Category Archives: Myths

A very interesting article on Google: How Google Took Over the Classroom

This is an interesting NY Times article with a lot of stuff to be both thrilled and alarmed about.

Some excerpts:

  • [M]ore than half the nation’s primary- and secondary-school students — more than 30 million children — use Google education apps like Gmail and Docs … Chromebooks, Google-powered laptops that initially struggled to find a purpose, … account for more than half the mobile devices shipped to schools.”
  • Why it matters: “Google is helping to drive a philosophical change in public education — prioritizing training children in skills like teamwork and problem-solving while de-emphasizing the teaching of traditional academic knowledge, like math formulas.”
  • 50,000 feet: “It puts Google, and the tech economy, at the center of one of the great debates that has raged in American education for more than a century: whether the purpose of public schools is to turn out knowledgeable citizens or skilled workers.”
  • “Every year, several million American students graduate from high school. And not only does Google make it easy for those who have school Google accounts to upload their trove of school Gmail, Docs and other files to regular Google consumer accounts — but schools encourage them to do so.”
  • “[S]ome parents ... warn that Google could profit by using personal details from their children’s school email to build more powerful marketing profiles of them as young adults.”

But this excerpt shows another, big problem:

The director of Google’s education apps group, Jonathan Rochelle, touched on that idea in a speech at an industry conference last year. Referring to his own children, he said: “I cannot answer for them what they are going to do with the quadratic equation. I don’t know why they are learning it.” He added, “And I don’t know why they can’t ask Google for the answer if the answer is right there.”

Really? Because you can’t download creativity? Because you need a point of reference to check if Google is correct – and we know this is often not the case. Because you still need knowledge if you want to do things without being dependent of a big tech company. That and more is why. But if a director of Google’s education apps group knows so little about learning and education? Well, that’s scary.

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Learning styles, it’s an United Nations-thingy

This morning professor Wim Van den Broeck pointed me to a text from the United nations mentioning learning styles. I had heard this before, but Wim gave me the direct link.

To be concrete, in the General comment No. 4 (2016) on the right to inclusive education, you can read the following:

On page 4 as one of the core features of inclusive education:

A “whole person” approach: recognition is given to the capacity of every person to learn, and high expectations are established for all learners, including learners with disabilities. Inclusive education offers flexible curricula and teaching and learning methods adapted to different strengths, requirements and learning styles. This approach implies the provision of support, reasonable accommodation and early intervention so that all learners are able to fulfil their potential. The focus is on learners’ capacities and aspirations rather than on content when planning teaching activities. The “whole person” approach aims at ending segregation within educational settings by ensuring inclusive classroom teaching in accessible learning environments with appropriate supports. The education system must provide a personalized educational response, rather than expect students to fit the system;

And again on page 19, when discussing the implementation at the national level:

A process of educating all teachers at preschool, primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational education levels must be initiated to provide them with the core competencies and values necessary to work in inclusive educational environments. Such a process requires adaptations to both pre- and in-service training to achieve the appropriate skill levels in the shortest time possible, to facilitate the transition to an inclusive education system. All teachers must be provided with dedicated units/modules to prepare them to work in inclusive settings, as well as practical experiential learning settings where they can build the skills and confidence to solve problems through diverse inclusion challenges. The core content of teacher education must address a basic understanding of human diversity, growth and development, the human rights model of disability and inclusive pedagogy that enables teachers to identify students’ functional abilities (strengths, abilities and learning styles) to ensure their participation in inclusive educational environments. Teacher education should include learning about the use of appropriate augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication such as Braille, large print, accessible multimedia, easyread, plain language, sign language and deaf culture, educational techniques and materials to support persons with disabilities. In addition, teachers need practical guidance and support in, among others: the provision of individualized instruction; teaching the same content using varied teaching methods to respond to the learning styles and unique abilities of each person; the development and use of individual educational plans to support specific learning requirements; and the introduction of a pedagogy centred on students’ educational objectives.

