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Adey&Shayer's research on CASE
(Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education)

By Steve Draper,   Department of Psychology,   University of Glasgow.

This is the page about Adey & Shayer's CASE research that is linked into a circle of overlapping topics relevant to many current (January 2018) CCSE concerns and projects. (The original invitation to a seminar on it is here.)

All the papers I mention below are listed, mostly near the very top, in my personal list of education papers at:

In that list, for our convenience, I have bent the usual biblio conventions so the five main papers about their project (listed as a-e), plus three others (just bullet points), are listed under "Adey" whether or not he is actually the first author. (There are also some less closely relevant papers under "Shayer".)

Why is it worth knowing about Adey & Shayer's great work on CASE (Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education)?

1) "Large" effect sizes.

It is an educational project with a large effect size, and not many of these exist. Any educational researcher should have a grip on one or more. (The rest are little facts and demos, that a scholar wants to know about but which make little impact in/on practice.) It made a serious impact, and ESRC who funded it are still freshly boasting about it, 27 years after the first publications about it (see the "Impact case study", one of the bulleted references under "Adey").

2) Multi-stage research.

It is an exemplar of multi-stage research, as opposed to one-off experiments that are imagined to stand by themselves. It went through all the stages you might imagine: from a theoretical starting point; through developing and testing materials; through rollout in numerous schools; to following up on long term effects. Much of what is published is about a single idea of a classroom activity. (Mazur's PI also had a big effect size; but it didn't come from theory, and others have done work afterwards suggesting why it works.) [Shayer gives a research-stage model in p.112-3 in Shayer (1992)]

3) Not learning the subject matter, but learning to learn.

It is a pure example of "cognitive acceleration": of training pupils on materials that for 2 years had no demonstrable effect, but after the training, then they learned STEM material in the year following much faster than control group kids did. The intellectual equivalent of spinach for Popeye; morning coffee on you. [See (b, c) of the five main papers, and Adey (2004).]

4) Early childhood causes.

What does it imply about the idea of early childhood having a long delayed effect on later academic learning? It shows that remedial action can perhaps compensate for not having the ideal early experiences. In particular it shows that a child can be accelerated from Sensori-Motor thinking to Formal Operational thinking. This is supposed to happen naturally as development, but in fact tests have shown that many undergraduates have still not arrived at the latter. [See Adey (2004) for reflection on the long term effects.]

5) Spatial skills.

They, following Piaget, use the term "spatial" skills but in a very different sense from mental rotation, or the exercises Jack gave Quintin to do. (Their/ Piaget's usage revolves around the test of giving the learners an outline of a tilted milk bottle and asking them to draw in the line representing the surface of the liquid when it is half full. Many draw the line perpendicular to the bottle's sides, not parallel to the ground.) [See Shayer,M., Kuchemann,D.E. and Whylam,H. (1976) for the description of the tests, taken directly from Piaget's The child's conception of space.]

6) Individual differences in effect.

Despite a large-ish overall group effect size: a) Some individual kids show a really big effect, some none at all. b) About twice as many boys as girls show the effect. [See (d, e) of the five main papers.]

7) Curriculum.

What does this mean for the primary school curriculum? In fact they did do a version for primary schools — obviously with different materials. [See bullet 3: Adey, P., Robertson, A. and Venville, G. (2002), for the primary school work.]

Again, their underlying idea is that the right curriculum for leading on to physics, maths, (compSci) at age 16, or age 17-18 in HE is NOT those subjects' contents BUT the cogAcc "CASE" materials. I.e. presumably they would vote against the whole idea of the TeachCS courses, or at least that this other regular school subject (CogAcc) would have a bigger effect on success at compSci in HE, than CompSci in school would.

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