Scientists to investigate impact of educational computer game upon children in new £1m research project

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Children’s incorrect assumptions about maths and science will be challenged in a major study led by neuroscientists at Birkbeck, University of London

Professor Denis Mareschal, of Birkbeck, University of London, is leading the £1m research projec

Professor Denis Mareschal, of Birkbeck, University of London, is leading the £1m research project

Children often rush to give quick answers to questions, so helping them to pause and reflect before answering may be key in improving their understanding of important concepts in science and maths.

Children’s incorrect assumptions about maths and science will be challenged in a major study led by neuroscientists at Birkbeck, University of London. Thousands of youngsters from 100 primary schools across England will play a computer game designed to help them acquire new knowledge by disregarding initial thoughts as part of the four-year £1m project.

The research will be carried out by a group of scientists at Birkbeck, University of London, and the Institute of Education. The pioneering randomised controlled trial has been funded by the Wellcome Trust – a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in health – and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) – a grant-making charity dedicated to narrowing the attainment gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their more affluent peers through independent appraisals of educational interventions. The project is one of six studies awarded grants totalling almost £4m by the Wellcome Trust and EEF as they are supporting research to investigate a variety of ways in which neuroscience might improve teaching and learning in the UK.

As part of the Birkbeck-led research, pupils will play a computer game for 15 minutes three times a week at the beginning of maths or science lessons. In the game, a child-friendly character will, by providing prompts and suggestions, try to solve problems with help from the player. The aim is to train pupils to inhibit their initial response, and instead give a more delayed and reflective answer. Exercises will relate to maths and science. For example, exercises will help pupils to realise that the cells in mice and elephants are of the same size, and that the world is round despite seeming flat. A total of 9,000 pupils will be involved in the research.

Professor Denis Mareschal, of Birkbeck’s Department of Psychological Sciences, is leading the research project, which is called Learning counterintuitive concepts. He said: “Learning difficult concepts often involves ignoring prior ideas, which are often incorrect. Children often rush to give quick answers to questions, so helping them to pause and reflect before answering may be key in improving their understanding of important concepts in science and maths, which often rely on non-obvious ideas. We’re delighted to have the opportunity to put this hypothesis to the test in such a major study.”

Evidence from neuroscience research supports the hypothesis that inhibition control is necessary to develop the reasoning skills required in maths and science.

Primary schools are being recruited to take part in the research. For more information contact unlocke(at)psychology.bbk(dot)ac.uk .

ENDS

Notes to editors

About Birkbeck, University of London
To interview Professor Denis Mareschal please contact Guy Collender (g.collender@bbk.ac.uk, 0207 380 3108).
Birkbeck is a world-class research and teaching institution, a vibrant centre of academic excellence and London’s only specialist provider of evening higher education.18,000 students study at Birkbeck every year. They join a community that is as diverse and cosmopolitan as London’s population. http://www.bbk.ac.uk

Education and Neuroscience: Using insight from neuroscience to improve education
Education and Neuroscience is a new funding initiative, launched by the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation in January 2014. This one-off scheme aims to develop, evaluate and communicate the impact of education interventions informed by neuroscience research. Details are available on the Education Endowment Foundation. http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/ .

About the Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk

About the Education Endowment Foundation
The Education Endowment Foundation is a charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust, with a Department for Education grant of £125m. It is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded over £50 million to 93 projects working with over 60,000 pupils in 4,500 schools across England. http://www.educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk

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