Can please someone inform the UN, please? And point out that learning styles are one of the most stubborn myths in education and we don’t need them to spread these kinds of myths or even worse: urge countries to implement these kinds of myths?

If you still think learning styles are real and you don’t want to read our book or any other stuff, just take this challenge and earn 5000 dollars. Or better: try to earn 5000 dollars.

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Jordan Peterson puts it quite bluntly: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences Is Rubbish!

Well, maybe you’ll be surprised, but than you haven’t read this (or our book). H/t Carl Hendrick

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Myths in Music Education

I found this article by Düvel et al via Jelle Jolles. It measures how popular certain myths are in music education for both teachers and students. The authors call it neuromyths, although I would rather call some of them educational myths. But guess what? Well, it seems not that depressing, as both teachers and students correctly rejected 60% and 59%, respectively, of the seven neuromyths as scientifically unsubstantiated statements. It’s way better than earlier results. Still, it’s far from perfect. The L-R brain myth seems still very popular.

More concrete:

Abstract of the study:

In the last decade, educational neuroscience has become increasingly important in the context of instruction, and its applications have been transformed into new teaching methods. Although teachers are interested in educational neuroscience, communication between scientists and teachers is not always straightforward. Thus, misunderstandings of neuroscientific research results can evolve into so-called neuromyths. The aim of the present study was to investigate the prevalence of such music-related neuromyths among music teachers and music students. Based on an extensive literature research, 26 theses were compiled and subsequently evaluated by four experts. Fourteen theses were selected, of which seven were designated as scientifically substantiated and seven as scientifically unsubstantiated (hereafter labelled as “neuromyths”). One group of adult music teachers (n = 91) and one group of music education students (n = 125) evaluated the theses (forced-choice discrimination task) in two separate online surveys. Additionally, in both surveys person-characteristic variables were gathered to determine possible predictors for the discrimination performance. As a result, identification rates of the seven scientifically substantiated theses were similar for teachers (76%) and students (78%). Teachers and students correctly rejected 60% and 59%, respectively, of the seven neuromyths as scientifically unsubstantiated statements. Sensitivity analysis by signal detection theory revealed a discrimination performance of d’ = 1.25 (SD = 1.12) for the group of teachers and d’ = 1.48 (SD = 1.22) for the students. Both groups showed a general tendency to evaluate the theses as scientifically substantiated (teachers: c = -0.35, students: c = -0.41). Specifically, buzz words such as “brain hemisphere” or “cognitive enhancement” were often classified as correct. For the group of teachers, the best predictor of discrimination performance was having read a large number of media about educational neuroscience and related topics (R² = .06). For the group of students, the best predictors for discrimination performance were a high number of read media and the hitherto completed number of semesters (R² = .14). Our findings make clear that both teachers and students are far from being experts on topics related to educational neuroscience in music and would therefore benefit from current education-related research in psychology and neuroscience.

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Some good news? “Critical thinking instruction in humanities reduces belief in pseudoscience”

Sometimes it’s quite difficult for (educational) mythbusters: what if you only make it worse. There are some studies – also mentioned in our book – who say so. But this new study – although with a very specific group and with a rather small amount of participants – at least suggests there are opportunities to battle pseudoscience…

From the press release:

A recent study by North Carolina State University researchers finds that teaching critical thinking skills in a humanities course significantly reduces student beliefs in “pseudoscience” that is unsupported by facts.

“Given the national discussion of ‘fake news,’ it’s clear that critical thinking – and classes that teach critical thinking – are more important than ever,” says Anne McLaughlin, an associate professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the work.

“Fundamentally, we wanted to assess how intentional you have to be when teaching students critical thinking,” says Alicia McGill, an assistant professor of history at NC State and co-author of the paper. “We also wanted to explore how humanities classes can play a role and whether one can assess the extent to which critical thinking instruction actually results in improved critical thinking by students.

