Our book, Urban Myths about Learning and Education, out now!

It has been a long wait (and lots of work) for Paul, Casper and myself, but now our book is on sale!

You can order the book here both in paper and as e-book, but you can buy also at

A review of our book:

“A marvelous compendium of plausible-sounding ideas about education that have seeped into popular culture, but have little or no scientific support. Carefully documented yet a pleasure to read, this book should be required reading in all teacher training programs.” -Daniel T. Willingham, Professor, University of Virginia


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New study on the effect of different teacher interaction styles

Learning styles have no effect, but teacher interaction styles do have. The teacher’s interaction style can either foster or slow down the development of math skills among children with challenging temperaments. This was shown in the results of the study “Parents, teachers and children’s learning” carried out at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland.In the study around 150 children were followed and the researchers studied their interaction with parents and teachers across the first grade of primary school using the diary method.

If I look at this study, the key word is actually not “style”, the key word is “interaction” (bold by me):

Overall, the results of the present study suggest that low task orientation and negative emotionality (which both reflect a difficult temperament) may lead to increased behavioral control attempts by teachers, which then help the student improve his or her math performance in particular. The result is understandable since both temperament characteristics reflect difficulty in controlling one’s impulses: Where low task orientation reflects problems in keeping attention (represented by high activity and distractibility, as well as lack of persistence), negative emotionality reflects the inability to control emotional responses more so than behavioral responses. By helping students to control their impulsiveness (either emotional or behavioral) via direct rules and structure, teachers make the classroom more manageable. This then may not only support the overall working peace in the classroom but also help individual students to progress in their learning. In fact, the latter interpretation is consistent with previous literature concerning the importance of parents’ active responsiveness and scaffolding (accommodation of a responsive style) in children’s skill development: children’s cognitive development is best supported by responding to children’s individual needs and actions in learning situations

Or in short from the press release:

Ph.D. Jaana Viljaranta, along with her colleagues, studied the role of teachers’ interaction styles in academic skill development among children with different temperamental characteristics.

A child’s challenging temperament may show up in the classroom, for example, as low task-orientation and lack of concentration, or as a tendency to intense negative emotional expressions. Viljaranta et al. found that a child’s challenging temperament evokes two kinds of response styles among teachers. On the one hand, teachers try to regulate the child’s behavior via clear limit setting and instructions, and on the other hand they try to impact the child’s behavior via guilt-inducing techniques and by appealing to his/her emotions. In the study by Viljaranta et al., limit setting was found to be beneficial for children’s math skill development, whereas guilt-inducing techniques led to slower math skill development especially with girls.

The most interesting part is the different effect of the interactions between teachers and children versus parents and children:

However, the results of the present study showed that only teacher-rated negative emotionality, not parent-rated negative emotionality, predicted children’s math skills via teachers’ interaction style. This result suggests that the negative emotionality that teachers report for children is context specific; that is, it occurs differently in school and home contexts. For example, the teacher- and parent-rated perceptions of a student’s negative emotionality may not match because these perceptions are based on different things and might reflect the raters’ different roles, viewpoints, and social contexts.

Abstract of the study:

The present study followed 156 Finnish children (Mage = 7.25 years) during the first grade of primary school to examine to what extent parent- and teacher-rated temperament impacts children’s math and reading skill development during the first grade, and the extent to which this impact would be mediated by teachers’ interaction styles with the children. The results showed that the impact of children’s low task orientation and negative emotionality on their math skill development was mediated via teachers’ behavioral control and, among girls, also by psychological control. The negative impact of children’s inhibition on math skill development, in turn, was not mediated via teachers’ interaction styles. Temperament did not predict the children’s reading skill development during first grade.

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Who presses play for learning? (presentation)

This is the presentation I gave at the SIRikt-conference in Slovenia, 2015, May 28.

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Tegan made this great animation video for her class to talk about her life with cerebral palsy

Read the story behind the video here at the BBC, but to check the video and share it!

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This is actually a fun exercise that one of my co-authors, Casper Hulshof, did with his students.

Originally posted on Filling the pail:

sense making

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This opinion is a good read, also for people thinking about education

Paul Krugman is not against technology, but I think he’s spot on when he describes the hypes of the twitterverse:

Another possibility is that new technologies are more fun than fundamental. Peter Thiel, one of the founders of PayPal, famously remarked that we wanted flying cars but got 140 characters instead. And he’s not alone in suggesting that information technology that excites the Twittering classes may not be a big deal for the economy as a whole.

