The Reflective Educator

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Tag: educational research

Sam Wineberg on the need to change how research is shared

If you are involved in educational research or you are interested in learning more from educational research, I strongly recommend watching this presentation by Dr. Sam Weinburg (via Dan Meyer).

Dan does a good job of highlighting the strengths of this video, however I have this to add: most academic writing might as well be written in Ancient Greek and buried at the bottom of the sea for all the good the research does society. If you write in language which is incomprensible to most people and only available to a very select few, you are doing very little to actually change your chosen field.

What Does Brain Research Have to Say About Our Teaching?

My head of school started the beginning of the year by talking about brain based research.  He was told in a session he participated in during the summer that the use of sarcasm in a classroom can hamper learning. The reason for this issue with sarcasm is that, according to the presenter, negative emotional responses shut down the higher level functions of the brain and force the brain into "fight or flight" mode, during which very little learning can take place.

According to Diane Connell, there are 11 principles of brain-based learning:

1. The brain is a parallel processor.

2. Learning engages the entire physiology.

3. The search for meaning is innate.

4. The search for meaning occurs through patterning.

5. Emotions are critical to patterning.

6. The brain processes parts and wholes simultaneously.

7. Learning involves both focused attention and peripheral perception.

8. Learning always involves conscious and unconscious processes.

9. We have at least two different types of memory: spatial(autobiographical) and rote learning (taxon memory).

10. Learning is developmental.

11. Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat.

The consequences of this theory of learning for educators are multiple. First, we need to engage student’s positive emotions in order to enhance their learning. Shout at a kid, or make them feel dumb, and you are certain to be inhibiting their learning by inducing negative emotions in the sense that negative emotions make us feel threatened.

According to this theory, learning is enhanced by the challenge of the task. Certainly we recognize this as true in our students, when we talk about pushing our students to their limits. This theory also inherently recognizes that poorly written standardized tests are never going to challenge our students’ abilities and are therefore not enhancing their learning.

There are other consequences too; the need for exercise in order to promote learning in other areas, the need to explore the whole picture as well as the details, recognizing the developmental nature of learning, and others. The point here is that the emotional connection to learning is important and if we really want to help our students learn, we need to pay attention to their emotional responses to what we do.

Sarcasm, taunting, derision, and other negative emotions have no place in our classrooms.


Connell, J.D. (2009). The Global Aspects of Brain-Based Learning. Educational Horizons, Retrieved from on September 5th, 2010

Jensen, E. (2008). A Fresh Look at Brain Based Education, Phi Delta Kappan International, Retrieved from on September 3rd, 2010

Massively collaborative educational research

The book Wikinomics has really got me thinking about how collaboration happens in our society.  One of the area where I think massive collaboration would be really useful, but where it is underutilized is in the area of educational research.  Imagine the power of collaboration that we could have if hundreds of educators collaborated to run a research study.  I’ve written about this before, but I have a new perspective since reading Tapscott and Williams.

Let’s look  at some of the benefits of being involved in such an undertaking.

First, each educator would have their name attached to a valuable piece of educational research.  So much research in education is done with tiny sample sizes that tend to invalidate the purpose of the research.  A large sample size does not guarantee that the research is valid, it still needs to be done with care, but it does tend to reduce things like selection bias, small sample size effect, etc…

Second, we could do research on a wide variety of different socioeconomic backgrounds, different parts of the world, and be able to analyze our data from many different perspectives.  We might even have enough data to spawn multiple educational research papers on our chosen topic.  We could release our data under a Creative Commons license, and let other educators remix and look at the date in different ways.

Finally, the amount of work each educator would have to do would be a lot less.  Designing a study, collecting data, researching sources, analyzing data, and writing an educational research paper are all time-consuming tasks.  Dividing up these tasks over a larger group, even with the additional overhead of maintaining coherence in the research, would greatly reduce how much work each educator would have to do.

If you are interested in participating in such a research study, please sign up at this form.  There is no specific topic or agenda set yet, just an initial examining of the interest from the educational community.