For Teachers

Getting Started with the Sci-napse Project

Are you a teacher taking part in the Sci-napse project? Here are the basics of what you need to know.

1. About the project

The Sci-napse project is a nationwide project that aims to see whether teaching with uncertain rewards can raise attainment in science. Sci-napse is run by Project Teams at the University of Bristol and Manchester Metropolitan University, who will act as your contacts throughout the project and will make sure you have all of the resources you need to run the project successfully. The project is funded by our partners, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Wellcome Trust. The success of the project will be evaluated by the York Trials Unit at York University, who will be in occasional contact with you to schedule pre- and post-testing of students.

2. Before you begin

The project uses a quiz tool called Q-fire, which can be found at:

To make an account, simply click on “Teachers”. This will take you to a page with a“Create a TEACHER account” button. You can then enter your email and a password to create your account.


Setting up Q-Fire on your network

To get Q-fire up and running on the school network, it is very important to contact your IT team and have them ensure that the network firewall will allow the following:

  • Usage of port 443
  • Connecting to (or * in general)
  • Allow Websocket connections

Many schools experience no difficulties using Q-fire on their school network after these settings have been adjusted.

Troubleshooting Q-Fire

Hopefully, you won’t need this section… but if you are experiencing problems with Q-fire, please work through these flowcharts to see if the problem can be resolved.

Step 1: Getting Q-Fire running on the teacher computer


Step 2: Using Q-Fire with student devices


If you have ongoing technical problems...

If you do not have access to student devices (e.g. tablets, smartphones), you can ask each group to indicate their answer by selecting a card with the letter matching the answer. You can download PDF cards to print here. Alternatively, you could ask teams to write their answers on mini-whiteboards.

If you experience persistent problems with Q-fire that can’t be resolved, please contact the Project Team, and we will assist you in setting up a non-digital classroom approach.

3. How the project will work

We will compare three different ways of teaching over the course of Year 8. Each participating class will be allocated randomly to one of three different conditions – gaming, testing or control – for the entirety of the 2016-2017 academic year.

Team quizzing with uncertain rewards

Students work in random teams of three.
Six quiz questions (approx.) per hour lesson.
For each correct answer, teams can take a chance to double or lose points for each question on the spin of a wheel.
Points for each question escalate as the rounds progress.
Q-Fire used with 'Gaming enabled' option checked.

Detailed teaching guide for the GAMING condition
Team quizzing with certain rewards

Students work in random teams of three.
Six quiz questions (approx.) per hour lesson.
Teams receive a fixed number of points for each question answered correctly.
Points for each question are the same.
Q-Fire used with 'Gaming enabled' option unchecked.

Detailed teaching guide for the TESTING condition
Teaching as usual.

Teaching take place in whatever way the class would normally be taught.

It is very important that you do not use materials, resources or methods created for the Sci-napse project.

Each class will be randomly allocated to a condition by the external evaluation team in the York trials unit after they receive the school data. Your school lead will be able to confirm which condition/s your class/es have been allocated. It is important that you do not tell your classes which conditions they have been allocated to until the start of Sci-napse teaching on 3 October 2016.

If your class is in the testing or gaming condition in the main trial you will have access to a bank of over 1000 multiple choice questions in Q-Fire, which you can use to build lessons. You can also create your own questions.

Classes in all three conditions will complete tests and evaluation questionnaires.

Preparing your lesson - gaming and testing conditions

Create a quiz for the lesson. Select a quiz from the Q-Fire bank of quizzes, and delete, modify or add questions. You can also create a new quiz from scratch and copy-and-paste questions from the bank of quizzes.

You will also need to randomize your students by entering your class list into the Randomizing Template.
Ideally, you classes will be randomized every two weeks, but we realize that this may not always be feasible, so ask that you randomize as close to once every fortnight as possible.

To select your teams:

  1. Download the Randomizing Template and cut-and-paste your class list.
  2. Save a copy of this template, since once the names have been fixed, you won’t be able to randomize them again.
  3. Press the “Randomly sort names” button.
  4. If you spot teams whose membership raises concern (e.g. groupings that might be disruptive) then you can press the button again, or just tweak a little – e.g. swapping one student with another.

Ideally, teams should have three members in each, although in some cases this might need to be extended to four or five depending on the number of students in a class and the Sci-napse approach used (e.g. the non-digital approach is easier to manage with larger teams).

