Evidence Based Education

The key change the Amazing School project want to bring into education is an evidence based approach.  Let me explain.

In medicine, construction, law enforcement and consumer technology to name just a few, the advances that we have seen over the last 100 years have largely been the result of the scientific method.  When a doctor offers you new drugs for an illness you rightly expect and assume that the drug has been through a clinical trail and that the results have been peer reviewed and that the results are significantly more effective than a placebo.  When a construction company want to build the newest, highest skyscraper in an earthquake zone they turn to teams of engineers that understand how to model the stresses and strains of these buildings and how the construction materials will interact.  This results in safe buildings that won’t collapse.  In order to improve law enforcement, crime scene investigators comb through the evidence to reconstruct what happened.  When I was growing up no one had a mobile phone, now I have an iPhone in my pocket.  All these advances have been due to incremental increases to our knowledge that we have gained via the scientific method.

As far as I can see this does not happen in education.  Academics are improving their understanding of memory, attention, perception, cognition, emotion, motivation and many more areas, but these are not reaching mainstream education.

Concurrently, education, which is hungry for modern approaches, latches onto pseudo-science.  Ben Goldacre writes a scathing chapter on the pseudo-scientific nonsense that is Brain Gym.  Here is a link to one of his articles if you haven’t come across this before:


I’m not trying to argue that science is perfect or that it gets everything right all the time.  I just love the scientific approach; make hypotheses that are falsifiable, run a controlled experiment, examine the results using statistics, interpret the results, repeat.  With thousands of scientists using this method all over the world, examining different questions the evidence mounts up behind the correct theories and assumptions and we end up with useful models of reality.

I’d love to see this knowledge come into schools and for schools to play a part in testing the application of scientific conclusions.

Here is an example of how what is known scientifically can be applied in education.  Memory is a very well studied area of the brain.  We know that retrieval is related to the context and the salience of cues.  This is why loci techniques (such as memory palaces) work so well; they create clear cues within a context that can be accessed from anywhere.  I finally taught myself these memory palace techniques last year.  They are so easy to learn.  I could memorise 100 studies in about an hour and I still know them now!

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