The Science of learning

A lack of evidence?

Science is : a never-ending and unique process of producing tested, evidence-based explanations for the full range of natural phenomena that we observe to occur around us.

Many books about teaching and learning contain a well constructed argument, which "makes sense" when read, but with little or no evidence to support it. As teachers of science, we want a "science of teaching science": to make use of evidence about correlation (what works in the classroom) and cause (why it works).

Finding reliable evidence.

Despite 1000s of classroom experiments done around the world, finding reliable evidence is difficult. Many of the experiments done in classrooms use too small a group-size, or too short a time-frame or have not been repeated by average teachers. Very little valid data can be found from an individual study.

Meta-studies. However, when a number of different studies are compared and their results combined, the reliability increases. These "meta-studies" provide the reliable data-base for a scientific approach to science teaching.

This work has been done and the results published. The top ten teaching methods derived from meta-studies can be found here:curriculum-methods and references to the original publications by Hattie, Marzano and Petty are below.

Explaining the data.

Classroom evidence, however reliable, only tells us there is a correlation. It does not explain why it works. Basic neuroscience provides the framework for these explanations. All the successful classroom practices can be explained from a model of the brain having specialist areas, being made of neurons which connect etc. The fact that the neuroscience supports the evidence from the classroom further increases reliability.

The neuroscience also identifies wide-spread teaching practices that go against the knowledge of how the brain learns. For example: "Learning styles" ( visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners - VAK) has no supporting evidence, nor do simple ideas of being "left or right brained".

Applying the evidence

The best route for incorporating research into classroom practice is to organise the teachers into practice-research groups. The group meets to learn about and plan a lesson using a "proven" technique.. They then try it out and meet again to discuss how it went. This has been shown to be far more effective than one-day INSET or "instructions" from senior staff.

Whenever excellent teachers are observed, they are always found to be applying evidence-based methods, even when they are not aware of it themselves! They have discovered and applied this evidence for themselves.

Further reading

Author Short title Description
Classroom experiment based
John Hattie Visible Learning A huge meta-study of 1000s of research projects.
Robert Marzano* Classroom Instruction that Works Clear guidelines for the top 10 ways to teach, based on classroom experiments.
Geoff Petty* Evidence based Teaching A teacher-friendly guide to applying the Hattie/Marzano findings in the classroom.
Brain and neuroscience based
David Sousa* How the brain learns For educators who want to ground their professional development in research about the brain.
Patricia Wolfe* Brain matters Translating research into classroom practice
Judy Willis* Ignite Research-based strategies to ignite student learning
James Zull* The art of changing the brain Enriching the practice of teaching by exploring the Biology of learning.
John Geake The brain at school Educational neuroscience in the classroom
Margot Sunderland* The science of parenting How brain research can help raise happy, emotionally balanced children.
Sarah-Jayne Blakemore The learning brain An authoritative account of how the brain learns.
Sheryl Feinstein Learning and the brain A comprehensive guide for educators, parents and teachers.
Berninger and Richards Brain literacy for educators and psychologists Introduces cognitive neuroscience as the main theory to guide educational practice.
Rita Carter Mapping the mind Shows how brain-scans can be used to reveal aspects of our behaviour.
Rita Carter The Brain Book An illustrated guide to structure, function and disorders
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License