“This may be especially timely, because humanities courses give students tools they can use to assess qualitative data and sort through political rhetoric,” McGill says. “Humanities also offer us historical and cultural perspective that allow us to put current events into context.”

For this study, the researchers worked with 117 students in three different classes. Fifty-nine students were enrolled in a psychology research methods course, which taught statistics and study design, but did not specifically address critical thinking. The other 58 students were enrolled in one of two courses on historical frauds and mysteries – one of which included honors students, many of whom were majors in science, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

The psychology class served as a control group. The two history courses incorporated instruction explicitly designed to cultivate critical thinking skills. For example, students in the history courses were taught how to identify logical fallacies – statements that violate logical arguments, such as non sequiturs.

At the beginning of the semester, students in all three courses took a baseline assessment of their beliefs in pseudoscientific claims. The assessment used a scale from 1 (“I don’t believe at all.”) to 7 (“I strongly believe.”).

Some of the topics in the assessment, such as belief in Atlantis, were later addressed in the “historical frauds” course. Other topics, such as the belief that 9/11 was an “inside job,” were never addressed in the course. This allowed the researchers to determine the extent to which changes in student beliefs stemmed from specific facts discussed in class, versus changes in a student’s critical thinking skills.

At the end of the semester, students took the pseudoscience assessment again.

The control group students did not change their beliefs – but students in both history courses had lower beliefs in pseudoscience by the end of the semester.

Students in the history course for honors students decreased the most in their pseudoscientific beliefs; on average, student beliefs dropped an entire point on the belief scale for topics covered in class, and by 0.5 points on topics not covered in class. There were similar, but less pronounced, changes in the non-honors course.

“The change we see in these students is important, because beliefs are notoriously hard to change,” says McLaughlin. “And seeing students apply critical thinking skills to areas not covered in class is particularly significant and heartening.”

“It’s also important to note that these results stem from taking only one class,” McGill says. “Consistent efforts to teach critical thinking across multiple classes may well have more pronounced effects.

“This drives home the importance of teaching critical thinking, and the essential role that humanities can play in that process,” McGill says. “This is something that NC State is actively promoting as part of a universitywide focus on critical thinking development.”

The paper, “Explicitly teaching critical thinking skills in a history course,” was published March 20 in the journal Science & Education.

Abstract of the study:

Critical thinking skills are often assessed via student beliefs in non-scientific ways of thinking, (e.g, pseudoscience). Courses aimed at reducing such beliefs have been studied in the STEM fields with the most successful focusing on skeptical thinking. However, critical thinking is not unique to the sciences; it is crucial in the humanities and to historical thinking and analysis. We investigated the effects of a history course on epistemically unwarranted beliefs in two class sections. Beliefs were measured pre- and post-semester. Beliefs declined for history students compared to a control class and the effect was strongest for the honors section. This study provides evidence that a humanities education engenders critical thinking. Further, there may be individual differences in ability or preparedness in developing such skills, suggesting different foci for critical thinking coursework.

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You can now download the preprint of the failed replication (x 3) of mindset research

It has been one of the most often read posts on this blog for the past few weeks: A Mindset “Revolution” Sweeping Britain’s Classrooms May Be Based On Shaky Science

Now you can download the full preprint of the research by Li and Bates (HT Timothy Bates):

Mindset theory asserts that children’s cognitive ability and school grades depend heavily on whether they believe basic ability is malleable. The theory also predicts that praise for intelligence dramatically lowers cognitive performance. Here we test predictions in 3 studies totalling 624 individually-tested 10-12-year-olds. Praise for intelligence failed to harm post- challenge cognitive performance. Children’s mindsets had no relationship to their IQ or to their school grades. Finally believing ability to be malleable had not association with improvement of grades across the year. We conclude that the belief that basic ability is fixed is harmless, and that implicit theories of intelligence play no significant role in development of cognitive ability, response to challenge, or educational attainment.

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What causes smart people to resist scientific messages?

