Neuromyths – new and improved

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Our team has been hard at work updating our existing articles about common neuromyths (‘Neuro-hit or neuro-myth?’) to reflect the most up-to-date evidence. You’ll be relieved to hear that nothing has flipped from myth to fact or vice versa! So far, six articles have been updated, and the rest will follow over the coming months. Look out for the ‘Now Updated’ button to catch up on what the most current evidence is for each topic – some changes have been quite small, while other articles have had major rewrites!

Here are some highlights of the changes and additions:

  • Is ADHD on the rise in UK schools? This article now reflects changes to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual [DSM]” – that’s how conditions are officially defined – which now allow individuals to be diagnosed with both ADHD and autism. We’ve added new content on contemporary research into sex differences in ADHD. The article also has a new title, a new image, and some rephrasing to improve inclusivity of the language.
  • Diet makes a difference to learning. Our additions to this article include evidence regarding the links between breakfast consumption and GCSE point scores, and the longer-term effects of healthier diet.
  • Mindfulness has a place in the classroom. We’ve extensively revised this article in light of evidence from a recent large-scale trial with teenagers in UK schools. The overall verdict has been changed to ‘It’s complicated’. Two outdated external resources have been removed and a newer resource on implementing mindfulness in schools has been added instead.
  • Girls and boys have different cognitive abilities. Throughout the article, language has been changed to reflect distinctions between sex and gender roles present in contemporary literature, with a note defining how the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ were used in the article. We’ve added references to new research on topics that include: eye gaze strategies and gender identity on tests of mental rotation; math anxiety; and the role of cultural gender-egalitarian values in academic achievement. Lastly, we’ve added a new resource from the Women and Equalities Committee featuring lots of reports on sex differences in education and employment.
  • Well-rested children do better at school. We’ve added new findings on the role of delayed school start times in academic outcomes, sleep disruptions in neurodevelopmental conditions, and sleep benefits for explicit memory (i.e., learning facts!) in children.
  • Learning two languages gives an advantage at school. This revised article now features some reframing of content regarding the debate over the potential bilingual advantage in executive functioning skills. We’ve also dug into some of the finer details of methods in the studies, considering the diversity of multilinguals as a group.

We hope you enjoy catching up on the new evidence as much as we have!

If you’re hungry for more neuromyths content, or perhaps a bit time-poor for a full article, we are also currently releasing a series of videos that distil the major points from these updated pages to less than a minute each. The videos will be going out on our Twitter (@UoL_CEN) and our brand new TikTok page (@educationalneuroscience). Take a look and let us know if you like them!

What teaching interventions work best for pupils with SEND? The MetaSENSE project

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In this blog, we describe a new project beginning at the CEN looking at the evidence for what interventions work best for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The project is called MetaSENSE, because the full title is pretty long: Raising educational outcomes for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities: A meta-analysis and identifying barriers to change (MetaSENSE)

Why is the project important?

Although previous systematic reviews have examined what works for those with SEND5,6,7, they have not considered the different tiers used in educational services8 and have not separated good quality teaching or universal instruction (Tier 1) from targeted interventions. Targeted interventions can be highly individualised (Tier 3) or not (Tier 2) but include evidence-based interventions or instruction (e.g., Lego Therapy or Colourful semantics) delivered by a trained adult who needs to adhere to the fidelity of the intervention. Targeted interventions are only prescribed to pupils who struggle beyond what can be provided within the regular classroom at classroom level. According to recent figures, this applies to 1,318,300 pupils. Pupils who are most likely to require targeted intervention support include those with Speech Language and Communication needs (23.4%), Moderate Learning Difficulties (22.8%), Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs (18.1)%), and Specific Learning Difficulty (14.9%).

What will the new project do?

The current study will synthesise evidence of what works to raise educational outcomes across different pupils with SEND aged 4 to 25 in a systematic review followed by a meta-analysis (phase 1). In addition to analysis of the quality of the evidence base, this meta-analysis will, for the first time, inform which interventions work best (i.e., largest effect sizes) in relation to different phases of education (preschool, primary, secondary, post-16) and different educational contexts (special vs mainstream) for each category of SEND needs. This will provide greater insight into whether support should be specific or can be generalised across different groups of SEND needs.

