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The importance of committing facts to memory

19 May

In an article in last week’s New York Times, we find this:

The director of Google’s education apps group, Jonathan Rochelle, touched on that idea in a speech at an industry conference last year. Referring to his own children, he said: “I cannot answer for them what they are going to do with the quadratic equation. I don’t know why they are learning it.” He added, “And I don’t know why they can’t ask Google for the answer if the answer is right there.”

Regular readers know that I think this fundamentally misguided. Knowledge remains and will remain essential to negotiating the world. To see why let’s turn to another article in the Times: “If Americans Can Find North Korea on a Map, They’re More Likely to Prefer Diplomacy.”

Here’s the map of where the surveyed individuals placed North Korea.

nkorea map

According to the Times:

Geographic knowledge itself may contribute to an increased appreciation of the complexity of geopolitical events.

By the way the quadratic equation is not that hard to learn.

Manipulatives may hinder learning

10 Apr

Walk into an early elementary school classroom and you are likely to see lots of manipulatives. From Popsicle sticks to Cuisenaire rods we have a strong intuitive sense that these objects should help children learn mathematics.

Not so fast, says Sara Fulmer over at The Learning Scientist;

Although manipulatives can increase students’ attention, this attention may not benefit their learning. In fact, the very aspect of manipulatives that capture students’ attention—bright colors, visual appeal, realistic features—may be their downfall. Manipulatives that are more visually interesting or realistic can increase off-task behavior, such as building or sorting (1). This is especially true if students interact with that object in other contexts, such as during play time or outside of the classroom.

Students who learn with manipulatives can become too reliant on the object and context, and as a result, have difficulty transferring their knowledge to new contexts, different testing formats, or to abstract representations (e.g., algebraic expressions) of the problem

Bizarre advice on web site affiliated with education secretary nominee

23 Jan

It was brought to my attention that education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos is an investor in a company that promises “brain enhancement. ” While visiting the site I found this amazing claim:

The cavemen had it right all along! Because bone broth is full of collagen (and 30% of our bodies’ protein consists of this), it acts as a “gut healer.” According to research by clinical nutritionist Dr. Josh Axe, gut health and brain health are highly connected to each other. And, gut-healing is said to help lower anxiety and other mood-related disorders.

I am almost speechless. Where to begin? I guess we could start by asking who the heck is Josh Axe? He is

a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic and clinical nutritionist with a passion to help people get healthy by using food as medicine.

I have no special prejudice against chiropractors, but the DeVos affiliated website claims that he has conducted research. If he has, why aren’t links provided?

It is true that there is collagen in the brain, but it doesn’t follow from that that consuming collagen helps brain performance. Moreover there is evidence that bone broth may have high levels of the neurotoxin lead.

13 Jan

An interesting paper about school schedules and student performance, published in The Review of Economics and Statistics, “How the Time of Day Affects Productivity: Evidence from School Schedules.” Here is the abstract:

Increasing the efficiency of the school system is a primary focus
of policymakers. I analyze how the time of day affects students’ productivity
and if efficiency gains can be obtained by rearranging the order of tasks they
perform throughout the school day. Using a panel data set of nearly 2 million
sixth- through eleventh-grade students in Los Angeles County, I perform
within-teacher, class type, and student estimation of the time-of-day effect
on students’ learning as measured by GPA and state test scores. I find that
given a school start time, students learn more in the morning than later in
the school day. Having a morning instead of afternoon math or English class
increases a student’s GPA by 0.072 (0.006) and 0.032 (0.006), respectively.
A morning math class increases state test scores by an amount equivalent
to increasing teacher quality by one-fourth standard deviation or half of the
gender gap. Rearranging school schedules can lead to increased academic
performance.

At first this would seem contrary to the evidence that suggests that later school start times seem to benefit students, but the author addresses this:

My study is also related to the school start time literature.
Research has indicated that due to changing sleep patterns
during adolescence, academic gains can be achieved by starting
school later. Carrel, Maghakian, and West (2011) use
random assignment of college classes and find that having one
hour earlier start times decreases students’ GPA by 0.031 to
0.076 standard deviations. Similarly, Dills and HernandezJulian
(2008) find that even when controlling for course
and student characteristics, students perform worse in earlier
classes. Edwards (2012) uses variation in school start times
produced by staggered busing schedules and finds that starting
school an hour later increases test scores by 2 percentage
points.
Some have interpreted the finding that later school start
times increase students’ academic performance as implying
that given a school start time, students perform better
in the afternoon than in the morning (Carrel et al., 2011;
Dills & Hernandez-Julian, 2008). However, this hypothesis
has not been tested empirically. The common conclusion is
that later start times increase students’ achievement because
students are less sleep deprived. However, this says nothing
about how teaching and learning ability change throughout
the day. School start times affect the average learning in a day
but not differential learning throughout the day. Therefore,
the results of this paper and the school start time literature
estimate slightly different effects.

“Academic cheating and time perspective”

6 Jan

A paper in the most recent Learning and Individual Differences, “Academic cheating and time perspective: Cheaters live in the present instead of the future”:

The goal of this research was to explore the relationship pattern of individual differences in time perspective and the frequency of self-reported academic cheating behavior among Hungarian high school students (N1 = 252, Mage = 16.46, SDage = 1.16; N2 = 371, Mage = 16.56, SDage = 1.18). According to the results of structural equations modeling, Future time perspective had a negative direct relationship with cheating, while Present hedonistic time perspective had a direct positive relationship with cheating. Moreover, academic motivations mediated the relationships between time perspectives and academic cheating. Future time perspective had direct negative relationship with amotivation and direct positive relationship with intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Considering the malleability of time perspective, we claim both academic motivations and cheating can be influenced by time perspective.

Shades of the marshmallow experiment.

A blog about the science of learning

12 Dec

The blog at The Learning Scientists is well worth following. Here is their self description:

We are cognitive psychological scientists interested in research on education. Our main research focus is on the science of learning. (Hence, “The Learning Scientists”!)

Our Vision is to make scientific research on learning more accessible to students, teachers, and other educators.

We aim to :

Motivate students to study
Increase the use of effective study and teaching strategies that are backed by research
Decrease negative views of testing
This is not a product or a sales pitch – just science!

Here is their video about spaced practice:

“Evening types learn more and are more motivated in the afternoon”

2 Nov

A paper in the most recent issue of Learning and Individual Differences reports an interaction between an individual’s chronotype (the extend to which you are a morning or an evening person) and the timing of academic activities.

I think this is a potentially important result. It suggests that knowledge of a biologically mediated individual difference might allow us to optimize instruction for different students. From the abstract:

Results indicate a synchrony effect (interaction of time of day and chronotype) in achievement and state motivation. Evening types have worse achievement, lower interest, and lower joy in the morning, but there were no significant associations between chronotype and the outcomes in the afternoon. Since adolescent evening types can learn better and are more motivated in the afternoon, schools should offer more learning opportunities in the afternoon.

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