My new book “The Ingredients for Great Teaching” is out now in Europe!

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Science clubs may boost socially disadvantaged students’ scientific aspirations (Best Evidence in Brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this time I’m picking this study from their overview:

Extracurricular activities in science, such as after school clubs, may help to increase scientific aspirations of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to new research published in the International Journal of Science Education.
Tamjid Mujtaba and colleagues looked at survey responses of 4,780 students in Year 7 (ages 11-12) and Year 8 (ages 12-13) from schools in England with high proportions of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Their responses showed that students’ aspirations to study science beyond age 16 were strongly associated with their basic interest in the subject, how useful they thought science was for future careers, and their engagement in extracurricular activities, such as science clubs. In addition, students’ confidence in their own abilities in science and encouragement from teachers and family to continue studying science after age 16 had smaller but still relevant associations.
Overall, the researchers suggest that students from disadvantaged backgrounds would benefit from support and encouragement to continue with science and having access to science-related extracurricular activities.

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A quote from my book: What’s the difference between teachers and chefs?

Check The Ingredients for Great Teaching here or here.


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Education more important than money for living a longer life?

It’s of course something pleasant to write about for a person who’s life is largely dedicated to education, but this new study by Wolfgang Lutz and Endale Kebede, from IIASA and the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) states that rather than the income, instead, the level of education a person has is a much better predictor of life expectancy.

This becomes clear if you compare the next two plots:

From the press release (bold by me):

Rising income and the subsequent improved standards of living have long been thought to be the most important factors contributing to a long and healthy life. However, new research from Wolfgang Lutz and Endale Kebede, from IIASA and the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) has shown that instead, the level of education a person has is a much better predictor of life expectancy.

In 1975, Samuel Preston developed the Preston Curve, which plotted the GDP per person on the horizontal axis against life expectancy on the vertical axis. The curve shows a clear but flattening upward trend in life expectancy with increasing GDP. The curves also shift upwards over time which has been explained by better healthcare.

In 1985, John Caldwell and Pat Caldwell suggested instead that lowered mortality resulted from better female education. In their new paper, Lutz and Kebede used global data from 174 countries from 1970-2015 to test the two hypotheses. Whether income or education is more important for improving health and life expectancy is an important question for policymakers deciding where to direct funding.

Lutz and Kebede also plotted life expectancy against the mean years of schooling of the adult population. The curve created is much more linear, suggesting that education is a much better predictor. There is no upward shift of the curve requiring explanation by other factors. Data was subject to multivariate analyses to validate the findings. The same link was found when the curves were adjusted for child mortality.

The researchers point out that better education leads to improved cognition and in turn to better choices for health-related behaviours. Recent decades have seen a shift in the disease burden from infectious to chronic diseases, the latter of which are largely lifestyle-related. As time goes on, the link between education and better health choices, and therefore life expectancy, will become even more apparent.

“This paper is more radical than previous analyses in terms of challenging the ubiquitous view that income and medical interventions are the main drivers of health. It even shows that the empirical association between income and health is largely spurious,” says Lutz.

Previous lines of research at the Wittgenstein Centre, a collaboration between IIASA, WU and the Vienna Institute of Demography, have emphasised the importance of improving education for poverty eradication and economic growth, as well as the ability to adapt to climate change. These findings further back up the call for improved access to education.

The apparent link between health and income found by Preston can be explained by the fact that better education results in both better health and higher incomes.

“The findings matter for the entire global health research community, and they matter for everybody in global development and deciding on funding allocations for the different aspects of development,” says Lutz, adding that funding quality education for all around the world should be a much higher priority.

Check the study (open access) here.



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Believe the scientist or not, it also depends on the quality of the audio

It seems a detail, and actually it is. But the devil is in the details in this case for sure as this new study shows that when people listen to recordings of a scientist presenting their work, the quality of audio has a significant impact on whether people believed what they were hearing. Even worse: this was regardless of who the researcher was or what they were talking about. Blimey!

Little extra information not mentioned in both the press release nor in the abstract:

  • For experiment 1: ninety-seven Amazon Mechanical Turk workers listened and responded to both segments.
  • For experiment 2: Ninety-nine Amazon Mechanical Turk workers listened and responded to both radio segments.

