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

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

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

Educational computer game

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 (pictured, above right), 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.

Schools wanted for research project

Primary schools are being recruited to take part in the research. For more information contact .

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