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Direct instruction is better than inquiry learning

26 Feb

So says this report. Here is a media account.

“Often derided as “drill and kill” or making children “parrot” what is being taught, the UK report and other research suggests that memorization and rote learning are important classroom strategies, which all teachers should be familiar with.”



Does Superbrain Yoga work?

11 Jan

Claims about the benefits of Superbrain yoga are all over the Internet.  For example, take a look at this video:


or this one:

But does it really work?

That is a question my colleague Kathy Little and I posed in our paper “Two studies of Superbrain Yoga’s potential effect on academic performance based on the Number Facility Test.”

Here is the abstract:

“Superbrain Yoga is an exercise that involves squatting while holding the ear lobes with controlled breathing. Advocates claim that this exercise improves cognition and academic performance. This study tested the ability of Superbrain Yoga to improve performance on a cognitive task called the Number Facility Test. In the first experiment, 30 adults completed a baseline version of the Number Facility Test; performed standard squats, Superbrain Yoga, and a rest trial (counterbalanced); and were re-administered the Number Facility Test after each task. A nonparametric Quade test showed no significant difference in outcome measures (p = .99, Kendall’s W = .005). In the second experiment, 30 adults completed a baseline version of the Number Facility Test, performed standard squats and 2 alternative forms of Superbrain Yoga (counterbalanced), and were re-administered the Number Facility Test after each task. A Quade test indicated no significant difference in outcome measures (p = .19, Kendall’s W = .086). These results provide no support for the claims made for Superbrain Yoga. However, this research cannot exclude the possibility that alternative forms of Superbrain Yoga might be effective or that it might have an effect on cognitive skills not captured by the Number Facility Test.”


Critical thinking without knowledge is impossible

27 Apr

Arizona has passed a law requiring high school pass the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization civics test for graduation. Let me state, that I have no firm position on if this is a good idea. However, I can recognize a bad argument against it.

This is the argument made by Joseph Kahne in Education Weekthat schools should be teaching critical thinking instead of knowledge:

“Democracy thrives when citizens think critically and deeply about civic and political issues, when they consider the needs and priorities of others, and when they engage in informed action—not when they memorize a few facts. Let’s make high-quality civic learning a priority. Let’s not take the easy way out and pass laws in more than a dozen states that turn civic education into a game of Trivial Pursuit.”

The problem with this argument is that it is contrary to the evidence. Research on critical thinking and other higher order skills shows that deep knowledge is a necessary prerequisite.

I agree that a curriculum that only focuses on the memorization of facts is impoverished. But a curriculum that tries to teach higher order skills without the requisite knowledge is impossible.

You can take a sample citizenship test here. The questions are pretty easy and really do seem like things a citizen should know.


For more details on the importance of memory in education see the second chapter of my book.

Knowledge builds on knowledge

17 Dec

One of the biggest myths about memory is that your brain only holds so much information and there is no point committing anything to information when you can easily look it up.

It is certainly true, that you can’t remember everything and you must be selective about what you learn, but all our evidence suggests that the more you know the easier it is to learn new material.  Knowing facts about the world, knowing background, history, and context improves memory. Psychologist James Weinland  pointed out;

“Memory is in one respect like money. The more money one has, the more interest it earns, which increases the capital and earns still more money. The more memories one accumulates, the more easily new memories are accumulated, which increases one’s memory capital and earn more memory interest. Memories breed memories.”


Magnet boy hoax

28 Nov

The story of the magnetic boy has taken off all over the internet. You can read The New York Post version here.


It is infuriating that this standard parlor trick is treated as a miracle. Here is a video of James Randi exposing a similar claim from China:


Elizabeth Loftus on memory

24 Jan

Here is an interview with cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus whose work over turned Freudian views of memory.

Many of her papers are available at her university web site.

Grade point averages and success. gets it wrong, very wrong

8 Sep

From an a posting on

“A study at the Stanford University School of Business tracked a group of MBAs 10 years after they graduated. The result? Grade point averages had no bearing on their success — but their ability to converse with others did.”

As far as I am able to tell the article refers to a 1969 study by Thomas Harrell published in the journal Personnel Psychology. There are two problems with the account at CareerBuilder:

1. The paper states:

“High earners had higher second year MBA grades which, for the most part, are for optional courses”

Exactly the opposite of what CareerBuilder claims.

2. Nowhere in the article does it say that the ability to converse correlated with success.

My guess is that CareerBuilder just copied this misinformation from another Internet source without ever checking it for accuracy.


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