Sometimes you can’t help wondering why oh why: check this ‘study’ on the effects of video games

I’ve been following the Twitter-account @realpeerreview for some time now. They share published studies that make you wonder if it should have passed peer review.

Take this example:

Add this portion of the study:

This account is of course something different than what the retraction watch-people do and it’s also something totally different from the current replication crisis. The account also has been the issue of some discussions on one of the studies they have mocked. Still, for me it’s a big warning that we scientists need to get our act together.

And although I can understand the discussion, I do think that this Twitter-account is somewhat in line with both the Ignoble price and what Alan Sokal has done with his infamous Sokal Hoax.

Besides the fact that the examples sometimes really make me laugh, they also often make me think about the stuff I’m working on… And that’s healthy, imho.

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Newly published research: “Authentic teachers: Student criteria perceiving authenticity of teachers”

I often share newly published research on this blog – besides debunking urban myths about learning and education. But this time I can share my own research, co-authored with Paul Kirschner. And it’s not about myths, but it to is about education. This is the abstract:

Authenticity is seen by many as a key for good learning and education. There is talk of authentic instruction, authentic learning, authentic problems, authentic assessment, authentic tools and authentic teachers. The problem is that while authenticity is an often-used adjective describing almost all aspects of teaching and learning, the concept itself is not very well researched. This qualitative study examines—based on data collected via interviews and focus groups—which criteria students in secondary education use when determining if their teachers are authentic. It yielded four criteria learners use: Expertise, Passion, Unicity and Distance.

And even better: we decided to offer it for peer review in Cogent, an open access journal backed by Taylor & Francis. So anybody can read the actual study.

More papers to follow soon, as we did more on the same theme!

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Funny on Sunday: an easy answer to a difficult question (or vice versa)

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by | October 23, 2016 · 7:10 am

TED-talk (yes) by Tim Leunig debunking Ken Robinson: Why real creativity is based on knowledge

This is a great video, but with far less views than sir Ken. (btw check my own take on this)

Educationalist and historian Tim Leunig takes on Sir Ken Robinson, with a witty and erudite riposte to the famous claim that schools are killing creativity. He argues that world-changing ideas, from the Industrial Revolution to the present, are based on knowledge. This in turn is enabled by literacy, a skill passed on by parents and teachers all over the world.

Tim Leunig is a civil servant and academic. He is chief analyst and chief scientific adviser at the [UK] Department for Education, and economic adviser on housing supply at the Department for Communities and Local Government. He is also Associate Professor of Economic History at the LSE, a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Royal Society of Arts and the Royal Statistical Society. He is a governor of NIESR and a trustee of EPI. Tim holds a PhD in Economics

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Is this another explanation for the ‘boy-problem’ in education?

This morning I saw a conversation on Twitter and it delivered me a great new insight in intelligence:

Wait? There is a greater male variance in IQ and it has been well replicated? I felt stupid because I didn’t knew. Let’s check the abstract (and the actual paper too of course):

The idea that general intelligence may be more variable in males than in females has a long history. In recent years it has been presented as a reason that there is little, if any, mean sex difference in general intelligence, yet males tend to be overrepresented at both the top and bottom ends of its overall, presumably normal, distribution. Clear analysis of the actual distribution of general intelligence based on large and appropriately population-representative samples is rare, however. Using two population-wide surveys of general intelligence in 11-year-olds in Scotland, we showed that there were substantial departures from normality in the distribution, with less variability in the higher range than in the lower. Despite mean IQ-scale scores of 100, modal scores were about 105. Even above modal level, males showed more variability than females. This is consistent with a model of the population distribution of general intelligence as a mixture of two essentially normal distributions, one reflecting normal variation in general intelligence and one reflecting normal variation in effects of genetic and environmental conditions involving mental retardation. Though present at the high end of the distribution, sex differences in variability did not appear to account for sex differences in high-level achievement.

This graph makes it more clear:


Maybe this isn’t new to you, but if I have ever read it, I didn’t make a mental note of it. But I do see a parallel with what has been called the boy-problem in education. If you look at PISA-reports and reports alike, it’s clear to see that boys have a bigger chance to become a dropout. The past few years there are in many countries more females in higher education than males.

But… if you look at the top students in education, there are males present too, sometimes even still more males than females. Actually, it looks a bit like the charts I just mentioned.