This could become an interesting new study – not only because we seem to be living in post truth-times. Psychological researchers are working to understand the cognitive processes, ideologies, cultural demands, and conspiracy beliefs that cause smart people to resist scientific messages. They do this using surveys, experiments, observational studies and meta-analyses, the researchers capture an emerging theoretical frontier with an eye to making science communication efforts smarter and more effective. The only sad thing: I can’t read the actual paper as it’s only an announcement of a paper at a conference past weekend. The only thing we have for now is this press release:

Protecting “Pet Beliefs”

One striking feature of people who hold science-skeptic views is that they are often just as educated, and just as interested in science, as the rest of us. The problem is not about whether they are exposed to information, but about whether the information is processed in a balanced way. It manifests itself in what Matthew Hornsey (University of Queensland) describes as “thinking like a lawyer,” in that people cherry-pick which pieces of information to pay attention to “in order to reach conclusions that they want to be true.”

“We find that people will take a flight from facts to protect all kinds of belief including their religious belief, their political beliefs, and even simple personal beliefs such as whether they are good at choosing a web browser,” says Troy Campbell (University of Oregon).

Dan Kahan (Yale University) agrees, finding in their research that “the deposition is to construe evidence in identity-congruent rather than truth-congruent ways, a state of disorientation that is pretty symmetric across the political spectrum.”

Changing Minds

Merely talking about “evidence” or “data” does not typically change a skeptic’s mind about a particular topic, whether it is climate change, genetically modified organisms, or vaccines. People use science and fact to support their particular opinion and will downplay what they don’t agree with.

“Where there is conflict over societal risks – from climate change to nuclear-power safety to impacts of gun control laws, both sides invoke the mantel of science,” says Kahan.

“In our research, we find that people treat facts as relevant more when the facts tend to support their opinions,” says Campbell. “When the facts are against their opinions, they don’t necessarily deny the facts, but they say the facts are less relevant.”

One approach to deal with science skepticism is to identify the underlying motivations or “attitude roots,” as Hornsey describes in his recent research (American Psychologist, in Press).

“Rather than taking on people’s surface attitudes directly, tailor the message so that it aligns with their motivation. So with climate skeptics, for example, you find out what they can agree on and then frame climate messages to align with these.”

Kahan’s recent research shows that a person’s level of scientific curiosity could help promote more open-minded engagement. They found that people who enjoyed surprising findings, even if it was counter to their political beefs, were more open to the new information. As Kahan and his colleagues note, their findings are preliminary and require more research.

Hornsey, Campbell, Kahan and Robbie Sutton (University of Kent) will present their research at the symposium, Rejection of Science: Fresh Perspectives on the Anti-Enlightenment Movement. The talks take place on Saturday, January 21, 2017, at the SPSP Annual Convention. More than 3000 scientists are in attendance at the conference in San Antonio from January 19-21.

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Interesting read: A Mindset “Revolution” Sweeping Britain’s Classrooms May Be Based On Shaky Science

Growth and fixed mindset are all the rage, but this article by Tom Chivers shows something else: the research behind it contains worrying errors.

An excerpt from the article:

But the striking effects in Dweck’s findings have surprised psychologists. Timothy Bates, a professor of psychology at the University of Edinburgh, told BuzzFeed News that the “big effects, monstrous effects” that Dweck has found in the 1998 study and others are “strange – it’s an odd one to me”.

Bates told BuzzFeed News that he has been trying to replicate Dweck’s findings in that key mindset study for several years. “We’re running a third study in China now,” he said. “With 200 12-year-olds. And the results are just null.

“People with a growth mindset don’t cope any better with failure. If we give them the mindset intervention, it doesn’t make them behave better. Kids with the growth mindset aren’t getting better grades, either before or after our intervention study

Dweck told BuzzFeed News that attempts to replicate can fail because the scientists haven’t created the right conditions. “Not anyone can do a replication,” she said. “We put so much thought into creating an environment; we spend hours and days on each question, on creating a context in which the phenomenon could plausibly emerge.