This information will be of use to teachers, SENCos, school leaders, and educational psychologists in terms of making provision more effective and cost-effective if provision can be used across different groups of SEND needs. Knowledge of what works for which groups of SEND needs and in which contexts also provides insight into cognitive mechanisms that are important to improving educational outcomes in different SEND groups and this will be of interest to academics and professionals who wish to develop new targeted interventions. As the systematic review will highlight gaps in the research evidence, this will set the future research agenda and be of interest to academics and research funding bodies.

In a second phase of the project, the team will carry out some in-depth interviews with educational professionals to dig into how they select different educational approaches to use, as well as the barriers that they face in implementing the most effective practices highlighted by the first phase.

What will the project produce?

The team will then put together a toolkit featuring a database that can inform practitioners about the evidence-base underpinning different interventions for pupils with SEND and which interventions to select in different context according to the pupils’ needs. The goal is to allow parents, educators, specialist professionals and policymakers to make evidence-informed decisions about how to raise educational outcomes for those with SEND in cost-effective ways and inform the future research agenda of academics and relevant funders.

Who’s on the team and who are our funders?

The project team includes several members of the CEN including: Dr Jo Van Herwegen (PI), Professor Chloe Marshall, Dr Rebecca Gordon and Professor Michael Thomas as well as Professor Julie Dockrell and Thomas Masterman.

The project has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit www.nuffieldfoundation.org or https://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/project/raising-educational-outcomes-for-pupils-with-sen-and-disabilities

All study materials including review, interview and coding protocols will be made accessible via the Open Science Framework.

You can find more detail about the project here.

References

  1. DfE, June 2021: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/special-educational-needs-in-england#releaseHeadlines-dataBlock-tables
  2. Masters, G. N., et al. (2020). Ministerial Briefing Paper on Evidence of the Likely Impact on Educational Outcomes of Vulnerable Children Learning at Home during COVID-19. Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment. https://research.acer.edu.au/learning_processes/24
  3. Department for Education and Department of Health (2015). Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/send-code-of-practice-0-to-25
  4. Gini, S., et al. (2021). Neuromyths about neurodevelopmental disorders: Misconceptions by educators and the general public. Brain Mind and Education.
  5. Davis, P. & Florian,. L. (2004). Teaching Strategies and Approaches for Pupils with Special Educational Needs: A Scoping Study. Brief No RB516 (London: DfES). Available online at: www.dfes.gov.uk/research/data/uploadfiles/RB516.doc
  6. Carroll, J., et al. (2017). SEN support: A rapid evidence assessment. UK Government (Home Office). https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/special-educational-needs-support-in-schools-and-colleges
  7. Cullen, M. A et al (2020). Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools: Evidence Review. London: Education Endowment Foundation. The report is available from: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Publications/Send/EEF_SE ND_Evidence_Review.pdf
  8. Ebbels, S.H., et al. (2019), Evidence-based pathways to intervention for children with language disorders. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 54, 3-19. https://doi.org/10.1111/1460-6984.12387

 

 

New edneuro book – interview with the author!

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The CEN interviewed Cathy Rogers, one of the authors of the new book “Educational Neuroscience: The Basics”.

We asked Cathy:

CEN: Cathy, what made you want to write this book? Why did you think it was needed?

The field of educational neuroscience still has a lot of work to do to effectively communicate what it is all about. This is especially true for communicating with people outside academia – teachers and educators in particular since educational neuroscience is nothing without them. In the longer term, we might also want to ditch the name ‘educational neuroscience’ as it is stuffy and uninspiring, as well as sounding very academic – that’s no good for a field that wants to build a meaningful partnership between educators and researchers.

We had two main goals for the book: one was to squish a load of science and jargon into something hopefully useful for teachers in their classroom practice. The other was to give a rallying cry for everyone involved in education to work together to improve it. With evidence.

CEN: What are three key takeaways from the book, for teachers and parents?

