions. We’ve recorded Paul and Tim’s responses and the video is now uploaded to this step. A transcript will follow in 5-7 days time.

Bookmark this step to return to it at any time.

Please note: if you post a question here it may be featured in the video recording along with your first name. The recording will be publicly viewed via this step and may also be uploaded to the STEM Learning YouTube channel.

Topics discussed

Teaching approaches

  • 0m02s - Balancing recall and application of new ideas - Bernard
  • 14m16s - Why are some forms of knowledge difficult to learn? - Dom

Daily review

  • 1m23s - Differences between primary and secondary - David
  • 3m12s - Most effective strategies for reviewing and consolidating learning - Faith

Engaging students with the research

  • 4m52s- How to engage teenagers with research not related to the subject they’re studying - Gavin
  • 8m48s- Courses on the science of learning for students - Karla
  • 10m37s- Students understanding of our teaching approaches - Jason

Neuroscience research

  • 12m39s - Research over the entire school life of students - Steve and Sue
  • 21m54s - Mapping frontal cortex development to ages - Kristian

Adult learners

  • 24m44s - Neuroscience research for adult learners - Linda
  • 25m46s - Designing learning materials for adult learners - Simon

School implementation

  • 27m22s - An INSET (CPD/training) schedule on the science of learning - Daniel
  • 31m22s - Enrolling colleagues into thinking about the science of learning - Ben
  • 33m15s - Encouraging implementation of valid approaches to teaching - Adam

The above questions also include how to involve a department (Celia’s question) or run CPD within schools (Jacquie’s question). Please feel free to forward the course emails to colleagues. You can also take the course as a department over the summer vacation without our support (last chance to enrol is 29 July), or join us again for our September run when we’ll be supporting course discussions again. We hope that you will have the confidence to lead the discussions in your department. The following documents will help you:

Attention, engagement and behaviour

  • 35m53s - Research on focus shift - Natalie
  • 38m08s - Behaviour management and the EBC model - Ben
  • 39m14s - Approaches for students constantly bored - Maciej

Cognitive load

  • 44m02s - Reducing cognitive load to cover a diverse curriculum - Faith
  • 46m43s - Is cognitive load theory widely accepted? - Daniel

Brain plasticity

  • 48m47s - Overcoming negative perceptions of physics/difficult subjects - Faith
  • 50m31s - Dweck’s growth mindset and the biology of the brain - David

Neuromyths

  • 52m07s - Neurosexism and differences between boys and girls - Ben

Thank you to all who asked questions. We hope you’ve enjoyed your time on the course and look forward to hearing from you about any changes you will make to your teaching in the next step.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

The Science of Learning

National STEM Learning Centre

Contact FutureLearn for Support