Yes, I know most of the discussions about IQ – btw, you should read the book by Stuart Ritchie – and I’m only suggesting a correlation and no, it doesn’t mean we need to accept that a lot of boys are lost in education. Still, if this is even only a bit true, it’s something interesting to bear in mind.

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Why Is Schooling, After Adopting Computers, Yet To Be Transformed?

An interesting post with some good possible explanations. It also reminded me of this speech Barack Obama gave.

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Today, robots build autos, assemble electronic devices, put together appliances, and make machinery. Automation has eliminated most bank tellers, white collar clerks and secretaries, salespersons, and dozens of other occupations. U.S. Agriculture has become industrialized and family farms have largely disappeared in the last two generations. Whole industries have been transformed by the advent of the computer. Moreover, from drafting plans for buildings to doing legal research to managing insurance claims, computers and software algorithms have either replaced people or reduced numbers of employees. Business leaders of large and mid-size companies seek increased productivity and lower costs in producing products and services. None of this is new. Greater efficiency, higher productivity and increased profit margins. But not in schools.

Surely, since the early 1980s when desktop computers appeared in public schools, administrators have applied business software to personnel, purchasing, transportation, food services, and assembling big data sets for managers to…

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Best Evidence in Brief: Saturday school doesn’t orchestrate success

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this time I pick a study that shows that it is also interesting to know if something doesn’t have the expected effects:

A recent study from the Education Endowment Foundation in the UK found disappointing results for a Saturday school designed to improve the reading and math achievement of underachieving and disadvantaged students in Key Stage 2 (the equivalent of 2nd through 5th grade in the U.S.).

Developed by the SHINE Trust and Hallé Orchestra, the intervention provided additional school-based literacy and numeracy lessons, based on musical themes, as well as visits to Hallé rehearsals, performances, and other theme-based activities. Twenty-five Saturday sessions, each lasting five hours, were planned for the intervention over the course of an academic year, delivered by qualified teachers, teaching assistants, peer mentors, and professional musicians.

The evaluation, by Victoria White and colleagues from the University of Durham, consisted of two randomized controlled trials (RCTs)-a pilot trial and a main trial-and a process evaluation. The pilot trial involved 361 Year 5 and 6 students (4th and 5th grade in the U.S.) in 18 schools; the main trial involved 2,306 Year 4, 5, and 6 students in 38 schools.

There was no evidence that the program had an impact on reading or math achievement, or attitudes toward reading, math, music, and school, of the children in the trial.

Attendance of eligible students was often low and considered as a barrier to successful implementation. Reasons for low attendance included students’ lack of availability to attend the Saturday sessions, variable parental engagement with the program, and limited time at the beginning of the program for schools to engage children and parents.

The process evaluation revealed a positive picture of involvement and engagement for those students who attended the Saturday school activities. Evaluators observed good working relationships between the teachers and students, and positive and purposeful learning environments in lessons. All stakeholders felt students were making noticeable improvements in behavior, confidence, and development of social skills.

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Some extra input for the middle-school debate (and it’s all about ‘dogs’)

It’s a debate that can be very lively in e.g. our language regio (The Netherlands and the Flemish part of Belgium), but it’s also an issue in many other countries: is a middle school approach better? Findings from new research published in American Educational Research Journal suggest that longer grade spans that allow middle grade students to serve as relative “top dogs”—students in the highest grades—improve academic achievement and enhance their learning environment, including fewer instances of bullying and fights. But the study doesn’t limit itself to the middle school phenomenon.

Still the study has some limitations (e.g. very regional data collection) I would love to see some replication!

From the press release (in which the findings section is interesting):

Attending a K-8 school as opposed to a 6-8 school, for example, would benefit sixth graders because they would no longer be “new dogs” in the school, would benefit seventh graders because they would hold a higher relative position than had they attended a 6-8 school, and would benefit eighth graders because they would hold top status over a larger number of grades.

The study, published in the American Educational Research Journal, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, is the first to provide credible causal evidence of the top dog/bottom dog phenomenon — verification that the oldest students in a school experience a more favorable environment than the youngest students in a school. Further, the study finds evidence that student position within a grade span also explains the achievement dip commonly seen among middle school students.

“Our findings offer the strongest evidence yet that declines in academic performance during transitions to middle schools are, in part, a result of transitioning from top dog to bottom — or middle — dog status,” said study co-author Michah W. Rothbart, an assistant professor of public administration and international affairs at Syracuse University. “Grade span matters to student experiences at schools.”