Number one, affective and social neuroscience (that is, dealing with our emotions and dealing with other people) are as important, if not more important, than cognitive neuroscience (dealing with thinking) for education. I think that teachers understand this from their day-to-day dealings with students but those broader aspects of education often don’t get the attention they deserve. We hope that positioning social and emotional aspects as fundamental to effective learning at the level of the brain will help the reinforce their case.

Number two, metacognition – thinking about our thinking – has the potential to be a hugely valuable, and currently underused, tool for teachers. This might be particularly true for adolescents who have greater knowledge and experience of their own thinking, along with the high levels of brain plasticity to change it. Helping students see thinking and learning as deliberate, structured, visible processes, with patterns and practices they can learn and develop – is potentially empowering for them and transferable across many types of learning.

Number three, everything about thinking and learning is dynamic and active. Whereas in the past, we have thought about ‘boxes’ of knowledge and ‘files’ of memory, now we know better!

CEN: What was the most surprising fact about the brain you found out while researching the book?

I think the most surprising thing is the sheer extent of how much our brains like to make things automatic. I have this mental image now of my brain as a rather over-zealous rule-creator, jumping in, sometimes a bit too soon, like someone clearing away my plate the second I’ve eaten my last mouthful. There it is, trying to spot patterns and make things predictable, trying to be helpful of course, make it automatic, so I don’t have to think. I see a new job for myself in keeping an eye on it! Making sure the rules it’s putting in place are ones I want – because we all know just how hard it is to break a habit.

CEN: So Cathy, what’s your next project?

I’m working on a few different things at the moment. One is another book project but in a very different vein – it’s an illustrated book for children about the future which is sort of utopian-but-science-based. Another is very much educational neuroscience in practice – helping develop clear, evidence-based guidance for how to teach adult literacy to women who missed out on education as children. We’d also, at some point, like to work on a follow up to this book: whereas this book is mostly about the consistencies of how brains work, the next would be all about what makes every brain different.

CEN: Thank you, Cathy, and good luck with book!

Trends and takeaways from the International Mind Brain and Education Society conference 2022

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Educational Neuroscience faces some unique challenges. What research should we conduct to best benefit the classroom? How can we bridge the gap between education and neuroscience? How can research meet the needs of educators and vice versa?

These were just some of the questions raised at the recent International Mind Brain and Education Society (IMBES) conference, hosted in Montreal, Canada, in July 2022. IMBES is the North American home of educational neuroscience and a society where researchers and educators can come together to learn about cutting-edge research and reflect on challenges in the field.

In this blog, PhD student Lucy Palmer summarises some of the key takeaways from the conference, including hot topics of research, practical tips for developing transferable skills and the most interesting points of discussion.

What’s hot?

The IMBES conference provided a rich timetable of symposia on a variety of themes. This year’s symposia included research on topics such as curiosity, spatial thinking, neurodevelopmental conditions, mindset, science and maths learning and many more! For those interested in executive function, one of several brilliant symposia exploring the relationship between executive function and maths in early childhood had to be postponed, but was recently presented as part of the Centre for Educational Neuroscience seminar series on the 3rd November 2022. A recording can be found here.

How do I get my message across?

Given the importance of the dialogue between educators and researchers, communication is key in educational neuroscience – but how can we continually develop these skills? To address this, the IMBES pre-conference focussed on improving communication skills, as well as opening up a debate on the following topics:

  1. What do educators need from researchers?
  2. What do researchers need from educators?
  3. How can these needs be addressed in educational neuroscience research?
  4. How can we improve communication between educators and researchers?

Many ideas were explored from both a research and education perspective. Practical topics were discussed for carrying out research in schools, such as easier administration, improved consent forms, building consistent relationships between educators/schools and research and ensuring interventions are appropriate for the target age groups. A greater understanding of the nuts and bolts of the research process was discussed at length, which led to ideas on how to improve communication between researchers and educators.

The pre-conference also hosted workshops with practical tips for improving one’s communication skills. These skills do not develop in great leaps, but in small steps with consistent practise. Here are some short (tried and tested!) exercises that anyone can apply!

