Study takes neuroscience into the classroom by breaking-up short, intensive science revision lessons

A teaching school in Sheffield has developed an innovative and practical new way to teach science to teenagers, using funding from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Wellcome Trust.

Spaced Learning, developed by the Hallam Teaching School Alliance and run by Notre Dame High School, builds on evidence from neuroscience and psychology that suggests information is more easily learnt and recalled when it’s repeated multiple times and separated by periods of unrelated activity.

2,000 pupils in 15 schools took part in a small development study of the programme, which is published by the EEF today. Teachers were trained to give short, intensive biology, chemistry and physics lessons to Year 9 and 10 pupils (ages 13-15). The 12-minute sessions were repeated twice and broken up with ‘spaces’, where the pupils did something completely different.

The study tested three different versions of the SMART spaces programme, where the same content with delivered with ‘spaces’ of 10 minutes, 24 hours or a combination of both.

The independent evaluators from the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation at Queen’s University Belfast reported that the programme was successfully integrated into school timetables. Teachers found the ‘spaced’ lessons easy to deliver and pupils appeared to respond well. The researchers found some preliminary evidence that the most promising version of the programme use both short 10 minute and longer 24 hour ‘spaces’.

The project was funded as part of a joint initiative by the EEF and the Wellcome Trust to develop education interventions which use insights from neuroscientific research to support learning in the classroom. The EEF will look to fund a randomised controlled trial to find out whether the programme has an impact on GCSE science grades.

Alastair Gittner, Project Leader at Stocksbridge High School, said: “We hope this will be a time efficient way of helping teachers provide a new revision strategy for all students in science.”

Findings from two more pilot projects are published today, both designed to find out if innovative approaches to teaching and learning can be delivered in the classroom in a practical way.

192 teachers in 32 schools posted questions as part of a pilot of Evidence for the Frontline, an online brokerage service to help bridge the divide between education research and classroom practice. Teachers were given the opportunity to ask leading academics questions about research in areas of interest to them.

For example, one teacher wanted to know what the evidence tells us about setting pupils by ability or gender. Professor Becky Francis, Director of the UCL Institute of Education, responded to say that there is very little evidence supporting setting by attainment or gender, but significant evidence to suggest it can be harmful to low prior attainers, indicating a need to approach setting with care.

Another teacher asked what practical strategies they could use to improve the effectiveness of peer assessment. The response suggested they put pupils working at similar levels in pairs, making it clear that comments or feedback should be designed to help rather than provide judgement or grades.

Over the course of the pilot, teachers posed 249 questions to the academics. The most common topics included developing independent thinking in pupils and pupil behaviour and engagement.

The independent evaluators from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) found that overall there was good engagement with the platform. Most teachers who took part said it increased their enthusiasm for using research evidence and many said it improved their teaching. However, the evaluators reported that more work was needed to speed up responses to teachers and encourage more conversations between the teachers and researchers.

The third report published today is an evaluation of a pilot programme to support teachers’ professional development by filming and reviewing their lessons. 12 primary schools took part in a development pilot of IRIS Connect, a technology package that includes cameras and microphones for the classroom, and an online platform for sharing recorded lessons between schools. Teachers’ lessons were filmed so that they could review them with their peers.

The programme, delivered by IRIS Connect in collaboration with Whole Education, also involved six film clubs where teachers could review lessons from other schools, as well as their own practice and experiences.

The evaluation of the pilot aimed to find out whether Iris Connect could be used to improve primary teachers’ use of feedback. The researchers from Birmingham University found that the overwhelming majority of teachers believed that the intervention was a good use of their time and had improved their teaching. There was also strong evidence that the film clubs promoted discussion of teaching and learning and moderate evidence that the programme changed teachers’ thinking and teaching practice.

The ultimate aim of Iris Connect is to improve pupil outcomes by changing the teaching practice and ethos across a school. Following these pilot results, the EEF will consider funding a larger trial of this programme to find out if the programme can have a demonstrable impact on pupil outcomes.

Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: