For parents

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 teaching methods 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.

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 or other tangible reward 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.

Is it fair for my child?
We think that using this approach may improve how young people learn science. Uncertain reward in the project is based on a team-based quiz game where students will be able to take a chance on doubling their points (or losing them) once they have a correct answer. The points only apply within the learning game and will not affect attainment in the wider school context.

How will it affect my child?
Some science classes in your school will be taught normally, in others students will answer questions in teams, and others will work in teams any also have the opportunity to win or lose points by taking a chance. Classes will be allocated randomly to each type of teaching.

Why should my child take part?
The science classes are part of your child’s normal school work, which they have to do. It is just the teaching approach that will be different. You are contributing to research that will increase our understanding of the ways in which people learning and might make learning easier for lots of other young people.

What if I want to know more about the study?
You can talk to the Head of Science at your child’s school about the project and he or she should be able to answer your questions, or you can contact the research team here.