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Does music or chess enhance cognitive skills?

27 Dec

The idea that playing chess and studying music improves cognition in other domains, such as math, is called far transfer. It is a very seductive idea with a strong intuitive appeal. “Teach the kids chess and it will improve their academic performance.”

A recent meta-analysis published in Current Directions of Psychological Science, casts doubt on this popular belief. The paper is both persuasive and well written and I encourage educators to read it. Here is the abstract:

Chess masters and expert musicians appear to be, on average, more intelligent than the general population. Some researchers have thus claimed that playing chess or learning music enhances children’s cognitive abilities and academic attainment. We here present two meta-analyses assessing the effect of chess and music instruction on children’s cognitive and academic skills. A third meta-analysis evaluated the effects of working memory training—a cognitive skill correlated with music and chess expertise—on the same variables. The results show small to moderate effects. However, the effect sizes are inversely related to the quality of the experimental design (e.g., presence of active control groups). This pattern of results casts serious doubts on the effectiveness of chess, music, and working memory training. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these findings; extend the debate to other types of training such as spatial training, brain training, and video games; and conclude that far transfer of learning rarely occurs.

In an era of scarce educational resources, teachers in fields like art and music often defend their place in the curriculum by using far transfer arguments. Music we are told will improve math scores. This research calls into question these kinds of claims.

Art and music belong in the curriculum because they are valuable in their own right. Not everything needs to justified by how it affects math scores.

Against laptops in the classroom

29 Nov

I agree with this piece in The New York Times:

a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings in all kinds of workplaces.


“Group work is overused in schools”

30 Oct

From The Guardian:

The limitations of group work have really struck me when I’ve taken part in professional development sessions using this approach. At the end of the day everyone would put their work up on the wall and what was depressing was that it all looked drearily alike – there wasn’t a spark of a good idea.

Program for International Student Assessment ranks U.S. students 24th in Science Achievement

2 Oct

(Hat tip to BoingBoing)

Does praising children for being smart promotes cheating?

22 Sep

So says this paper just published in Psychological Science:

Praise is one of the most commonly used forms of reward. It is convenient, is nearly effortless, and makes the recipient feel good. However, praising children for being smart carries unintended consequences: It can undermine their achievement motivation in a way that praising their effort or performance does not (Cimpian, Arce, Markman, & Dweck, 2007; Kamins & Dweck, 1999; Mueller & Dweck, 1998; see Dweck, 2007). In this study, we investigated whether the negative consequences of praising children for being smart extend to the moral domain, by encouraging cheating.

There is some prior work suggesting that evaluative feedback can influence children’s moral behaviors (Fu, Heyman, Qian, Guo, & Lee, 2016; Mueller & Dweck, 1998; Zhao, Heyman, Chen, & Lee, 2017). Telling 5-year-olds (but not younger children) that they have a reputation for being good leads to a reduction in their cheating, presumably because they are interested in maintaining this reputation (Fu et al., 2016). We propose that telling children that they are smart, a form of ability praise, may have the opposite effect by motivating them to cheat to appear smarter. In a study consistent with this possibility, Mueller and Dweck (1998) found that 10-year-olds exaggerated how well they had performed after receiving ability praise. However, little is known about whether ability praise can influence young children’s moral behavior. The present research addressed this question by comparing the effects of ability and performance praise on preschool children’s cheating.

More on the flipped classroom

18 Aug

Recently, I blogged about a medical school that has adopted the flipped classroom model of instruction. In the flipped classroom, instruction is delivered in video presentations that the students watch on their own time and classroom time is used for practice and review.

As I indicated, I am open to the possibility of that the flipped classroom might offer advantages over traditional instruction. It seems plausible that students might benefit from high quality video presentations that they can watch over again and pace their progress through material.

Subsequent to my post, I have talked to a couple of students who have taken flipped classes, and their reviews were negative. They did not like having to wait to engage with the teacher over the ideas raised in the material. Of course, this is anecdotal and it could be that many students do benefit from this instructional technique.

However, I was just reading through the most recent issue of Teaching of Psychology and came across this article: “The Benefits, Drawbacks, and Challenges of Using the Flipped Classroom in an Introduction to Psychology Course.”

Here is the abstract:

Flipped pedagogy has become a popular approach in education. While preliminary research suggests that the flipped classroom has a positive effect on learning in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and quantitative courses, the research on the flipped classroom in a content heavy social science course is minimal and contradictory. We flipped four class topics in an introduction to psychology course, evaluated resulting student attitudes, and compared students’ performance on the flipped units to their performance on traditionally delivered content. We found mixed results for the effectiveness of the flipped classroom that were moderated by student characteristics and experiences with previous online or flipped courses. Students reported an overall preference for traditional classroom delivery but suggested retaining the flipped approach for some class periods.

By the way, I highly recommend Teaching of Psychology to instructors of other subjects. It is true that it focuses on teaching psychology content, but since many of the authors have backgrounds in learning theory, I think the research they publish would be of interest outside of the psychology.

Is the University of Maine making policy based on an urban legend?

7 Aug

A recent article in the Washington Post about the plans of the medical school at the University of Vermont’s to abolish lectures contains this paragraph:

“Retention after a lecture is maybe 10 percent,” said Charles G. Prober, senior associate dean for medical education at the Stanford University School of Medicine. “If that’s accurate, if it’s even in the ballpark of accurate, that’s a problem.”

There may well be good arguments for the flipped classroom approach the college is moving towards (although I will point out that they haven’t really abolished lectures, just moved them on line). But I object to basing an educational policy on the unsupportable claim that “Retention after a lecture is maybe 10 percent.” I am unaware of any evidence for this claim.

I far as I am able to tell Dean Prober is repeating a version of a popular educational urban legend that runs:

People remember:
10 percent of what they read;
20 percent of what they hear;
30 percent of what they see;
50 percent of what they see and hear;
70 percent of what they say;
and 90 percent of what they do and say

I published a paper exposing this myth in 2010, which you read here. One would hope that educational policy would be based on evidence not mythology.

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