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


Filed under Book

Handy and confronting: 20 cognitieve biases that screw up your decisions

Found this overview via Business Insider:

Leave a comment

Filed under Review

Surprisingly: more time in class benefits the best

This weekend I shared this map on my Dutch blog:

And while some already argued that less means more (less time means better results), I explained that it’s more complicated than that. E.g. Germany did better at the last PISA-results in part because they added more instruction time.

This new study adds a complication to the instruction time-learning-link: spending more time at school benefits the best-performing students disproportionately.

Best Evidence in Brief summarized the study:

The researchers used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K). This included more than 20,000 children from 1,000 kindergarten programs in schools for children who entered kindergarten in 1998. Children were given math and reading tests in the fall and spring. Because there was essentially random variation in when these tests were delivered, there were variations in the amount of instructional time between the two tests. The researchers used this to analyze the progress made, but also the difference in progress among the different percentiles within the class.

They found that, on average, reading scores increase by 1.6 test score standard deviations (SD) during a standard 250 day school year. However, readers in the bottom 10% increased by only 0.9 test score SD, while those in the top 10% increased by 2.1 test score SD. A similar result was found for mathematics. The authors suggest that policymakers, practitioners, and analysts must consider the average and distributional impacts of educational inputs and interventions. 


Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Research

Study: children who identify with math get higher scores

I didn’t know their was such a thing as a math “self concept” – how strongly children identify with math – but this new study shows it can be used to predict  how high they will score on a standardized test of math achievement. In the study, published in the October 2015 issue of the journal Learning and Instruction, the researchers claim it is the first to demonstrate a link between students’ subconscious math self-concepts and their actual math achievement scores.Because of the longitudinal design the researchers even think about a causal relation, although a link is safer to say. Even more interesting – to me – is the fact that the study also measured the strength of students’ stereotype that “math is for boys” and found that, for girls, the stronger this subconscious stereotype, the weaker the individual child’s math self-concept.

The study summarized:


  • Assessed implicit and explicit math–gender stereotypes and math self-concepts.
  • Examined their relationship to standardized math achievement in Singapore.
  • Implicit—but not explicit—math self-concepts were related to math achievement.
  • Implicit—but not explicit—math–gender stereotypes were related to math achievement.
  • Non-academic factors are related to math achievement in a high-achieving culture.


From the press release:

“Our results show that stereotypes are related to how children think of themselves as math learners, which, in turn, is related to how well they do on an actual math test,” said lead author Dario Cvencek, a research scientist at the UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS).

With co-author Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of I-LABS, Cvencek examined math-gender stereotypes, math self-concepts and math scores in 300 children (an even mix of boys and girls) in grades 1, 3, and 5 in Singapore.

The researchers chose Singapore, because it — and other Asian countries including Japan and China — is consistently ranked as one of the top nations in the world for math achievement among girls and boys.

The researchers focused on a high-achieving culture where there aren’t gender differences in math ability, so that they could see which psychological factors have a role in student performance.

“We were fascinated to find that elementary-school children have subconscious thoughts about whether or not they are a math person,” Meltzoff said. “They have an implicit identity of ‘math is for me’ or ‘math is not for me’ at a surprisingly early age. This self-concept matters because it is correlated with actual behavior, such as math achievement.”

At the beginning of the children’s school year, the researchers led each child through an assortment of tasks measuring the students’ beliefs about math-gender stereotypes (“math is for boys”) and math-self concepts (“math is for me”).

A Child Implicit Association Test (IAT) examined the children’s subconscious beliefs. The IAT probes self-concepts, stereotypes and other attitudes that people may not know they have. Adult versions of IAT reveal hidden beliefs about gender, race, religion and other topics.

The researchers also used self-reported tasks to measure the children’s explicit beliefs. These tasks involved the children looking at a series of drawings of boys and girls and then answering questions such as how much the characters in the drawings liked math.

Then, at the end of the school year, the students took a standardized math achievement test administered by their teachers.

Girls and boys performed well on the math test and had similar scores. But when the researchers factored in math-gender stereotype and math self-concept beliefs, they discovered that the children’s implicit — but not explicit — beliefs affected math scores.

In both genders, students with stronger implicit math self-concepts did better on the math test. Stronger implicit math-gender stereotypes correlated with stronger math self-concepts for boys, but weaker math self-concepts for girls.

“We’ve found that there are implicit psychological factors, such as students’ beliefs about math, that can weaken students’ identification with math and also impair their math performance,” Cvencek said.

And since the factors are implicit and not detectable by self-report measures, this means they can affect student performance without students’ being aware of them.

Previously, Cvencek and Meltzoff found that as early as second grade children in the U.S. begin to express the cultural stereotype that “math is for boys, not for girls,” which may discourage girls from pursuing math.

