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Learning by Scientific Design: Start with evidence

Deans for Impact

Category: Cognitive Science

What do over 1,200 aspiring teachers know about the science of learning? That’s the starting point for the Learning by Scientific Design Network, which meets for the first time this week in Austin.

Since August, the six institutions participating in the network have surveyed future teachers enrolled in their programs using a formative assessment that Deans for Impact developed jointly with leading cognitive scientists, teacher-educators, K-12 teachers, and even a few teacher-candidates. 

To our knowledge, it is the first time that so many future teachers have been asked not just to identify research-backed principles and dispel common neuromyths, but also to connect principles to the actual work of K-12 teaching.

Here’s an example:  

Imagine you’re a middle school science teacher and your state standards call for students to understand how lightning forms. You’ve found several diagrams that outline the process perfectly, and you decide to narrate that process for students by moving step-by-step through each image. Which of the following insights from the learning sciences support this decision?  

a.  Many students prefer when teachers explain exactly what is being presented in a picture or a graph that is being presented

b.  Students’ limited working-memory capacity would make it difficult to understand the picture while listening to the teacher discuss content that does not complement the picture

c.  Using multiple modalities (talking and presenting pictures) will reach a wider range of learners. For example, some of your students may be auditory learners, while others may be visual learners

d.  Focusing only on the content in the pictures saves instructional time, allowing you to expose students to more content within a single class period

(Not sure the correct answer? You’ll have to read to the end to find out).

Teachers make hundreds of these micro instructional decisions everyday. Programs that prepare them have an opportunity to ensure that future teachers both understand the research and can use it to guide their moment-to-moment decisions. 

That’s why we are bringing programs together not just to examine what their teacher-candidates know right now, but to develop plans to catalyze new learning among these future teachers and enhance their ability to apply learning science principles to classroom instruction. Over two days this week, faculty and administrative leaders will explore several key learning science principles themselves, dig into the candidate assessment data, look into their own responses to these questions about learning science, and craft strategies to engage their colleagues back on campus. 

Look for highlights on our Twitter feed and subscribe to our newsletter for more on the assessment data – we’ll be sharing what we are learning later this fall!

… and the correct answer: (b). But hopefully you knew that already.