/Tag: research

What causes behaviour?


The age-old debate as to what causes human behaviour - nature vs nurture - shows little sign of running out of steam, despite having been emphatically resolved as far as science is concerned.  Although all knowledge is contingent and no scientist worthy of the name would ever say there are no facts established completely beyond doubt, the mountains of evidence that have piled up in favour of genetic causes for behaviour as opposed to environmental ones is solemnly impressive. No one argues that genes are wholly responsible for how we behave or that the environment has no effect on how we [...]

What causes behaviour?2017-08-24T17:29:34+00:00

The Unit of Education


If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it. Lord Kelvin A lot of education research is an attempt to measure the effects of teaching (or teachers) on learning (or pupils.) But is this actually possible? Let’s first think about measurement in a very practical sense. Schools limit admission based on a sometimes very strict catchment area – if you want to make sure that your children attend a particular school you need to live within the catchment. For some very oversubscribed schools this can be a radius of less than a mile. If I measure the distance between my front door and [...]

The Unit of Education2015-01-10T21:12:36+00:00

Further thoughts about evidence in education


Facts as facts do not always create a spirit of reality, because reality is a spirit. G. K. Chesterton Meaning and reality were not hidden somewhere behind things, they were in them, in all of them. Hermann Hesse I reached some tentative conclusions about evidence in education in my last post. One of the criticisms I keep coming up against is that my thinking is 'positivist' and therefore either limited or bad, depending on the biases of the critic. To understand this criticism we need to briefly explore some conceptions about reality, or ontology. Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature [...]

Further thoughts about evidence in education2014-08-31T15:21:42+00:00

Some tentative thoughts about evidence in education


To get anywhere, or even live a long time, a man has to guess, and guess right, over and over again, without enough data for a logical answer. Robert A. Heinlein I've been thinking hard about the nature of education research and I'm worried that it might be broken. If I develop a theory but have no evidence for it then it is dismissed as 'mere speculation'. "Show me the evidence!" comes the crowded shout, and currently in the sphere of education evidence is all. But can we really trust the evidence we're offered? Clearly, sometimes we can. I don't want to be [...]

Some tentative thoughts about evidence in education2014-08-30T16:31:39+00:00

Intuition vs evidence: the power of prediction


I wrote earlier in the week about why, despite it's limitations, research is better than a hunch. Since then, I've been reading Daniel Willingham's article on Real Clear Education; he says that it's not that people are stupid but that science is hard. He refers to the nobel prize winning physicist Carl Weiman whose interest in science education came from many years of working closely with physics undergraduates and observing that "their success in physics courses was such a poor predictor of a student’s ultimate success as a physicist." Or in other words, performance was not a useful indication of learning. Weiman argues that rigorous eduction [...]

Intuition vs evidence: the power of prediction2015-01-26T12:37:57+00:00

What works is a lot better than what doesn't


Teachers often talk about the vital nature of their work and the fact that for the young people we teach there are no second chances. I've heard teaching compared to air traffic control and the risks in the classroom compared to the risk involved in miscalculating the landing of a plane. These kinds of comparison are made to alert us to the importance of what we do, but clearly they're over dramatic and, in a very real way, untrue. I don't want to make out that what we do is unimportant but if we teach algebra badly no one dies. But what [...]

What works is a lot better than what doesn't2014-05-03T00:05:35+00:00