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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Physics Teacher Speaks Out on Technology (Alice Flarend)


One of the more important quotes in this piece is “Technology is viewed as the whole toolbox, table, chairs and school rather than a tool itself.”

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

“Alice Flarend is a National Board Certified Teacher and is the physics teacher at Bellwood-Antis High School in Pennsylvania.  She holds a B.S and M.S in Nuclear Engineering from University of Illinois and University of Michigan respectively. Alice caught the teaching bug while doing engineering doctoral work at the University of Michigan and has been teaching for over twenty years.  She is currently working part time on a Science Education Ph.D at Penn State.  She plans on remaining in her classroom to be a bridge between the worlds of higher education  and public K-12 schools.”

Technology will revolutionize the classroom! I have been hearing these promises for most of my 20 year physics teaching career and yet there is scant high quality evidence for it. Cyber schools show little learning (https://credo.stanford.edu/pdfs/OnlineCharterStudyFinal2015.pdf). The OECD found “no appreciable improvement in student achievement” with large scale investments in computer technology. (http://www.oecd.org/edu/students-computers-and-learning-9789264239555-en.htm)…

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What’s the best option: giving slides in advance or not?

It’s a discussion between many professors – and students – in higher education: should there be handouts in advance.

Disclosure: I never give them in advance, but I do give them a sheet with the structure of my lesson to help them take notes and they do get the slides afterwards.

This new study by Wortingthon and Lavasseur shows this approach isn’t such a bad idea, in short:


  • We examined student progress across two semesters comparing three slide conditions: No vs. partial vs. full slides.
  • We measured actual student attendance: Instructor-provided slides had no impact on actual class attendance.
  • We examined student use of partial vs. full slides in class note-taking and studying for exams.
  • Instructor-provided slides adversely impacted student course performance on exam items.
  • There were no differences by academic group (high/med/low GPA) on use of slides.

The study does have some limitations: just one course over a two-semester time frame and self-reports and most important, they did not directly test for a link between IP slides and student passivity. Still the researchers conclude:

While computers can assist in the learning process in so many meaningful ways, not all of the ways that students and teachers make use of computers will actually lead to more learning. The present study indicates that when instructors turn to computers to upload copies of course slides and when students turn to computers to download these slides, their effort is unlikely to boost student learning. Sometimes old “tried and true” pedagogical lessons trump new ways of deploying classroom technology. While the present study found few educational benefits from the deployment of IP slides, it did confirm the long-established effect of class attendance. Thus, students may need to worry less about whether their instructors are providing IP slides to a class and instead worry more about simply going to that class.

Abstract of the study:

As PowerPoint has pervaded today’s college classrooms, instructors have struggled with the issue of whether or not to provide students’ with copies of course PowerPoint slides (instructor-provided slides). While students report that such slides assist them academically, many instructors have expressed concerns that these slides encourage absenteeism and classroom passivity. To help assess the academic impact of instructor-provided slides, the present study examined two semesters of students’ progress in a communication theory course. Across these semesters, the study charted the relationship between access/use of various types of instructor-provided slides on class attendance and exam performance. In its key findings, the study found that instructor-provided slides had no impact on class attendance and an adverse impact on course performance for students using these slides in their notetaking process.


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Eaten enough? New study of 5,000 9- to 11-year-olds describes positive link between breakfast and education

The most important meal of the day – my mother usually says – is the breakfast. And while this new – longitudinal – study only can show a correlation it does demonstrates significant positive associations between breakfast consumption and educational outcomes. The study used a large group, but also had to used sel-reports.

From the press release:

The study of 5000 9-11 year-olds from more than 100 primary schools sought to examine the link between breakfast consumption and quality and subsequent attainment in Key Stage 2 Teacher Assessments* 6-18 months later.

The study – thought to be the largest to date looking at longitudinal effects on standardised school performance – found that children who ate breakfast, and who ate a better quality breakfast, achieved higher academic outcomes.

The research found that the odds of achieving an above average educational performance were up to twice as high for pupils who ate breakfast, compared with those who did not.

Eating unhealthy items like sweets and crisps for breakfast, which was reported by 1 in 5 children, had no positive impact on educational attainment.

Pupils were asked to list all food and drink consumed over a period of just over 24 hours (including two breakfasts), noting what they consumed at specific times throughout the previous day and for breakfast on the day of reporting.