Rothbart and his co-authors, Amy Ellen Schwartz of Syracuse University and Leanna Stiefel of New York University, found that, when compared to middle dog students, top dogs were 4.6 percentage points less likely to report bullying and 7.7 percentage points less likely to report fights, as well as 10.5 percentage points more likely to report feeling safe in school.

Drawing on longitudinal data from the New York City Department of Education and the New York City School Survey, the authors examined two cohorts of New York City public middle school students, including roughly 90,000 sixth-to-eighth-grade students in over 500 schools from 2008 to 2011. The study authors assessed student reports of perceptions of bullying, school safety, and belonging, as well as state assessments of academic achievement in grades 6-8.

Among the findings:

• When evaluating the impact of top dog versus bottom dog status in sixth grade, students reported better learning environments as top dogs than as middle and bottom dogs. Sixth-grade top dogs (e.g., K-6 schools) were 7.6 percentage points and 5.1 percentage points less likely to report bullying than otherwise similar middle and bottom dogs, respectively, and 14.7 and 12.7 percentage points more likely to report that they felt safe in school than middle and bottom dogs, respectively.

• Conversely, eighth-grade students showed smaller differences in student experiences as top dogs (e.g., 6-8 schools) than they did as middle dogs (e.g., 6-12 schools). This indicates that moving from elementary to middle school hurts students because they lose the top dog status they previously held.

• The benefits of top dog status are larger in schools with longer grade spans. At the same time, sixth-grade bottom dogs in 6-8 schools do not report higher rates of negative experiences than bottom dogs at 6-12 schools, providing evidence that students may benefit from schools with longer grade spans, such as K-8 schools.

• Results also showed that for sixth graders, bottom dog status hurt academic performance and top dog status improved academic performance, indicating that declines in academic performance upon entering middle school are in part due to the top dog/bottom dog phenomenon.

• In particular, sixth graders who are top dogs experience a significant improvement on reading and math exams compared to those who are bottom dogs. In the 2011 academic year, the effect of top dog status for sixth graders was the equivalent of moving from the 44th to the 50th percentile in math and the 46th to 50th in reading. Top dog status did not improve reading exam scores in eighth grade, but it did increase math scores compared to those of middle dogs.

“Our results show that schools should be paying attention to this phenomenon,” said Schwartz, a professor of economics and public affairs at Syracuse University. “Ideally, school districts would organize school grade spans to minimize negative consequences of the top dog/bottom dog effects, and administrators can be more attentive to the inequalities that age and grade can engender.”

“In places where reorganization is not feasible, school administrators should commit resources to foster safe learning environments to students who are not top dogs,” said Stiefel, a professor of economics at New York University.

Rothbart added that “parents should also be attentive to their child’s relative position in school and be mindful that their child might be less comfortable when holding bottom or middle dog status.”

Study authors were also able to eliminate new student status and student height as causes of achievement dips and differences in school experiences. Students experienced more positive environments as top dogs regardless of new or returning status, and new students did not have significantly different experiences as bottom or middle dogs than their returning counterparts. Students also experienced the benefits of top dog status regardless of their height.

Abstract of the study:

Recent research finds that grade span affects academic achievement but only speculates about the mechanisms. In this study, we examine one commonly cited mechanism, the top dog/bottom dog phenomenon, which states that students at the top of a grade span (“top dogs”) have better experiences than those at the bottom (“bottom dogs”). Using an instrumental variables strategy introduced in Rockoff and Lockwood (2010) and a longitudinal data set containing student survey data for New York City public middle school students, we estimate the impact of top dog and bottom dog status on bullying, safety, belonging, and academic achievement. This article provides the first credibly causal evidence that top dog status improves the learning environment and academic achievement. We further find that the top dog effect is strongest in sixth grade and in schools with longer grade spans and that the top dog effect is not explained by new students to a school or student height.

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“How neuroscience can benefit the learning and performance of music” Really?

Whenever I see a title such as “How neuroscience can benefit the learning and performance of music” I end up with the same question: really.

Let’s dig in a bit deeper. In the press release there is written:

Inette Swart of North-West University, South Africa shows how incorporating training in psychology into the music education system could be beneficial, particularly to those learners who have experienced traumatic events.

Ok, but training in psychology is not really the same as neuroscience and what do traumatic events have to do with it?

Neuroscientific research indicates that the right hemisphere of the brain, where the earliest-forming parts of the developing self and identity originate, appears to contribute most to the emotional meaning of music. The highly impressionable and malleable right-brain is also where early traumatic experiences are imprinted.