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Good read: How Do You Motivate Kids To Stop Skipping School? (with a personal note on research-ethics)

Another study showing the trouble with extrinsic motivation in the study mentioned in this NPR-article, as the title should have been “how do you motivate kids to skip school”.

About the study:

The study, a working paper released by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, looked at 799 boys and girls. The kids, mostly age 9, were students in several dozen single-classroom schools run by the nonprofit Gyan Shala in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city of Ahmedabad.

The idea was to try a reward to make the pupils come more to school. The results were astonishing… bad when they looked a period after the reward program was finished:

  • Kids whose attendance rate was highest in the class before the reward program. They reverted to their baseline level.
  • Kids whose attendance rate was lowest but managed to up their attendance enough to win the prize. After the program was over, these kids also reverted to their lower baseline level.
  • Kids whose attendance rate was lowest to start off with and who did not improve enough to qualify for the reward. In other words, they failed the challenge. More than 60 percent of the lowest attenders fell into this category. For them, the aftermath was grim. They were now only about one-fourth as likely to show up for class as they had been before the reward scheme was introduced.

Actually, the lead-researcher now says:

“I almost felt badly about what we had done. That in the end, we should not have done this reward program at all.”

A note by me to add to this story: actually, this study does raise some important ethical issues about doing educational research. How well intended this approach could have been, it has made things pretty worse for a whole lot of pupils in real life.  And it’s not that the insight of this study is pretty new. We’ve been here before (over and over again). I’m much in favor of doing research and also research outside an experimental setting (like often done in cognitive research) because education is part of a complex system. But the price in real life, can’t be this high, imho.

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Funny on Sunday: Using Social Media To Cover For Lack Of Original Thought

This Onion-parody of a typical TED-like talk is hilarious:

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New study reveals what your Facebook-status update really says about you

You’ve just posted an update on Facebook, maybe you should have read this study first: People who post Facebook status updates about their romantic partner are more likely to have low self-esteem, while those who brag about diets, exercise, and accomplishments are typically narcissists, according to new research. Still: more likely doesn’t mean this is the case, you are probably the exception, no? Oh, and again this study doesn’t say Facebook is making you to have a lower self-esteem or more narcissistic (I already can hear the Greenfields, Spitzers and others sharpening their pens.

Oh, and because I’m sharing this post on Facebook, I might be a more open person:

  • Extraverts more frequently update about their social activities.
  • Openness is positively associated with updating about intellectual topics.
  • Self-esteem is negatively associated with updating about romantic partners.
  • Narcissists more frequently update about their achievements, diet, and exercise.

From the press release:

Psychologists at Brunel University London surveyed Facebook users to examine the personality traits and motives that influence the topics they choose to write about in their status updates — something that few previous studies have explored.

The data was collected from 555 Facebook users who completed online surveys measuring the ‘Big Five’ personality traits — extroversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness — as well as self-esteem and narcissism.

The research found:

  • People with low self-esteem more frequently posted status updates about their current romantic partner.
  • Narcissists more frequently updated about their achievements, which was motivated by their need for attention and validation from the Facebook community. These updates also received a greater number of ‘likes’ and comments, indicating that narcissists’ boasting may be reinforced by the attention they crave.
  • Narcissists also wrote more status updates about their diet and exercise routine, suggesting that they use Facebook to broadcast the effort they put into their physical appearance.
  • Conscientiousness was associated with writing more updates about one’s children.

Psychology lecturer Dr Tara Marshall, from Brunel University London, said: “It might come as little surprise that Facebook status updates reflect people’s personality traits. However, it is important to understand why people write about certain topics on Facebook because their updates may be differentially rewarded with ‘likes’ and comments. People who receive more likes and comments tend to experience the benefits of social inclusion, whereas those who receive none feel ostracised.

“Although our results suggest that narcissists’ bragging pays off because they receive more likes and comments to their status updates, it could be that their Facebook friends politely offer support while secretly disliking such egotistical displays. Greater awareness of how one’s status updates might be perceived by friends could help people to avoid topics that annoy more than they entertain.”

The research team said further studies should examine responses to particular status update topics, the likeability of those who update about them, and whether certain topics put people at greater risk of being unfriended.

