Stop and Think: Learning Counterintuitive Concepts
This page covers the first (efficacy) trial of Stop and Think: Learning Counterintuitive Concepts. The efficacy trial is aimed at testing whether it could work in schools under best possible conditions. To read about the second (effectiveness) trial of Stop and Think: Learning Counterintuitive Concepts- testing a scalable model under everyday conditions in a larger number of schools - click here.
The ‘Stop and Think: Learning Counterintuitive Concepts’ project aimed to improve science and maths attainment for Year 3 and Year 5 pupils (aged 7-10). The problem it aims to solve is that children’s ability to learn science and maths concepts can be limited because of their tendency to answer with an intuitive response. For example, children are taught that the world is round, yet there is no direct visual evidence to support this idea as the horizon looks flat. Or they might make the mistake of thinking that -5 is larger than -1. These are counterintuitive concepts. Stop and Think is a computer-assisted learning activity that aims to improve a learner’s ability to adapt to such counterintuitive concepts by training them to inhibit their initial response and, instead, give a slower and more reflective answer. The intervention was delivered by teachers to the whole class. It consisted of 30 sessions delivered for a maximum of 15 minutes, three times a week, for 10 weeks at the start of maths or science lessons. The intervention was developed at the Centre for Educational Neuroscience, by a team from Birkbeck University of London, and the UCL Institute of Education.
A project to develop and test software that improves pupils’ ability to “inhibit” irrelevant prior knowledge when learning new concepts.
Developing effective learners
This project was funded as part of joint initiative by the EEF and Wellcome to explore how insights from neuroscience can be used to improve education. Evidence from cognitive psychology and neuroscience research supports the hypothesis that ‘inhibitory control’ is necessary to develop reasoning skills, particularly in maths and science. This is because it can be a challenge for pupils to let go of popular beliefs or perceptions in science; while in maths, it is important to move beyond solutions which seem ‘obvious’ and to uncover formal logical solutions to a problem.
Our trial involved 89 primary schools and 6672 pupils. The independent evaluation found ‘Stop and Think’ had positive impacts on both science and maths outcomes. Pupilswho participated in the programme made the equivalent of +1 additional month’s progress in maths and +2 additional months’ progress in science, on average, compared to children in the lessons-as-usual control group.
These results have high security: 4 out of 5 on the EEF padlock scale.
The trial applied a further test to ‘Stop and Think’. To check whether any impact was the programme specifically, or the result of additional engagement and motivation from having a novel computer-based activity at the start of lessons more generally, schools were offered an alternative computer-based programme that did not include any content from ‘Stop and Think’. The evaluation found that pupils who received ‘Stop and Think’ also made more progress than pupils in this ‘control-plus’ group.
There were two primary outcomes in this trial, measuring maths and science attainment. The evaluator highlights that having two primary outcomes increases the risk – from 5% to 9.75% – that a ‘false positive’ result may be found by chance. This, in combination with the positive maths outcome not being statistically significant, means that the evaluator has not been able to conclude that the programme is effective at raising attainment outcomes overall. However, the EEF takes the view that positive results across the trial in both subjects, and in particular in science – together with the high security rating of the trial – do suggest evidence of promise for ‘Stop and Think’ as a programme.
The EEF is exploring the possibility of trialling the programme at a larger scale. Any future trial would need to tackle issues with implementation – teachers reported issues with the software and fitting the approach into the school day.
Children in the intervention group made the equivalent of one additional month progress in maths and two additional months’ progress in science, on average, compared to children in the control group. The maths result is not statistically significant. This means that the statistical evidence does not meet the threshold set by the evaluator to conclude that the true impact was non-zero. These results have a high security rating.
The use of two primary outcomes increases the risk that a false positive result may be found through chance. The mixed results between the two outcomes mean that the evaluator is unable to conclude that the programme is effective at raising attainment outcomes.
The project found no evidence that the Stop and Think programme had an impact on pupils’ general inhibitory control.
A majority of teachers thought that Stop and Think had a positive impact on the mathematical and science abilities of the pupils in their class. Other impacts of using the programme included pupils taking time to consider their response before answering questions, enhanced confidence and improving engagement in learning.
The majority of teachers did not endorse the roll out of the programme in its current form to other schools. The most common reasons given were the difficulty in fitting delivery into the school day, software problems, pupil engagement, the accuracy of content, quality of animation and some of the content being too easy.
Full project description
The Learning Counterintuitive Concepts project aimed to improve science and maths attainment for Year 3 and Year 5 pupils (aged 7–10) using an intervention called Stop and Think. When learning new concepts in science and maths, pupils must be able to inhibit prior contradictory knowledge and misconceptions to acquire new knowledge successfully. Stop and Think is a computer-assisted learning activity that aims to improve learner’s ability to adapt to counterintuitive concepts by training them to inhibit their initial response and instead, give a slower and more reflective answer.
The intervention was developed at the Centre for Educational Neuroscience, by a team from Birkbeck University of London and the UCL Institute of Education, and evaluated as part of a round focused on neuroscience co-funded by The Wellcome Trust and the EEF. The intervention, derived from cognitive neuroscience principles, was delivered by teachers to the whole class and consisted of thirty sessions being delivered for a maximum of 15 minutes, three times a week, for ten weeks at the start of maths or science lessons.
This project was a randomised controlled trial. Eighty nine schools were randomly allocated to have either Year 3 or Year 5 as their intervention year receiving Stop and Think, with the other year group acting as one of the two control groups. Half of the control years were ‘business as usual’ that continued with normal classroom practice, and half received a computer programme to support social/emotional skills as an active control condition. This meant that we could measure specific effects of the Stop and Think intervention beyond additional engagement and motivation caused by the novelty of playing a computer game. The primary outcomes were maths and science attainment and the project also looked at a general measure of inhibitory control as a secondary outcome.