For schools

What is the Sci-napse project?
The Sci-napse (Neuroscience informed approaches to science education) project aims to evaluate whether the use of uncertain reward can raise attainment for students studying science, in particular disadvantaged learners. Using collaborative and playful pedagogic approaches, the study will use a large-scale Randomised Control Trial (RCT) to examine the effect of uncertain reward on Year 8 science attainment.

What is a Randomised Control Trial (RCT)?
A Randomised Control Trial (RCTs) is an approach to research where participants are randomly allocated to different groups, each of which undergoes a different experience (or condition) and differences in outcomes between the groups are measured. This allows us to compare the effectiveness of different approaches to teaching.
What groups will be used?
This study aims to find out whether the use of uncertain rewards has an effect on learning. The research will focus on pupils in three different teaching conditions.

  • Games-based: pupils working in groups to answer multiple-choice questions with uncertain rewards.
  • Test-based: pupils working in groups to answer multiple-choice questions.
  • Control: classes operating as normal.

In the games-based intervention pupils working in groups will be asked a question and answer it using the Q-Fire platform, those with the correct answer will have the opportunity to keep or ‘game’ points on a ‘wheel of fortune’. In the test-based condition pupils will receive a fixed number of points for being correct. In the control condition, teachers will teach pupils as usual.


Why are you using a Randomised Control Trial?
In this study, we will look at the differences between children who are taught using three different approaches. Randomised Control Trials provide a way of determining whether there is any difference between teaching approaches and the scale of any differences.

Who is conducting the research?
Teams at the University of Bristol and Manchester Metropolitan University have developed the intervention and will lead the research. A team from the Institute for Effective Education, at the University of York, will evaluate the intervention.
What is the research timeline?
The research began in January 2015 and will be completed in December 2017. There are five phases:

  1. Early development of tools, methods and support resources (Jan 15 – Aug 15)
  2. Testing of tools, methods and resources with development schools (Sep 15 – Jan 16)
  3. Pilot RCT with development schools (Feb 16 – August 16)
  4. Full RCT (Sep 16 – Aug 17)
  5. Write-up of findings (Sep 17 – Dec 17)

Are uncertain rewards the same as gambling?
No. Many aspects of life involve uncertain reward and it is important for young people to deal with uncertainty and risk. An important difference is that gambling involves money staked, won or lost, on a game of chance.

Who funded this research?
The Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation are funding the research, as part of the Education and Neuroscience initiative.

Why is this research important?
It is commonplace in education to use consistent rewards in teaching and learning, however recent neuroscience research indicates that uncertain rewards may be better for learning. There are studies that suggest that inconsistent rewards are associated with greater engagement with activities and an improved recall of facts and there is some educational evidence that uncertain rewards lead to improved outcomes, however few studies have been conducted in a real-life environment so far. The approach is now considered ready for testing to determine its application in classroom settings.

What does taking part involve?
The research will take place in over sixty secondary schools in and around Bristol and Manchester, between September 2016 and August 2017. Teachers will receive training in the teaching approach and online tool and extensive teaching resources will be made available.

In each school, researchers will randomly allocate science classes to each of the three conditions (game-based, test-based, control) and they will use that approach for the whole year. Students in all three conditions will undertake a pre- and post-test (taking no more than one hour each) and each school will receive at least one visit or research observation from the project evaluation team.


How do we register our interest?
If you would like to find out more about the project or are interested in becoming one of our research schools, please complete the contact form here. We will be in touch in the near future.