Alongside number of healthy breakfast items consumed for breakfast, other dietary behaviours – including number of sweets and crisps and fruit and vegetable portions consumed throughout the rest of the day – were all significantly and positively associated with educational performance.

Social scientists say the research, published in the Public Health Nutrition journal, offers the strongest evidence yet of a meaningful link between dietary behaviours and concrete measures of academic attainment.

Hannah Littlecott from Cardiff University’s Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPher), lead author of the study, said: “While breakfast consumption has been consistently associated with general health outcomes and acute measures of concentration and cognitive function, evidence regarding links to concrete educational outcomes has until now been unclear.

“This study therefore offers the strongest evidence yet of links between aspects of what pupils eat and how well they do at school, which has significant implications for education and public health policy – pertinent in light of rumours that free school meals may be scrapped following George Osborne’s November spending review.

“For schools, dedicating time and resource towards improving child health can be seen as an unwelcome diversion from their core business of educating pupils, in part due to pressures that place the focus on solely driving up educational attainment.

“But this resistance to delivery of health improvement interventions overlooks the clear synergy between health and education. Clearly, embedding health improvements into the core business of the school might also deliver educational improvements as well.”

Professor Chris Bonell, Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University College London Institute of Education, welcomed the study’s findings. He said: “This study adds to a growing body of international evidence indicating that investing resources in effective interventions to improve young people’s health is also likely to improve their educational performance. This further emphasises the need for schools to focus on the health and education of their pupils as complementary, rather than as competing priorities. Many schools throughout the UK now offer their pupils a breakfast. Ensuring that those young people most in need benefit from these schemes may represent an important mechanism for boosting the educational performance of young people throughout the UK”.

Dr Graham Moore, who also co-authored the report, added: “Most primary schools in Wales are now able to offer a free school breakfast, funded by Welsh Government. Our earlier papers from the trial of this scheme showed that it was effective in improving the quality of children’s breakfasts, although there is less clear evidence of its role in reducing breakfast skipping.

“Linking our data to real world educational performance data has allowed us to provide robust evidence of a link between eating breakfast and doing well at school. There is therefore good reason to believe that where schools are able to find ways of encouraging those young people who don’t eat breakfast at home to eat a school breakfast, they will reap significant educational benefits.”

Dr Julie Bishop, Director of Health Improvement at Public Health Wales also welcomed the findings. She said: “Public Health Wales welcomes this important work. It increases our understanding of the link between health, in this case what we eat, and educational outcomes. We need to understand more about how eating breakfast helps to improve educational outcomes but this work will certainly support the case for schools to consider measures to improve diet for children – to benefit not just their immediate health but also their achievement.”

Abstract of the study:

Objective Breakfast consumption has been consistently associated with health outcomes and cognitive functioning in schoolchildren. Evidence of direct links with educational outcomes remains equivocal. We aimed to examine the link between breakfast consumption in 9–11-year-old children and educational outcomes obtained 6–18 months later.

Design Data on individual-level free school meal entitlement and educational outcomes (Statutory Assessment Tests (SATs) at Key Stage 2) were obtained via the SAIL databank and linked to earlier data collected on breakfast consumption. Multilevel modelling assessed associations between breakfast consumption and SATs.

Setting Trial of the Primary School Free Breakfast Initiative in Wales.

Subjects Year 5 and 6 students, n 3093 (baseline) and n 3055 (follow-up).

Results Significant associations were found between all dietary behaviours and better performance in SATs, adjusted for gender and individual- and school-level free school meal entitlement (OR=1·95; CI 1·58, 2·40 for breakfast, OR=1·08; CI 1·04, 1·13 for healthy breakfast items). No association was observed between number of unhealthy breakfast items consumed and educational performance. Association of breakfast consumption with educational performance was stronger where the measure of breakfast consumption was more proximal to SATs tests (OR=2·02 measured 6 months prior to SATs, OR=1·61 measured 18 months prior).

Conclusions Significant positive associations between self-reported breakfast consumption and educational outcomes were observed. Future research should aim to explore the mechanisms by which breakfast consumption and educational outcomes are linked, and understand how to promote breakfast consumption among schoolchildren. Communicating findings of educational benefits to schools may help to enhance buy-in to efforts to improve health behaviours of pupils.

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Don’t expect too much – or too little: Parents aiming too high can harm child’s academic performance

This new study shows that aspiration can help academic achievement but only if it is realistic. Like when we discussed the Tiger Mom myth  aiming too high can have negative effects. Nothing new you say, but I`m so glad this is an example of a replication study getting similar results.

