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Photo by Tommy on Unsplash

About a month and a half ago, a friend in Oregon texted me about the coronavirus. I live in Taiwan. “How bad is it?” She asked.

“It’s not a big deal,” I answered. “We’ve got about 30 cases. Masks were sold out at pharmacies for a while, but then the government started rationing them, and had some factories ramp up production. Schools were closed for a couple of weeks after Chinese New Year. But life is quite normal here.”

The irony is that, in Taiwan, life is still quite normal.

The case count now in Taiwan is about 350. In…


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Photo by JC Gellidon on Unsplash

Well here we are. COVID-19 is now ravaging the U.S. Thousands of people have died. Many thousands more will die. Several state healthcare systems are already stretched to their limit. And the powers that be are still reluctant to shift towards more production of needed equipment. Against a tragedy like this, learning science seems pretty damn irrelevant.

But it’s not. At least, not entirely.

Creating expert decision-makers

Learning scientists talk a lot about deep conceptual understanding, the ability to adapt knowledge to use in novel situations, and the ability to reason through complex problems. In practice, the focus is usually on increasing student…


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Image by Pexels from Pixabay.

This is part 7 in a series on what we know about how we learn and how this knowledge should inform how we teach. The series is intended for teachers, students, and developers of education technology who want to be more informed about their practice. Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

My trial advocacy teacher began the class by putting on an animal mask and bawking like a chicken. Then he asked all of the students to stand up and pretend to be their favorite barnyard animal.

The rest of the class involved fewer chicken dances. During class…


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Image by Brett Harrison on Unsplash. Cropped by the author.

I was about six when I learned to ride a real bike. Before that I had hobbled around the driveway on a bike outfitted with training wheels, slowly chasing my older brother.

Everything went exactly like you would expect. My dad and I went to a large, empty parking lot. My dad took off the training wheels. I was scared. He held on to the back of the seat as I slowly pedaled, and told me he wouldn’t let go. I was still scared. I started speeding up. He thought I was getting the hang of it. So he let…


This is part 6 in a series on what we know about how we learn and how this knowledge should inform how we teach. The series is intended for teachers, students, and developers of education technology who want to be more informed about their practice. Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

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Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay.

Can just changing the order of homework problems transform a C math student into an A math student? Under the right circumstances, the answer seems to be yes.

Everyone knows that to get better at something we have to practice it. But we can practice in a lot…


This is part 5 in a series on what we know about how we learn and how this knowledge should inform how we teach. The series is intended for teachers, students, and developers of education technology who want to be more informed about how learning works. Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

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Image by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pixabay.

Most people in the U.S. will spend at least 12 years in school. Many will spend far more. How much of all that will we remember?

Not much. And one of the reasons is that we don’t tend to practice in a way that produces long-term learning. “Cramming”…


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Image by Florian Berger from Pixabay.

New York is considering eliminating “gifted and talented” programs and other forms of tracking. And people are not happy about it.

On the face of it, providing gifted and talented programs to gifted and talented students seems like a no-brainer. The logic goes like this: 1) some students achieve at a very high level, and 2) putting them in a class with their low-achieving peers slows gifted students’ progress, so 3) put these students in a special program where they can really be challenged. This logic is especially compelling if your kid is “gifted.”

Attempts to eliminate these programs can…


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Image by Mateo Vrbnjak on Unsplash.

This is part 4 in a series on what we know about how we learn and how this knowledge should inform how we teach. The series is intended for teachers, students, and developers of education technology who want to be more informed about their practice. Parts 1, 2, and 3.

Let’s start with a lesson on RNA folding:

The RNA folding problem describes the twin problems of the prediction and design of RNA molecular structures. Four types of RNA nucleotides — adenine, uracil, guanine, and cytosine — rest on a flexible ribo-phosphate backbone, forming chemical bonds of varying strengths with…


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Image by Mario Schildermans from Pixabay.

This is part 3 in a series on what we know about how we learn and how this knowledge should inform how we teach. The series is intended for teachers, students, and developers of education technology who want to be more informed about their practice. Part I and Part 2.

Studying is not the same thing as taking a test, is it? Studying is when we learn something. Taking a test just evaluates whether we’ve learned that something.

The research on retrieval practice turns this logic on its head. What we tend to think of as “studying” — books out…


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Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay.

This is part 2 in a series on what we know about how we learn and how this knowledge should inform how we teach. The series is intended for teachers, students, and developers of education technology who want to be more informed about how learning works. Click here for part 1.

One of the perennial criticisms of our educational system is that students just “memorize isolated facts” instead of engaging in deeper forms of reasoning. The key word here is “isolated” — memorizing facts is… actually pretty important. When we reason, we have to reason about something; without at least…

Benjamin Keep, Ph.D.

Researcher and writer interested in science, learning, and technology. www.benjaminkeep.com

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