  1. Take 5 minutes to write down a title for a hypothetical article which explains your own work/job role. This title must not include any jargon and ideally use a question to create engagement. Ask a friend/colleague to read it and give feedback.
  2. Improvise a three minute pitch talk on a project you are working on right now. You could start with recording it and build up to presenting it in front of a colleague/friend.
  3. Write a tweet summarise a current project you are working on (i.e. less than 280 characters).
  4. Write a blog! Birkbeck Alumna Annie Brookman-Byrne shared her tips on writing for a wider audience at the conference, based on her experience writing and editing for the BOLD journal (https://bold.expert/). She highlighted how to include a personal story and use circular writing (starting and ending your writing on a similar theme). She also explained the “and/but/therefore” structure and using questions to create interesting and engaging titles.

If you have your own tips for improving communication skills, do let us know in the comments section below.

What does the future of education look like?

A key theme underlying the ethos of IMBES is that of collaboration. Therefore, no symposium was more appropriate than that on UNESCO’s International Scientific Evidence-Based Education Assessment (ISEEA). ISEEA is a multi-disciplinary collaboration which aims to pool together vast amounts of information regarding all aspects of education, to answer urgent and important questions surrounding current education systems around the world, such as:

  1. Is the current education system serving the right purpose?
  2. Is the current education system supporting learners in facing contemporary challenges and meeting societal needs?
  3. How can research be used to improve the educational system?
  4. How should data be used in educational policy making?

In order to try and answer these questions, the ISEEA have consequently created a scientifically credible assessment. Their final report spanned 1,500 pages – but a digestible version with take-home messages and policy recommendations can be found here.

The findings from this assessment show that personalised education is key, and emphasise the vital role both cognition and emotion play in learning. Although we are far from having all the answers, the conference was an excellent platform for researchers and educators to discuss issues and solutions arising from the report on the future of education systems.

We are also interested to hear what you think. What do you think the purpose of education is?  Is it to improve the economy, human flourishing or something else? Do you think the current education system in your country achieves this? How would you improve it?

We would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. The more these problems are discussed and reflected upon, the closer we get to tackling them.

If you are curious about IMBES, current research in the Mind Brain Education (MBE) journal, or would like to keep an eye out for details of the next conference, check out the IMBES website!

Coming soon! CEN’s new book on educational neuroscience: “A must for teachers”

On 15th November, CEN’s new book on educational neuroscience will be published by Routledge (Taylor Francis). You can get 20% off with discount code: FLA22

en_thebasicsAimed at teachers, parents, and the general public, our new book Educational Neuroscience: The Basics explains how the brain works and its priorities for learning. It shows how educational neuroscience, when combined with existing knowledge of human and social psychology, and with teacher expertise, can improve outcomes for students.

It is a compact and lively introductory text for students of psychology, neuroscience and education and courses where these disciplines interconnect. It will also be essential reading for educational professionals, including teachers, heads, educational advisors and the many industry bodies who govern and train them, as well as parents and anyone interested in the fascinating story of how we learn.

Here’s what the reviews say:

” A must for teachers and other educationalists committed to exploring the evidence on what works in teaching and learning – and to understanding why it works.” – Professor Becky Francis, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF)

“Here is a trustworthy guide to what every teacher needs to know about the brain. It explains findings from neuroscience in down-to-earth language and discusses what goes on in the brain when we are learning to read or to do maths, when we need to remember, make friends, think, and multitask.” – Dame Uta Frith, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London (UCL)

Download the flier!

 

CEN’s autumn seminar series is up and running!

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Open to the public and taking place online on Thursdays at 4pm (UK time), the Centre for Educational Neuroscience seminar series provides bite-sized insights into cutting-edge research in the field, presented by researchers from across the globe!

These seminars are designed for anyone who is interested in educational neuroscience, including teachers, students, researchers, and the general public.

This term, the CEN seminar series is offering a wide range of captivating presentations. You just missed Tamara Dkaidek (Brunel University) discussing the effects of cycling on the brain (a recording will appear shortly here). If you would like to know more about the development of toolkits to support teachers working with children with ADHD, Dr. Abby Russell (University of Exeter) will be presenting on the 24th November. On December 15th, Dr. Divyangana Rakesh (Harvard University) will be discussing her fascinating work on early adversity and adolescent mental health.