From the press release:

When parents have high hopes for their children’s academic achievement, the children tend to do better in school, unless those hopes are unrealistic, in which case the children may not perform well in school, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Our research revealed both positive and negative aspects of parents’ aspiration for their children’s academic performance. Although parental aspiration can help improve children’s academic performance, excessive parental aspiration can be poisonous,” said lead author Kou Murayama, PhD, of the University of Reading. The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Murayama and his colleagues analyzed data from a longitudinal study from 2002 to 2007 of 3,530 secondary school students (49.7 percent female) and their parents in Bavaria, Germany. The study assessed student math achievement as well as parental aspiration (how much they want their child to earn a particular grade) and expectation (how much they believe their child can achieve a certain grade) on an annual basis.

They found that high parental aspiration led to increased academic achievement, but only when it did not overly exceed realistic expectation. When aspiration exceeded expectation, the children’s achievement decreased proportionately.

To reinforce the results, the researchers attempted to replicate the main findings of the study using data from a two-year study of over 12,000 U.S. students and their parents. The results were similar to the German study and provided further evidence that parents’ overly high aspirations are associated with worse academic performance by their kids.

Previous psychological research has found the association between aspiration and academic achievement, but this study highlights a caveat, said Murayama.

“Much of the previous literature conveyed a simple, straightforward message to parents – aim high for your children and they will achieve more,” said Murayama. In fact, getting parents to have higher hopes for their children has often been a goal of programs designed to improve academic performance in schools. This study suggests that the focus of such educational programs should not be on blindly increasing parental aspiration but on giving parents the information they need to develop realistic expectations.

“Unrealistically high aspiration may hinder academic performance. Simply raising aspiration cannot be an effective solution to improve success in education,” he said.

Abstract of the study:

Previous research has suggested that parents’ aspirations for their children’s academic attainment can have a positive influence on children’s actual academic performance. Possible negative effects of parental overaspiration, however, have found little attention in the psychological literature. Employing a dual- change score model with longitudinal data from a representative sample of German school children and their parents (N 3,530; Grades 5 to 10), we showed that parental aspiration and children’s mathematical achievement were linked by positive reciprocal relations over time. Importantly, we also found that parental aspiration that exceeded their expectation (i.e., overaspiration) had negative reciprocal relations with children’s mathematical achievement. These results were fairly robust after controlling for a variety of demographic and cognitive variables such as children’s gender, age, intelligence, school type, and family socioeconomic status. The results were also replicated with an independent sample of U.S. parents and their children. These findings suggest that unrealistically high parental aspiration can be detrimental for children’s achievement.

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Funny – and handy – on Sunday: how to never confuse type I and type II errors again?

Found this handy trick via this tweet:

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Why do kids believe what they read on the internet?


Again a great post by Greg!

Originally posted on Filling the pail:

A new report from Ofcom, the communications regulator in the UK has shown that an increasing number of children unquestioningly believe what they read on the internet, assuming that information returned by search engines must be true. Possibly most worrying of all, nearly a third of the teenagers who were questioned were unable to identify paid-for advertisements in search results. Some children seem to be looking for ‘true and accurate’ information about what’s going on in the world on Youtube, but only half of those surveyed were aware that Youtube is mainly funded by advertising.

Educators of all stripes will be concerned by such developments. It should give us reason to hesitate before accepting the idea of students teaching themselves and each other by looking things up on the internet, an idea that is currently being popularised by Sugata Mitra amongst others.

The traditional response to such a survey is to call for better teaching of ‘critical thinking…

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You don’t need a ‘master’ to be a master?

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and one study mentioned in this newsletter will surprise many but it’s in fact not that big news for people familiar with e.g. the “curse of knowledge”.

Check this:

A recent working paper from CALDER uses longitudinal administrative data on teachers and students from North Carolina to examine whether a teacher having a Master’s degree has an impact on their students’ outcomes.

The authors used data on students and teachers from 2005 to 2011, including students’ demographic and achievement data. The study concludes that teachers with Master’s degrees are no more effective than those without. The only consistently positive effect of attaining a Master’s degree was found to be lower student-absentee rates in middle school. 

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Can Jo Boaler grow your brain?


Interesting factcheck!