The researchers plan to use the findings to design ways to identify implicit math self-concepts as they emerge early in elementary school and create interventions to change beliefs that could be detrimental to math performance.

“We have high hopes for the usefulness of our tests,” Cvencek said. “We think it could be useful for teachers and parents to know whether their young child identifies positively or negatively with math. If we can boost children’s math self-concepts early in development, this may also help boost their actual math achievement and interest in the discipline. We plan to test this.”

Abstract of the study:

Singaporean elementary-school students (N = 299) completed Child Implicit Association Tests (Child IAT) as well as explicit measures of gender identity, math–gender stereotypes, and math self-concepts. Students also completed a standardized math achievement test. Three new findings emerged. First, implicit, but not explicit, math self-concepts (math = me) were positively related to math achievement on a standardized test. Second, as expected, stronger math–gender stereotypes (math = boys) significantly correlated with stronger math self-concepts for boys and weaker math self-concepts for girls, on both implicit and explicit measures. Third, implicit math–gender stereotypes were significantly related to math achievement. These findings show that non-academic factors such as implicit math self-concepts and stereotypes are linked to students’ actual math achievement. The findings suggest that measuring individual differences in non-academic factors may be a useful tool for educators in assessing students’ academic outcomes.


Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Research

Funny on Sunday: Where Do Astronauts Hang Out?

Found this via Casper Hulshof:

Leave a comment

Filed under Funny

Thinking about the ethics behind research on the genetics of intelligence

Some time ago I posted this study on a gene combination linked to better performance in school. With the advent of new genomic sequencing technologies, researchers around the world are working to identify genetic variants that help explain differences in intelligence. Can findings, such as in the study I discussed, be used to improve education for all, as some scientists believe? Or are they likely to have a chilling effect on programs meant to improve educational outcomes among disadvantaged populations? These are among the questions explored in “The Genetics of Intelligence: Ethics and the Conduct of Trustworthy Research,” a special report of the Hastings Center Report.

From the press release:

The report assesses the science and explores concerns about the implications of the research and interest in applying it to education. It concludes with recommendations to ensure that the research is done in a way that is trustworthy and avoids the “vortex of classism and racism.”

The special report is the product of a workshop on responsible research and the genetics of intelligence, conducted by The Hastings Center and Columbia University’s Center for Research on Ethical, Legal & Social Implications of Psychiatric, Neurologic & Behavioral Genetics in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) and the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. The workshop was led by Erik Parens, a senior research scholar at The Hastings Center, and Paul Appelbaum, director of Columbia’s center, who also serve as coeditors of the special report. The workshop was comprised of a multidisciplinary group of behavioral geneticists, sociologists, psychologists, lawyers, educators, and ethicists, who also contributed to the special report.

The workshop and special report came about after the CTY leadership approached some bioethicists, including Parens at Hastings and Gail Geller at Hopkins, for advice on a dilemma it was facing. A research team exploring the genetic underpinnings of high intelligence asked CTY if they could recruit people already participating in an ongoing CTY research project, the “Study of Exceptional Talent.” The research team wanted to ask these participants if they would donate DNA samples for genomic analysis, with the ultimate goal of using findings to help improve education for highly intelligent students. CTY’s leadership was unsure how to respond. On the one hand, it respected the research team and its goal. But it also worried about the potentially ugly implications, given that the history of scientific inquiry into the genetics of intelligence is marred by assumptions about the superiority of some groups over others.

Major questions addressed in the special report include:

  • How likely is it that gene variants with significant influence on intelligence will be identified? While research has shown that genetic variation helps to explain why people in the same population perform differently on intelligence tests, newer DNA-based studies have thus far enjoyed little success in discovering which genetic variants produce those observed differences. Some scientists are confident that new whole-genome testing technologies, applied to large numbers of people, will lead to breakthroughs in identifying which genes help to explain those differences. Others think that the needle-in-a-haystack metaphor underestimates the difficulty. They argue that the genetic influence on intelligence involves complex interactions among genes and between genes and the environment – information that can’t be gleaned merely by scanning the genomes of hundreds of thousands of people.
  • Can research into the genetics of intelligence improve education? Some scientists think that understanding which genetic variants influence intelligence can help make possible “personalized education,” which would customize educational experiences to children’s genomes. Others are skeptical and express concern that such research might exacerbate disparities in education opportunity by promoting the view of inherent differences in intelligence and detracting attention away from pedagogical, social, and political ways to enhance intellectual achievement.
  • Given the scientific and ethical reservations about it, should research on the genetics of intelligence proceed? Despite deep concerns, none of the commentators thought that the research should be halted. “Rather, we heard that the right response to research into the genetics of general cognitive ability was to ensure that the research is done in a way that is ‘trustworthy,'” write Parens and Appelbaum in the introduction to the report.