From the press release:

Dr Newman, of the ANU Research School of Psychology, said the results showed when it comes to communicating science, style can triumph over substance.

“When people are assessing the credibility of information, most of the time people are making a judgement based on how something feels,” Dr Newman said.”Our results showed that when the sound quality was poor, the participants thought the researcher wasn’t as intelligent, they didn’t like them as much and found their research less important.”

The study used experiments where people viewed video clips of scientists speaking at conferences. One group of participants heard the recordings in clear high-quality audio, while the other group heard the same recordings with poor-quality audio.

Participants were then asked to evaluate the researchers and their work. Those who listened to the poorer quality audio consistently evaluated the scientists as less intelligent and their research as less important.

In a second experiment, researchers upped the ante and conducted the same experiment using renowned scientists discussing their work on the well-known US Science Friday radio program. This time the recordings included audio of the scientists being introduced with their qualifications and institutional affiliations.”It made no difference,” she said.”As soon as we reduced the audio quality, all of a sudden the scientists and their research lost credibility.”

As with the first experiments, participants thought the research was worse, the scientists were less competent and they also reported finding their work less interesting.

Dr Newman said in a time when genuine science is struggling to be heard above fake news and alternate facts, researchers need to consider not only the content of their messages, but features of the delivery.

“Another recent study showed false information travels six times faster than real information on Twitter,” she said.”Our results show that it’s not just about who you are and what you are saying, it’s about how your work is presented.”

A research paper for the study has been published in the journals Science Communication.

Abstract of the study:

Increasingly, scientific communications are recorded and made available online. While researchers carefully draft the words they use, the quality of the recording is at the mercy of technical staff. Does it make a difference? We presented identical conference talks (Experiment 1) and radio interviews from NPR’s Science Friday (Experiment 2) in high or low audio quality and asked people to evaluate the researcher and the research they presented. Despite identical content, people evaluated the research and researcher less favorably when the audio quality was low, suggesting that audio quality can influence impressions of science.

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Funny on Sunday: little Stephen King…

H/T Ronald Vanhuffel

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Why Myths Are Like Zombies

3-Star learning experiences

Paul A. Kirschner & Mirjam Neelen

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a zombie as “a person or reanimated corpse that has been turned into a creature capable of movement but not of rational thought, which feeds on human flesh”.

While except in the most primitive cultures zombies are fictional, in education they are real, they exist and they thrive! You see them as approaches to teaching and learning (educational myths) that continue to exist and even spread though they have long been proven to be untrue. Paraphrasing the definition above, an educational zombie is “a reanimated myth that has been turned into an educational intervention/approach that moves both in time and place, is capable of influencing how we teach, but is not based on rational thought and which feeds on human learning”. And what’s more, they seem almost impossible to eradicate!

But why are educational and learning myths so stubborn?…

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by | April 11, 2018 · 7:20 pm

A report of the OECD with a plea for more pedagogy in thinking about education, great but…

There is a new report by the OECD called Teachers as Designers of Learning Environments: the Importance of Innovative Pedagogies, and a Teaching In Focus summary that can be read here.

The bottom line is the following:

Identifying clusters of innovative pedagogies is the first step in developing a broad international consensus of pedagogy across the teaching profession. Such a framework needs to start with the argument that teachers are high-level professionals whose professionalism revolves around collaborative pedagogical expertise. To call for a pedagogical framework is to recognise the key role of pedagogy, not to ask policies to dictate the best teaching methods. It is a matter of widening the skills of teachers to promote more interactive, horizontal and caring relationships with students. In focusing on the role of teachers as creative professionals, a framework for pedagogies calls for a form of teaching that retains a deliberate form of lesson planning that promotes student centredness and active participation.

Finally, by starting to think about the relationships of teaching and learning around natural learning inclinations, such as play, creativity, collaboration, and inquiry, the clusters of innovative pedagogies consciously promote the engagement of learners and match the fundamentals of learning to improve the professional competences of teachers.

