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Empowering Teachers with the Science of Learning

January 16, 2018

Written by: Joe Miller

Many teachers say their practice is influenced by their understanding of neuroscience, however ‘neuromyths’ and misinterpretations around how students learn are widespread. This is why Wellcome has funded six projects to support teachers to better understand and access research on the science of learning, ultimately using this to improve their practice.

 

Learning Zone

Last week The Science of Learning Zone launched. This is a 6 month online engagement activity allowing teachers to ask questions and engage in discussions with psychologists and neuroscientists.

So far teachers have asked questions such as:

‘Is there a connection between athletic ability and language proficiency?’

‘Are there techniques to help students ignore distractions?’

We know the Science of Learning Zone engages both teachers and researchers. In 2015, Wellcome funded a 6 week pilot of the Science of Learning Zone. 7000 users visited and read the discussions on the site, and teachers asked 100 questions, receiving 200 answers from researchers. 94% of teachers (who responded to the evaluation) said they would recommend this to a colleague and two thirds said that they had an improved understanding of the brain and/or learning. Building on this success, we’ve now funded a 6 month Science of Learning Zone, split into fortnightly topics with a live chat every week.

Learning Scientists

Wellcome have also partnered with the Learning Scientists – a group of cognitive psychological scientists interested in the science of learning. We’ve funded them to produce podcasts and hold Facebook LIVE discussions on Science of Learning topics. We hope these formats will make it easier for busy teachers to gain access to relevant research on learning.

 

EDT

We’re also keen to get teachers involved in educational research themselves. Partnering with the Education Development Trust, we’re supporting teachers to conduct their own randomised control trials, testing interventions grounded in science of learning research, in their own schools. Teachers are given resources and training days to support them to understand the existing research base, and to design and evaluate their own interventions. We’re hoping to see initial trial results from April 2018.

 

STEM

Partnering with the National STEM Learning Centre (NSLC) we’re also supporting more formal professional development for teachers. Plugging an important gap, the NSLC are creating a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the science of learning. To give the course a strong theoretical foundation we’ve funded Professor Paul Howard-Jones to provide neuroscience expertise and Professor Tim Jay to provide psychology expertise. The course aims to improve teachers’ understanding of learning and behaviour in their class and, therefore, to reflect on their own practice and improve their approach. Teachers can sign up here and the course will launch on 16th April 2018.

 

UniofBrist               BathSpa

Our final 2 projects involve creating science of learning modules for Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses. Bath Spa University and the University of Bristol are developing primary and secondary ITE modules respectively. We’re hoping this early intervention in teachers’ education will be effective in shaping how teachers conceptualize learning, and therefore how they construct their own practice. Resources are being developed and tested with trainee teachers this year, and the materials produced will be open access for other ITE providers by the end of 2018.

We think that these projects provide an effective combination of improving teachers’ access to usable evidence-informed resources, alongside building up teachers’ own ability to understand new research, and even conduct their own research. Through this we hope not only to spread the use of evidence-informed teaching methods, but also to give teachers the ability to develop their own teaching practice informed by their own understanding of research. This empowerment of teachers with the understanding and confidence to engage with research will play a significant role in the continued professionalization of the teaching profession, and therefore in increasing the learning outcomes of students. We will continue to work alongside partners to empower teachers with the science of learning, and we’d love your involvement with our projects and help spreading the word to colleagues and partners.

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