During the lesson - gaming and testing conditions

Presenting questions using Q-fire

  1. At the start of the lesson, ensure that students are aware of who their teammates are and the number of the team they will need to join. They can either be seated in these teams, or come together for the purposes of answering questions.
  2. To play your quiz you need to create a ‘session‘ (i.e. playable instance of the quiz), so click ‘new session’ and then give it a name. (Note that once you have created a session it cannot be edited – this is so we know which quiz has been played when. You can still edit the quiz and create new sessions from it.)

To start (or resume) a quiz

  1. Click the ‘Resume’ button next to your session, and add the number of teams required. You will see a game code (e.g. 2314) under the title of your session on this page. If you students are using devices to respond, ask them to go to, to click on ‘Join the game’ and to enter this code.
  2. Students will then be prompted to join a team, and they should join the team to which they have been randomly allocated. When a group has selected a team with their device, an icon of a mobile phone will be displayed next to the team name on the Q-Fire screen.

Set up for your condition

  1. If you are in the testing condition, make sure that the ‘Gaming enabled’ option is unchecked. If you are in the gaming condition, make sure that it is checked.

If you are using a slow network or computer

  1. Make sure that you have unchecked the box titled ‘Fit elements to screen’. This will improve the speed of Q-Fire but may mean that you have to re-size questions manually in order to fit all answers on the screen. This can be done quickly by pressing ‘Ctrl’ and ‘+’ to zoom in, and ‘Ctrl’ and ‘-‘ to zoom out.

Press Play. A screen with four options will now appear – and will also appear after any question has been completed. On this screen you can choose to go to the ‘Next Question’, play a ‘Bonus Round’, ‘Display Slides’ or ‘Skip to Leaderboard’.

Viewing your slides

  1.  If you have attached slides to your quiz, you can navigate through them with the backwards and forwards arrows. The ‘X’ button takes you back to the quiz.

Answering questions

  1. When you select ‘Next Question’, a question will be displayed, with four answers in a randomized order. You can adjust the number of points for a correct answer by pressing the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ buttons under the points available.
  2. As soon as the question is displayed, students can start responding with their devices, and/or you can enter their responses by pressing the ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ or ‘D’ buttons next to their team name. When a response has been received, a button containing the word ‘Answered appears’, which can be clicked to deselect the answer.
Overview of Q-Fire interfaces

Q-Fire Teacher Interface


Q-fire Student Device Interface


4. Timeline of the project

July 2016Schools supply the evaluation team with class information (teacher, pupil list, pupil UPNs, setting info).
Make sure that Q-Fire will work on your school's network.
Make sure that all staff are comfortable using Q-Fire.
Summer holidays
Autumn Term
Week 1Remaining schools supply the evaluation team with class information (teacher, pupil list, pupil UPNs, setting info).
Teachers complete the teacher background survey.
12-23 SeptmberPupils take the Pre-test (GL Assessments Progress Test in Science)
3 OctoberSci-napse teaching begins
Students complete the student background survey.
During Autumn term, classroom observations will take place in six schools, of at least one teacher in each condition.
Spring TermSci-napse teaching continues
Summer TermDuring Sumer term, classroom observations will take place in six schools, of at least one teacher in each condition.
Late June/early July 2017Sci-napse teaching ends
Students take the post-test (GL Assessments Progress Test in Science)
Student survey
Staff survey
Focus groups in the six schools where observations have taken place

5. Understanding the brain’s reward system: Sci-napse pedagogy

Educational researchers have had difficulty finding a relationship between rewards offered and learning achieved. Another approach is by predicting learning by how much the brain’s reward system is activated. We are trying to increase this brain activation in using a gaming approach that includes:

  • Making rewards better than expected (so please constantly escalate rewards during the game-based condition);
  • Making rewards uncertain (so the gaming condition allows students an option to take a chance on doubling or losing their points for a correct answer on a wheel of fortune);
  • Peer presence (in team collaboration and competition between teams).

During the time between students knowing they might get an uncertain reward and the reward itself, students are likely to be more receptive to learning. We describe this period as a ‘teachable moment’. When teaching with Q-Fire, the most teachable moment is when answers are being revealed as correct or not. This applies to all students and not just those who answered the question correctly and decided to game their points, because the possibility of peers losing points also works as a reward.