Abstract of the article:

Status updates are one of the most popular features of Facebook, but few studies have examined the traits and motives that influence the topics that people choose to update about. In this study, 555 Facebook users completed measures of the Big Five, self-esteem, narcissism, motives for using Facebook, and frequency of updating about a range of topics. Results revealed that extraverts more frequently updated about their social activities and everyday life, which was motivated by their use of Facebook to communicate and connect with others. People high in openness were more likely to update about intellectual topics, consistent with their use of Facebook for sharing information. Participants who were low in self-esteem were more likely to update about romantic partners, whereas those who were high in conscientiousness were more likely to update about their children. Narcissists’ use of Facebook for attention-seeking and validation explained their greater likelihood of updating about their accomplishments and their diet and exercise routine. Furthermore, narcissists’ tendency to update about their accomplishments explained the greater number of likes and comments that they reported receiving to their updates.

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Coding for Kids: The New Vocational Education


Is history repeating itself? I do think Larry Cuban is making a correct point.

Originally posted on Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice:

There is hardly any work we can do or any expenditures we can make that will yield so large a return to our industries as would come from the establishment of educational institutions which would give us skilled hands and trained minds for the conduct of our industries and our commerce

Theodore Search, National Association of Manufacturers, 1898

[K]nowing something about programming makes us competitive as individuals, companies and a nation. The rest of the world is learning code. Their schools teach it, their companies are filled with employees who get it, and their militaries are staffed by programmers — not just gamers with joysticks. According to the generals I’ve spoken with, we are less than a generation away from losing our technological superiority on the cyber battlefield, which should concern a nation depending so heavily on drones for security and electronic trading as an industry.

Finally, learning code —…

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Interesting: The Changing Face of Family Life: Responsibilities, Rules, and Repercussions

Most of the time I’m bringing scientific reports and studies, but once in a while I make an exception by sharing some of the results of e.g. commercial research done by Viacom, as it sometimes shows interesting insights, such as these stats on family life:

With more Millennials having children, a recent Nickelodeon Kids and Family GPS project sought to find out more about the experiences of kids today–and to identify any contrasts in Millennial and Gen X parenting approaches.
This study consisted of online interviews of kids ages 8 to 14 and their parents, covering nearly 4,000 households in 19 countries.

Here are key findings from this project on the subjects of responsibilities, rules and repercussions:

Around the house, kids are more helpful than not—sometimes surprisingly so.

  • 60% of all parents surveyed say their child is a great help around the house
  • 2 out of 3 parents are often surprised by how helpful their kids can be
  • Girls 8-9 are most helpful—and parents are more surprised by their helpfulness than by 10-14s

Most kids have some duties at home, but not a lot.

  • More than 9 out of 10 kids are responsible for at least one chore
  • Cleaning their room is by far the most common household job (80%)
  • The next most common duties are pet care (40%), taking out trash (39%), washing dishes (33%), house cleaning (24%), babysitting siblings (20%), and packing school lunches (20%)
  • Gender stereotypes still apply—boys 10-14 do more outside work (trash/yardwork), girls 10-14 do more household work (cleaning/dishes/laundry), and boys 8-9 are least expected to do chores

Compared with Gen X parents, Millennial parents say they expect less from their kids—and that their kids do more.

  • 75% of Gen X parents say they expect a lot from their kids, compared with 65% of Millennial parents
  • However, Millennial parents are more likely to report that their kids are great at helping around the house (70% of Millennial parents, 60% of Gen X parents)

For most kids, breaking the rules isn’t cool.

  • Only 20% think it’s cool to break the rules
  • 7 in 10 kids agree that getting punished for breaking their parents’ rules makes them less likely to break them again

Explaining to the child what he/she did wrong is the most common repercussion for rule-breaking.

  • 63% of parents explain what the child did wrong or give them a “talking-to”
  • 52% of parents make their child apologize
  • Taking away electronics is a common punishment: 39% of parents don’t allow computer/tablet use, 29% don’t let the child go online, 28% don’t allow TV, 15% take his/her phone away
  • 26% of parents forbid the child from doing something they looked forward to, and 21% don’t let him/her hang out with friends
  • 25% of parents yell at the child for rule-breaking; 22% ground him/her

Millennial parents are stricter and more concerned about kids’ rule-breaking than Gen X parents.

  • Millennial parents are stricter with punishments than Gen X parents (41% vs. 36%)
  • Millennials’ children are more likely than Gen Xers’ kids to agree that getting punished makes them less likely to break the rules again (74% vs. 68%)
  • Millennial parents are more likely than Gen X parents to think kids get away with a lot (42% vs. 33%)
  • 41% of Millennial parents believe kids break rules just to see if they can get away with it (vs. 36% of Gen X parents)
  • However, Millennials’ fears are unfounded: Millennials’ and Gen Xers’ children are equally likely to say they sometimes go against their parents’ rules just to see if they can get away with it (43% vs. 42%)

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