I know there is often a confusion between didactics and pedagogy, something the authors of the report also are a bit blurry about, but in this report there is another mistake being made imho. This report is not a plea for more pedagogy in education – which I think would have been correct – but for more of a certain vision of pedagogy in education. If you read the recent work by Biesta or Furedi, one could think that present discussion in thinking about pedagogy are already a bit further than the Rousseau-influence one still can taste in this report (I wrote an academic paper on this new line of thinking, but sadly enough I wrote it in Dutch). Recently Simons and Masschelein wrote a book (again in Dutch, I did try to convince my publisher to translate the book into English) in which they looked at what student- or pupil-centered actually means and they end up with much more questions.

But there is more. Again in my personal opinion, I do think that pedagogy and pedagogical innovations shouldn’t be blind for insights from didactical – evidence-informed – and cognitive psychological or epistemological research – the distinction between primary and secondary learning processes – , or even research by the OECD themselves showing that inquiry based learning does have issues.

I know there seems to be a polarization – again – in thinking about education, but everybody who thinks that it is centered around two poles, is making a mistake. E.g. an author such as Biesta has questioned both PISA and the OECD as evidence-based education that has been adapted by people who are at least regarded by some as more conservative. I do think there is an interesting but broad field of thinking about education, and while I’m certainly pro evidence-informed, I also see the need for relationship and subscribe the importance of thinking about the why of education.  That’s why I do think this report is too one-dimensional in its approach. Btw, I also read the working paper related to this report and blimey couldn’t find a Hattie, Biesta, or other Furedis being mentioned at all. They do refer to a lot of work on ICT in education.

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Are multi-age classes a bad idea for our youngest children?

My wife discussed this new study past weekend with me and it’s quite fascinating. To be clear: the title of this post is something the researchers Ansari and Pianta published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly don’t actually state in their paper, but based on their research it is a question one could ask.

What is their research in brief:

  • This study examined heterogeneity in treatment effects of a coaching intervention.
  • We focus on the classroom age diversity as a potential moderator of treatment.
  • Coaching effects for children were greatest in classrooms with less age diversity.
  • The intervention had no benefits for children in classrooms with greater age diversity.
  • These differences were attributed largely to the role of classroom instructional quality.

So: coaching teachers to have better results worked, unless there was classroom age diversity? To be clear: this doesn’t say as such that multi-age groups in preschool are a bad idea as such. The study discusses a specific coaching intervention MyTeachingPartner and noticed that the effects of this intervention differed based on the differences in the age-composition of classes. And even if you look a bit closer there are is still one positive effect noticeable for the language (more specific the vocabulary) of four-year olds if they are in the same group as five-year olds, but this seems to be an exception to the rule that on average multi-age groups less good. The only way it can be compensated seems to be when the teachers are well-trained. I wrote compensated, not to have a positive effect. So, to conclude, read this excerpt from the conclusion:

Regardless of the underlying reasons for the lack of MTP impacts for children in age-diverse settings, these aforementioned findings are particularly important in light of emerging studies done in preschool programs that serve children of different ages, which have documented only small associations between classroom quality and children’s school success (e.g., Keys et al., 2013; McCoy et al., 2015; Weiland et al., 2013). That is, one potential explanation for the smaller than expected benefits of classroom quality in the existing literature is the age composition of classrooms, which requires continued empirical attention given the rising number of 3-year-olds attending preschool programs across the country. When taken together, what these results suggest is that PD interventions, including the MTP program, should put greater effort in recognizing the challenges that come with teaching in classrooms with greater age diversity. Considering that the majority of schoolteachers feel ill prepared to provide children with differentiated instruction (Manship, Farber, Smith, & Drummond, 2016), one potential target is helping teachers provide children with learning opportunities that match their needs, interests, and mode of learning. An important first step, however, is developing the tools necessary to measure these practices (for further discussion, see: Burchinal, 2017).