“Replication is very important, but they have to be genuine replications and thoughtful replications done by skilled people. Very few studies will replicate done by an amateur in a willy-nilly way.”

Nick Brown, a PhD student in psychology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, is sceptical of this: “The question I have is: If your effect is so fragile that it can only be reproduced [under strictly controlled conditions], then why do you think it can be reproduced by schoolteachers?”

And Nick Brown did much more, you can read it here.

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Lillienfeld on microaggression, still a long way to go for research.

When a researcher who has had a big influence on my personal work – Lilienfeld because of this book – writes something about a theme that has been a worry for me lately – microaggressions, programs against microagrrassion, but also safe zones and the thin line between censorship and free speech- , it would be a mistake not to share this – open access – article on this blog.

If you wonder what’s it all about:

Microaggressions are typically defined as subtle snubs, slights, and insults directed toward minorities, as well as to women and other historically stigmatized groups, that implicitly communicate or at least engender hostility.

The article in itself is not against the idea of microaggression as such, but it does warn that the present scientific evidence is weak.

This quote from the conclusion describes the position of Lilienfeld quite nicely:

I encourage microaggression researchers to continue their scholarly inquiries while substantially tempering their assertions, especially those concerning (a) the causal association between microaggressions and adverse mental health and (b) the presumed effectiveness of microaggression intervention efforts. The MRP has generated a plethora of theoretically and socially significant questions that merit thoughtful examination in coming decades. But it is not close to being ready for widespread real-world application.

This the abstract of the paper:

The microaggression concept has recently galvanized public discussion and spread to numerous college campuses and businesses. I argue that the microaggression research program (MRP) rests on five core premises, namely, that microaggressions (1) are operationalized with sufficient clarity and consensus to afford rigorous scientific investigation; (2) are interpreted negatively by most or all minority group members; (3) reflect implicitly prejudicial and implicitly aggressive motives; (4) can be validly assessed using only respondents’ subjective reports; and (5) exert an adverse impact on recipients’ mental health. A review of the literature reveals negligible support for all five suppositions. More broadly, the MRP has been marked by an absence of connectivity to key domains of psychological science, including psychometrics, social cognition, cognitive-behavioral therapy, behavior genetics, and personality, health, and industrial-organizational psychology. Although the MRP has been fruitful in drawing the field’s attention to subtle forms of prejudice, it is far too underdeveloped on the conceptual and methodological fronts to warrant real-world application. I conclude with 18 suggestions for advancing the scientific status of the MRP, recommend abandonment of the term “microaggression,” and call for a moratorium on microaggression training programs and publicly distributed microaggression lists pending research to address the MRP’s scientific limitations.

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The “Law of the instrument”

In 1966 Abraham Maslow said, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”, this has become known as the “Law of the instrument“, maybe the least discussed law when talking about education, but imho the most important to warn for in educational discussions.

Not that we only have hammers in education, no, it’s sheer impossible to grasp the almost infinite possibilities, but many people do have their favorite tool.

Some examples:

  • How many times do you read: this tool will change everything in education? We know that it won’t, but most of the time the person expressing this is really convinced of his hammer.
  • In a similar vein let’s teach all children how to code. Most of the time this is said by people who are really convinced of his or her hammer.
  • This morning I woke up to find myself in the midst of a discussing pro and contra PBL, and again, well, you guessed it.

But do you remember the learning pyramid? If that awful piece of educational myth would have been correct, it would mean there is one approach that works best in any given context, for any child, for any given goal. Or that there is only one golden hammer.

The same reason why the learning pyramid isn’t true (for sources, check our book), there is seldom a golden hammer in education. It’s true: as Hattie often claims: most of the things we do in education have effect, it’s to know the impact. But it’s more difficult: it’s also knowing when, why and how something needs to be applied.

When thinking about this law of the instrument the past few days, I found it quite confronting as I did find discover I’ve made this mistake myself too. Let’s make it one for our educational New Year’s resolutions…

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