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Modelling the impact of cognitive abilities on science learning

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Abstract: Research has identified a range of broad and specific cognitive abilities that predict success in reading and mathematics, and this knowledge increasingly informs teaching. However, there is a lack of comparable work which pinpoints the core skills that underlie success in science. I will present three studies covering learners in Key Stages 1 to 3 and a range of science topics, which indicate an important role for both general and specific language abilities, but also a more elusive influence of executive function and inhibitory control. Taken together, the results from these studies suggest that in order to make progress we may need more refined theoretical models of what science learning involves as well as targeted empirical research.

Profile Andy Tolmie is Chair of Psychology and Human Development at the UCL Institute of Education, University College London. He is also Deputy Director of the Birkbeck/UCL Centre for Educational Neuroscience and was Editor of the British Journal of Educational Psychology from 2007-12. He is a developmental psychologist with longstanding interests in the growth of children’s implicit and explicit conceptual representations, their behavioural skills, and the relationships between these, particularly in the elementary school age range. Most of his work has focused on educationally-relevant topics and settings, with a substantial emphasis on science learning. He is currently lead for UCL on an large-scale randomised control trial funded by the Educational Endowment Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, testing a method of promoting inhibitory control in the learning of counterintuitive concepts in science and mathematics.

This talk is part of the Psychology & Education series.

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