Abstract of the study:

Heterogeneity in treatment effects of MyTeachingPartner (MTP), a professional development coaching intervention focused on improving teacher–student interactions, was examined for 1407 4-year-old preschoolers who were enrolled in classrooms that served children between the ages of 3 and 5. On average, there were no consistent impacts of MTP coaching on children’s school performance, but there was evidence of moderation in treatment effects as a function of classroom age diversity, defined as the proportion of children who were not 4 years of age. MTP coaching improved children’s expressive vocabulary, literacy skills, and inhibitory control in classrooms that served primarily 4-year-olds and were less age diverse. These effects were in large part due to MTP causing improvements in teachers’ instructional support that in turn was more predictive of children’s skills in less age-diverse classrooms. Results also indicated that the nature of age diversity did not matter; a greater number of 3- or 5-year-old classmates equally reduced the benefits of the MTP intervention for 4-year-olds. The sole exception occurred for receptive vocabulary, in which case, MTP was most effective in classrooms with a larger number of older (but not younger) children. Taken together, these results suggest that under the right circumstances, the benefits of professional development that improve early childhood educators’ teaching practices can also translate into benefits for students.


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Funny on Sunday: How to read a Professor’s door…

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Men perceive themselves as smarter

This is a study that can fuel some discussions: in the college biology classroom, men perceive themselves as smarter, even when compared to women whose grades prove they are just as smart. But there is more in this study as the press release explains:

Katelyn Cooper, a doctoral student in the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences and lead author of the study, has talked with hundreds of students as an academic advisor and those conversations led to this project.

“I would ask students about how their classes were going and I noticed a trend,” shared Cooper. “Over and over again, women would tell me that they were afraid that other students thought that they were ‘stupid.’ I never heard this from the men in those same biology classes, so I wanted to study it.”

The ASU research team asked college students enrolled in a 250-person biology course about their intelligence. Specifically, the students were asked to estimate their own intelligence compared to everyone in the class and to the student they worked most closely with in class.

The researchers were surprised to find that women were far more likely to underestimate their own intelligence than men. And, when comparing a female and a male student, both with a GPA of 3.3, the male student is likely to say he is smarter than 66 percent of the class, and the female student is likely to say she is smarter than only 54 percent of the class.

In addition, when asked whether they are smarter than the person they worked most with in class, the pattern continued. Male students are 3.2 times more likely than females to say they are smarter than the person they are working with, regardless of whether their class partners are men or women.

A previous ASU study has shown that male students in undergraduate biology classes perceive men to be smarter than women about course material, but this is the first study to examine undergraduate student perceptions about their own intelligence compared to other people in the class.

Is this a problem?

“As we transition more of our courses into active learning classes where students interact more closely with each other, we need to consider that this might influence how students feel about themselves and their academic abilities,” shared Sara Brownell, senior author of the study and assistant professor in the school. “When students are working together, they are going to be comparing themselves more to each other. This study shows that women are disproportionately thinking that they are not as good as other students, so this a worrisome result of increased interactions among students.”

Brownell added that in a world where perceptions are important, female students may choose not to continue in science because they may not believe they are smart enough. These false perceptions of self-intelligence could be a negative factor in the retention of women in science.

Cooper said: “This is not an easy problem to fix. It’s a mindset that has likely been engrained in female students since they began their academic journeys. However, we can start by structuring group work in a way that ensures everyone’s voices are heard. One of our previous studies showed us that telling students it’s important to hear from everyone in the group could be enough to help them take a more equitable approach to group work.”

Abstract of the study:

Academic self-concept is one’s perception of his or her ability in an academic domain and is formed by comparing oneself to other students. As college biology classrooms transition from lecturing to active learning, students interact more with each other and are likely comparing themselves more to other students in the class. Student characteristics can impact students’ academic self-concept; however, this has been unexplored in the context of undergraduate biology. In this study, we explored whether student characteristics can affect academic self-concept in the context of an active learning college physiology course. Using a survey, students self-reported how smart they perceived themselves to be in the context of physiology relative to the whole class and relative to their groupmate, the student with whom they worked most closely in class. Using linear regression, we found that men and native English speakers had significantly higher academic self-concept relative to the whole class compared with women and nonnative English speakers. Using logistic regression, we found that men had significantly higher academic self-concept relative to their groupmate compared with women. Using constant comparison methods, we identified nine factors that students reported influenced how they determined whether they were more or less smart than their groupmate. Finally, we found that students were more likely to report participating more than their groupmate if they had a higher academic self-concept. These findings suggest that student characteristics can influence students’ academic self-concept, which in turn may influence their participation in small-group discussion and their academic achievement in active learning classes.

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