A new two-year study reveals cognitive science-based changes to curriculum benefit students. Researchers from top universities across Pennsylvania used cognitive science principles to revise middle school science curriculum. They tested two types of curriculum: one textbook-based, the other focused on hands-on learning. Researchers implemented the randomized control trial at more than 100 schools, and they supported the teachers in the trial groups with professional development.
The study is notable because it shows that the positive effects of cognitive science interventions vary according classroom demographics and type of curricula. Essentially, school environment matters when it comes to who benefits most from cognitive science interventions. For example, the study found that positive effects reaped from the enhanced textbook-based curriculum are most significant in classrooms with fewer minority students. On the other hand, cognitive science modifications to hands-on learning curriculum were positive regardless of the proportion of minority students.
Importantly, the study found a less positive impact for students in high-minority classes. However, the researchers note that studying classes with high proportions of underrepresented students is complex for several reasons. For instance, majority-minority classes are more likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers with less robust science knowledge, and it is difficult to parse out the role of teacher effectiveness.
The study adds to the growing body of research that shows curriculum modifications based on cognitive science principles enhance student learning. Moreover, the study brings to light a new dimension for further research: How do student demographics coupled with method of curriculum delivery impact the effectiveness of cognitive science?
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