The CEN is also thrilled to host a symposium from the International Mind Brain and Education Society on 3rd November, exploring the role of executive function in maths in early childhood, with presentations from Dr Andy Ribner (University of Pittsburgh), Dr Caylee Cook (University of Witwatersrand), Dr Rebecca Merkley (Carleton University) and Dr Dana Miller-Cotto (Kent State University). This will be an excellent opportunity to hear about brilliant research in Educational Neuroscience from across the pond- you don’t want to miss this one!

For the full timetable of the seminars on offer this term and to explore recordings of previous seminars, check out our Seminar Series and Conferences website here.

You can also register to receive updates, or check out the CEN twitter for news and information at @UoL_CEN.

Join an online roundtable hosted by UNESCO MGIEP on reimagining education: September 15 2022

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The International Science and Evidence based Education (ISEE) Assessment is an initiative of the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP).  It complements UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative, launched in 2021, which is spearheading a global debate on how knowledge, education and learning need to be reimagined in a world of increasing complexity, uncertainty, and precarity.

To inform that debate, the ISEE Assessment brought together multi-disciplinary expertise on educational systems to provide a scientifically robust and evidence-based assessment that could inform education policy making at all levels and scales. The full ISEE Assessment report was launched in March 2022.

UNESCO MGIEP, in collaboration with the Institute of Education, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, will host a discussion on the findings from the Reimagining Education report and the policy and practice imperatives it puts forward to reimagine learning systems for the future. An online roundtable discussion will examine the report’s findings with key stakeholders, including policymakers, academics and the student body, the media, and the wider public. The CEN’s Dr. Jo van Herwegen contributed to the report, while CEN’s Director, Prof. Michael Thomas, will serve as an external expert on the roundtable.

You are invited to join the session 3-5pm (UK BST; 2-4pm GMT).

Further information and a link to book online attendance can be found here.

Involving Young Learners in educational neuroscience research

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Guest editors Dr Jessica Massonnié, Prof Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, and Dr Liory Fern-Pollak are putting together a special issue of the educational neuroscience journal, Mind Brain and Education, focusing on involving young learners in educational neuroscience research. After it, it’s their brains that teachers are enhancing!

The special issue “Involving Young Learners in Mind, Brain and Education Research” will highlight the theoretical, empirical and ethical challenges of engaging young learners with the research process in educational neuroscience. The papers will cover a variety of domains, including cognitive, social and emotional development, recognising that learning is inseparable from social relationships, general health and wellbeing.

The papers will have as a common theme discussion of how researchers can work to co-construct the findings with the learners, with a focus on actively engaging young learners, that is, participants below 18 years of age.

Submissions from a wide range of countries are particularly encouraged to ensure a lively contrast of views. The guest editors welcome submissions related to a variety of disciplines, including biology, genetics, neuroscience, psychology, education, didactics, and philosophy. This special issue is open to all relevant theoretical perspectives and methods (e.g. quantitative, qualitative, art-based, mixed-methods).

If you have work that would fit with this forthcoming special issue, please see details on how to submit an article here. The deadline to submit paper abstracts outlining your proposed submission is 30th October 2022. For enquiries, contact the lead editor: jessica.massonnie@port.ac.uk

New PhD opportunity at the CEN

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A funded PhD studentship is available at the CEN, starting October 2022, to work on a project investigating the interconnected influences of DNA sequence variation and environmental influences on children’s development. The studentship is funded by the Bloomsbury Colleges scheme. If you are interested in applying, see here. Deadline for applications is: 19th June, 2022.

Project details: It is known that DNA sequence variation and pre- and post-natal environmental factors — and their interplay — explain individual differences in development and behaviour. Despite recent progress in the identification of specific genetic influences important for development, causal paths remain uncertain. In part, this is because environmental research often fails to account for the presence of genetic confounding, and in part because genetic research fails to incorporate mechanistically plausible environments.

