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Scientific Teaching

Keynote Address from the TDSB Eureka! Conference 2017

Chris Meyer, OAPT VP teaching and learning, Assistant Curriculum Leader York Mills C. I.

This may be the most important 55 minutes of video that any teacher could watch. Here Chris Meyer explains in plain language how people actually learn. This process, called the Learning Cycle, applies to all learning by all people of all ages. This cycle is governed by the structure of the brain with its four distinct centres of processing and thus is, in effect, hard wired. We take input from our senses, try to make meaning of it, plan how to test our theories, and then create and execute some means to test them. Chris presents very clearly, with engaging images and video clips and excellent subtle humour, the path we need to take in the teaching profession. He makes the connection between the recent emphasis on inquiry learning and the Learning Cycle. We cannot “short circuit” the cycle; we must engage with it by preparing student activities that allow the four stages to play themselves out. We must allow students to construct the knowledge within their own minds. The result is called Active Learning, which is the future of education at all levels.

Tim Langford

When I started learning about the science of teaching, it was with very specific questions in mind like “how can I help my students understand Newton’s Third Law”, or “why do students keep using Δx/Δt for accelerated motion?” As I have explored questions such as these over the years, tantalizing clues have led me away from a specific focus on physics pedagogy towards an examination of how people learn. I discovered that the fields of neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and physics education research are offering up pieces of a scientific model of learning that can provide real, practical guidance for teachers. This model is in its infancy, but is a crucial step towards turning teaching into a practical science. In the fullness of time, it should be as revolutionary for teaching as Newton’s Principia was for natural philosophy.

When I was invited to present to the TDSB’s science teachers, I wanted to share what I have been learning about the science of teaching. This is all quite new for me, so I took it upon myself as a challenge to try to put the pieces of the model together into a coherent framework that might provide some insight for my peers. The scientific model of learning, as I currently see it, consists of four important parts:

  1. how the brain physically works
  2. the role of emotion
  3. students' prior knowledge
  4. the cognitive learning cycle
To help students learn as well as possible, teachers need to create learning environments that maximize the mental connections students make with scientific ideas. The science strongly suggests that our role as teachers in our students’ learning process might be very different from what we currently believe.

Below you will find the video of my address and a link to the PowerPoint slides that have all the references supporting my talk. I hope you enjoy it and I hope it encourages you to explore the science of learning!

Click to download the slides

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