Ok… getting a bit sceptic because this is being put way too blunt and my left-right brain myth detector starts ringing, but maybe wrongly as this is not really the same story. And the article is referring to Alan Schore who published quite a lot about this. I have to admit I’m no expert on where in the brain our trauma’s are located – any help welcome – but Schore also seems to be perpetuating the L-R myth too besides the right-brain-trauma-link.

But more important: why do we need to know this and how should we alter our teaching based on this insight?

Thus, teachers should consider the role of music in a learner’s life and use this to their advantage in the teaching strategy, Swart says. For learners who have suffered significant trauma, it is particularly important to understand what role music fulfils in their lives, what best motivates them, and how their goals and reasons for participation in music might differ from a teacher’s expectations of them.

Right. We can have a big discussion now if this is a pedagogical good idea, but let’s stick to the question: did we need the brain explanation for this? Imho, still: no.

While memory for music is acquired and assessed through many different neural pathways, the processing of information involves brain structures — most notably, the amygdala and hippocampus — that are also involved in processing memories of fear. Neurons that fire together form connections and are likely to be retrieved together once an associated memory is recalled. This process is important in the memorization of music and also has implications for consciously separating the experience of fear and fear memories from the experience of learning and performing music.

Yeah, ok, but what does this mean. No, really?

To reduce the chances of debilitating stage fright patterns becoming established in previously traumatized learners, music performance should be associated with the anticipation of positive experience, Swart suggests. Such learners may benefit from practicing the art of performing in environments where they feel relatively safe, before playing at more important concerts or competitions.

Oh, I see. But what about the amygdala and hippocampus? Btw, I knew this part already. No, really!

Inette Swart said: “Music has great potential for providing emotionally and relationally reparative experiences, particularly, but not exclusively, to previously disadvantaged learners. Facilitating neural change takes discipline, while intersubjective models of human behavior, such as those proposed by neuropsychoanalyst Dr. Allan Schore, have shown clearly that human actions and development do not occur in isolation. It is time that this discipline becomes a shared societal responsibility.”

So we end up with the message: if you have had a bad experience you may end up with stage fright so teachers need to make sure you have some positive experiences and everything we do happens in interaction with others.

Now, please tell me: where did we need the brain for this?

But maybe I’m a bit too harsh. This was only the press release, what about the scientific article? Well check the abstract and try to answer the question yourself:

As advancements in neuroscience increasingly illuminate the traditional understanding of the human mind, many of the new insights are also of relevance to musicians as well as to music pedagogy. Especially the greater understanding of how intersubjective processes are integral to the development of the right brain has shown how, according to the neuropsychoanalyst Allan Schore, right-brain models can bridge the fields of psychiatry, music and trauma. Following a short introduction, the article discusses the development of ego boundaries and their relevance to young aspiring musicians as well as the close relation to self-esteem. This is followed by a short explanation of the psychodynamic processes underlying interpersonal interaction and relation. Right-brain function in development and trauma is discussed and its links to music are highlighted; the issue of fear and learned helplessness in musicians is also considered briefly. A discussion on the impact of fear on musicians’ memory follows. The paper concludes by showing that, while brain pathology can be associated with creativity, creative processes in and of themselves are not pathological. Throughout, special reference is made to aspects that have particular relevance to previously disadvantaged music learners.

So we end up with a Journal of Music Research in Africa published by Routledge spreading insights about the brain and music that are… well probably wrong and selling us new stuff we actually already knew and where we don’t need the brain explanation for.

I don’t want to scapegoat mrs Swart who wrote the article. I only used her article to show something that I am seeing way too often. The only solution is just one question: do you need the brain for this claim?

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PISA data on maths memorisation

Interesting take on this PISA-report, looking forward to some responses of the PISA-community!

Filling the pail

I recently had the following graph Tweeted into my timeline:


It is from the new PISA report, “Ten questions for mathematics teachers… and how PISA can help answer them.” It is an interesting report containing links to the data set.

The first thing that strikes me about the graph is that it says very little. There is not much correlation between the two measures and neither of them is a measure of maths performance. So what are we meant to conclude?

PISA asked students a number of questions and then developed an “index of memorisation”. For some reason, that’s not quite what has been plotted on the y-axis of their own graph (more later) but I decided to plot 2012 Maths PISA scores against this index. This is what I found:


This is not a strong correlation, implying that either the degree of memorisation does not affect maths outcomes (maybe something like…

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