The proposed studentship will build on recent theoretical and technical advances to better understand the causal paths of parent-child and child-parent effects, which will have important implications for personalised genomics, education and social policy.

Do researchers know what it’s like in the classroom?

Uncontrollable pupils in classroom acting out, frustrated teacher tearing a hair out.

Dr. Jessica Massonnié is a CEN alumnus who received her doctorate from Birkbeck in 2020 for her thesis on the impact of noise in the classroom. Jessica recently wrote an entry on ‘Perspectives on learning from neuroscience’, for the forthcoming International Encyclopedia of Education (4th Ed). In her entry, Jessica argued that it is essential for educational neuroscience researchers to spend time in schools. As she says, ‘placements in schools and involvement in learning communities provide invaluable opportunities to gain insight into the objectives, constraints and challenges of educators.’

In this blog, we hear from one of the CEN’s co-directors, Prof. Denis Mareschal, who has combined his academic research activities with volunteering one day a week in a local primary school to teach maths. We asked Denis how his experiences in the classroom have helped to shape his research. Here’s what he told us:
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“I started my volunteer work in an inner city London primary state school almost 10 years ago. While I had considerable hands-on experience of working with children in educational and recreational settings in the past, I had moved away from the front line of educational practice as my academic career had progressed. Although I very much enjoy the research topics that I work on, I also missed the direct impact that teaching has on children. I therefore approached a local school and offered a day a week of my time.

At first, my role was to support classroom teachers (much like a teaching assistant), especially Newly Qualified Teachers. However, after a few years, the school realised that I had advanced maths training and could deliver “stretch” sessions for the top performing students in Years 5 and 6. Alongside this, I have continued to contribute one-on-one literacy and reading support for children who may not get as much support at home as others. I do this for children from Years 1 through 3.

Probably the biggest lesson I have learnt from this work is the reality of the challenges that teachers face in the classroom. While we researchers tend to focus on detailed questions of learning (e.g., whole word vs phonics as the best way to teach reading), teachers face much more substantial obstacles to learning that often arise from outside the schools. Sociological questions about how regularly a child comes to school, how engaged those at home are with the school work, and what message they get from carers about the value of school all impact very substantially on the child’s educational achievements.

‘the role of basic research into the learning sciences is to ensure that, however small the “learning windows” when the child is at school and focussed actually are, their learning uptake is the most effective’

 

In the end the cognitive variables that we explore as scientists often feel very secondary given these much bigger issues. That said, I have also come to understand better that the role of basic research into the learning sciences is to ensure that, however small the “learning windows” when the child is at school and focussed actually are, their learning uptake is the most effective. In this way the child can benefit maximally from the time they are actually present in class.

A second point is that frontline primary teachers have to deal with a large number of directives and changing pedagogical frameworks that disempower them. The consequence is that they are often reluctant to take up any new approach. Consequently, as a research scientist who may wish to transfer my findings to practical classroom practice, I have to make sure that my suggestions are clear, easy to implement, engaging and empower the teachers to use their own judgement, experience and skill. This will maximise the likelihood that teachers actually take up the suggestions and integrate them within their own classroom practice.

Beyond the classroom environment, it is clear from my tutoring work with the children how much repetition forms the basis of learning. Unlike what theories of “insight learning” advocate, I have found that children learn new concepts by gradually and repeatedly dealing with relevant problems or tasks.

Once they have acquired a lot of experience or practice (and even though they may still not be able to explicitly explain how or why they do something), children of all ages can have moments of insight during which the information being taught “clicks” and they are able to provide an explicit explanation. This corresponds to a moment when the new information suddenly fits within their mental model of how other parts of (say) maths work. That said, children can also often have the feeling of an “insight moment” and still have a completely wrong reasoning process. Experiencing an “aha” moment… does not necessarily mean that they have the right answer or understanding!

In short, while my time in the classroom has not directly shaped the research questions that I have followed, it has helped me understand the large challenges that both the teacher and the learner face in a classroom. This has led me to think of solutions that are practical and practicable in the real world.

Most importantly, it has been fun — not a bed of roses everyday — but a chance to reconnect with why I am doing research in the learning sciences in the first place.”