Using Q-Fire to teach a lesson - gaming condition
  1. When presenting questions with ‘gaming enabled’ (the default condition), students have the option to decide (after entering their response to the question and before the correct answer is revealed) whether they wish to game their points, should their answer be correct. When a question is answered, a toggle button with the words Not Gaming’ appears next to the ‘Answered’ button; this changes to ‘Gaming’ if they choose this option. If the ‘Gaming’ button is then clicked, it will revert back to ‘Not Gaming’.
  2. Clicking ‘Show Timer’ at the top of the page reveals a timer that can be incremented in periods of 5 seconds and activated. This produces an audio alert– nothing else – but it can be handy to keep things paced.
  3. After clicking ‘Continue’, you can remove the incorrect answers by clicking on them, until the correct answer remains. Teams who have selected the correct answer are highlighted. Of these, those who were not gaming have their points allocated immediately. Clicking ‘Continue’ again reveals the wheel of fortune, with teams highlighted who have correctly answered and have chosen to game. Click ‘Start’ to spin the wheel.
  4. The wheel of fortune is the standard round for the game-based learning approach, but other types of round should be used occasionally, for example:
    • Pressing ‘Bonus Round’ on the screen shown between questions allows teams to win points randomly – useful for upsetting the scoreboard and raising emotions. This works in a similar way to a round with questions, but teams simply pick their ‘lucky colour’; pressing start causes one of these colours to be randomly selected. All teams who have selected that colour receive the points available.
    • Pressing the ‘Player Selector’ button in the Q-Fire tool box (shown to the right of the questions), will randomly select a team. This team can then, for example, receive a special ‘golden opportunity’ for themselves (although other teams have to be instructed not to participate – they are not stopped from doing so by the technology).
    • Pressing the ‘Override correct answer’ button when about to reveal the correct answer allows you to spontaneously choose which option should receive points. (This allows points to be awarded on the basis, for example, of a who wins and argument in a debating round.)
Effective pedagogy - gaming condition

There are a variety of ways in which we suggest that this approach can be used in order to fully exploit the learning opportunities that it presents.

The introduction of questions are opportunities to:

  • Explain, revisit or discuss concepts featured in the question;
  • Link concepts featured in the question to other/previous examples/concepts, including those related to students’ own experiences;
  • Use additional verbal questions and answers to explore, monitor and reward understanding of the question;
  • Elicit students’ own questions prompted by the content of the question.

The answering of questions are opportunities:

  • To encourage discussion among students;
  • For students to experience challenge, and for the teacher to ‘scaffold’ understanding of concepts when students are suitably challenged;
  • To differentiate support according to the ability of the class and, where possible/appropriate, individual teams (who might, for example, also be supported by additional information and resources).

Revealing of correct and incorrect answers to questions provide opportunities for:

  • Exploiting ‘teachable moments’ as dopamine is increasing – explaining why answers are correct/incorrect, usually in reverse order;
  • Providing formative feedback, identifying and correcting misconceptions;
  • Reminding students about terminology.

It’s important, for maximum effect, to refer to actual answers here and not the colours or letters that are used by Q-Fire to identify each of the distractors.

Special rounds available in Q-Fire provide other opportunities:

  • Golden Opportunities for individual teams help explore more advanced/challenging concepts.
  • Bonus rounds help raise excitement levels and general uncertainty over who will win the game.

6. Testing and evaluation

Testing. GL assessment pre-tests and post-tests will be distributed by the Evaluation Team to all schools. These assessments will take around 45 minutes, and must be completed under exam conditions.

Evaluation. Educational outcomes are likely to be influenced by many factors, and so we asking for teachers in all conditions to help us collect data on student background, teacher background and style, and teacher reflections on their experience.

All student surveys MUST have the full student name and date of birth completed.

The exact details of the process evaluation is still to be confirmed, but it is likely to consist of:

  • Student and teacher background surveys.
  • Classroom observations in six schools in the autumn term and six in the summer term.
  • Student and teacher surveys at the end of the intervention.
  • Teacher focus groups in the schools where classroom observations took place.

7. More information

There are a number of additional resources available on the Sci-napse website which introduce the project in more depth. We have provided links to the theories of uncertain reward and play and learning which underpin Sci-napse, additional links and academic references which explore these concepts at a deeper level.