The report makes recommendations for conducting trustworthy research on the genetics of intelligence. One recommendation is that, in the conceptualization of the project, researchers should acquire awareness of and sensitivity to the historical and social context in which they should propose to do their research. Another is that they take steps to ensure that the results are accurately represented to journalists and the public. Given the high interest in the topic of the genetics of intelligence, as well as its history of being misused, Parens and Appelbaum write in the introduction that researchers have an obligation to minimize the chances that their results “are sucked into the vortex of classism and racism.”

The table of contents can be found here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Research, Review

Our book “Urban myths about learning and education” summarized on one page

Yesterday I discovered this one-page summary of our book by Oliver Cavigliol and it looks great (note to myself, be careful with the Coca Cola…). This is a new updated version, including my 2 co-authors Paul & Casper.


1 Comment

Filed under Book, This blog

Lost in the Information Jungle


I’m sharing this not only because one of my posts is mentioned…

Originally posted on :

Paul A. Kirschner & Mirjam Neelen

Unfortunately, there are many myths in the teaching and learning space that are as ill-founded as they are stubborn. In the context of the so-called iPad schools, one of these myths is that learners can identify their own learning needs and regulate their own learning processes. This “meta-myth” myth consists of several sub myths.

The first sub myth is: Because all information is available on the internet, there is no need to teach it. This is what Sugata Mitra[1] states in his TED talks and what the Dutch social geographer and opinion pollster turned ‘crime fighter’ and self-styled ‘educational expert / innovator and school reformer’ whose expertise seems to be based on seeing his 3-year old daughter playing with an iPad Maurice de Hond would argue when explaining why his iPad schools are the answer to the just as mythical undocumented problem in…

View original 1,177 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Education

Reimagining the U.S. High School: An Open Letter to Laurene Powell Jobs


An excellent open letter from Larry Cuban.

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

Dear Mrs. Laurene Powell Jobs:

I commend you for initiating a national challenge to transform the comprehensive high school into a Super School and putting $50 million on the stump for experts, parents, practitioners, and academics to compete for in creating better high schools than exist now. Reinventing the high school should generate an enormous range of suggestions for your expert panel to consider after the national round of open meetings end in November. What you are launching is worthwhile especially if it were to spark a national conversation about the goals of tax-supported public schools in a democracy where the economy has shifted from industrial-based to an information-driven one. Whether that conversation (and debate, I hope) will occur depends greatly, I believe, on you and your associates knowing about how high schools have, indeed, changed over the past century and, of equal importance, the checkered history of efforts to…

View original 742 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Education

Facebook as learning platform, Paul Kirschner analyses and concludes “not suited for knowledge creation”

In this article Paul Kirschner examines the quality of social network sites such as Facebook as learning platform.

He concludes:


  • Most SNSs – including Facebook – are more a broadcast tool than a discussion tool.
  • Groups of Facebook users (i.e., friends) tend to confirm rather than discuss and/or argue.
  • Flat-structured discussions such as what Facebook affords impede discussion and argumentation.
  • Most SNSs – including Facebook – are not well-suited for knowledge construction via discussion and argumentation.

Still, I’ve noticed that a lot of my students do use the platform as unofficial learning platform (besides the official learning platform from my institute). They have their own Facebook groups in which they discuss questions they have and share information. I deliberate write information as the few times I’ve seen such a group – most often I’m ‘not allowed’ as their teacher – I’ve seen a lot of practical information rather than in debt discussions.

The second point Paul makes isn’t my experience when looking a bit broader than students, as I’ve seen many heated debate on Facebook (and Twitter) when it comes to topics such as the present refugee crisis. But this can also differ from user to user, so I would rather conclude that the potential is there, but just like often people lurk on fora, this can also be the case on Facebook and co.

That’s why I  agree with this quote that Paul cites in the article:

According to Bullen et al., students at university appear not to recognize ‘‘the enhanced functionality of the applications they own and use’’ (p. 7.7) and that they need significant training if they are to be expected to use technology for learning and problem-solving.


Abstract of the study:

Facebook® and other Social Network Sites are often seen by educators as multifunctional platforms that can be used for teaching, learning and/or the facilitation of both. One such strand is making use of them as tools/platforms for using and learning through argumentation and discussion. Research on whether this ‘promise’ is actually achieved – also the research reported on in this Special Issue – does not unequivocally answer the question of whether this is a good idea. This article as one of the two closing articles of this Special Issue discusses Social Networking Sites in general and Facebook specifically with respect to how they are ‘normally’ used by their members as well as with respect to their social and technical features. Then, in light of this, it discusses the learning results of the four studies. It concludes with a short discussion of whether they are capable of meeting the promise that many think they can.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Review, Social Media, Technology

Funny on Sunday: High School Science Fair

Found this cartoon here!

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Funny