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Research report

An awareness of neuroscience in education

Edited by Alex Elwick

This project sought to establish whether teaching pupils about the brain could impact upon their beliefs about their own intelligence and ultimately positively impact on their academic performance.

The research was commissioned by CfBT Education Trust (now Education Development Trust) and carried out in conjunction with the Institute for the Future of the Mind at the University of Oxford.

The central aims of this research were:

  • To assess whether teaching pupils about their own brains (neuroscience training) has an effect on their motivation to learn.
  • To assess whether teaching pupils about their brain has an effect on their actual academic performance.
  • To assess whether the mode of teaching pupils about the brain (either by a teacher or a computer programme) impacts upon any outcomes of the training.

A randomised controlled trial with Year 7 pupils showed that neuroscience training can positively change pupils' views of their own intelligence, encouraging them to see their own intelligence as flexible.

The study did not show any positive impact on actual academic performance itself, but this was tested over a relatively short time period and within just one subject (mathematics).

The study also tested the mode of delivery, comparing content delivered by a teacher with identical input delivered through an interactive software program. That delivered by the teacher was seen to have a greater impact on pupils' motivation, in both the short and the longer term.

The study makes the following recommendations:

  • Additional research is needed to explore the effect of neuroscience teaching on academic performance.
  • Neuroscience workshops should be used to positively improve pupils' beliefs about their own intelligence.
  • Further research should be undertaken to explore how neuroscience workshops can be used to try and combat the Year 7 learning 'dip'.