Originally posted on Filling the pail:

In September last year, UK broadcaster, Radio 4, transmitted an interview with Jo Boaler, a professor of maths education. I remarked on this at the time on my old blog. There were a number of claims that I disagreed with but one claim stood out as simply very strange.

Boaler stated that, “One of the recent studies showed us that when you make a mistake, your brain grows.” She then equated the firing of synapses with the brain ‘growing’ and went on to explain that, in the study, there were two bursts of synapse firing, with the first occurring before the participants knew that they had made a mistake.

Sarah Montague, the interviewer, was surprised by this. “How on earth can that be?” she asked. “If you don’t know you’ve made a mistake, why should a synapse fire…?”

It’s a good question and, at the time, I wrote that I would love to…

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The importance of sorry: ‘Sorry’ doesn’t heal children’s hurt, but it mends relations

A new – rather small but interesting – study suggests that apologies are important to children who are 6 or 7 years old, not to heal their hurt, but because they want to see the relation mended.

From the press release:

Most adults know that a quick apology for a minor transgression, such as bumping into someone, helps maintain social harmony. The bumped-into person feels better, and so does the person who did the bumping. It’s all part of the social norm.

But do apologies have this effect on children?

A new University of Virginia psychology study, published in the journal Social Development, shows that apologies are important even to children who are 6 or 7 years old, an age when they are undergoing dramatic and important changes in cognitive development — when they are moving from their preschool years to middle childhood and are building social skill foundations that will last a lifetime.

“What was surprising was that children who experienced a minor transgression and heard an apology felt just as bad as those who did not hear an apology,” said Marissa Drell, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at UVA and the study’s lead author. “But those who heard the transgressor say, ‘I’m sorry’ actually shared more with that person later. The apology repaired the relationship even though it did not mitigate their hurt feelings.”

Drell set up a situation where children were the victims of a minor accident. The children and an adult research assistant were asked to build towers out of plastic cups. As the child neared completion of his or her tower, the adult asked to borrow a cup from the child, and in so doing toppled the child’s tower. She either apologized or said nothing, and then left the room.

Later, when children were asked how they felt, those who received an apology reported feeling just as bad as those who did not. But when deciding how many stickers to give to the research assistant, those who heard an apology were more generous.

“Even though an apology didn’t make children feel better, it did help to facilitate forgiveness,” Drell said. “They seem to have recognized it as a signal that the transgressor felt bad about what she had done and may have been implicitly promising not to do it again.”

There was one form of amends that resulted in an even better outcome: Children who had their towers knocked over and then received the transgressor’s help in partially rebuilding it both felt better and shared more with her.

“Restitution — some sort of active effort to make repairs after a transgression — can make the victim feel better because it may undo some of the harm, and it can repair the relationship by showing the transgressor’s commitment to it,” Drell said.

Abstract of the study:

Two studies investigate children’s expectations and actual responses to a transgressor’s attempt to make amends. In Study 1, six- and seven-year-olds (N = 16) participated in a building activity and then imagined how they would respond if a transgressor knocked over their tower and then apologized spontaneously, apologized after prompting, offered restitution, or did nothing. Children forecasted that they would feel better and would share more when a transgressor offered restitution or apologized spontaneously than when the transgressor had to be prompted to apologize or did not apologize at all. In Study 2, six- and seven-year-olds (N = 64) participated in the same building activity, but then actually had their towers knocked over and received one of the four responses. The only response that actually made children feel better was when the transgressor offered restitution. However, children shared more with a transgressor who offered restitution, a spontaneous apology, or a prompted apology than with one who failed to offer any apology. Restitution can both mitigate hurt feelings and repair relationships in children; apologies serve mainly to repair relationships.

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This Iceberg could Sink the Titanic


Paul is pretty upset, and I understand why…

Originally posted on Blogcollectief Onderzoek Onderwijs:

A few days ago I received a notice about a report on teaching students in the lower levels of vocational education, blinked a couple of times and then checked whether the notification was real or whether it came from The Onion, or in this case – as the report was Dutch – from De Speld. Why? Because of the following illustration and its explanation.


Learnability and importance of competencies and personal characteristics from the iceberg structure [Report – Translated by me]

The research was meant to answer questions regarding the competencies that teachers need to have and develop in order to do a good job teaching at the lower levels of vocational education. I have always learned and taught that, regardless of the rest of a piece of research (that is its methodology, data analysis, etc.), he basis is its theoretical foundation. The report’s authors state in…

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