Using Lesson Study to bridge between neuro-psychology and mathematics education: trialling a novel approach

Dr Fraser Milton and Dr Annana Adlam (School of Psychology, University of Exeter)

With the rapid advance of neuroscience techniques since the 1990s there has been the prospect of an educational neuroscience to guide educational practice and reforms. However, the basic principles of neuro-education and how these may be translated into educational theory and practice are still uncertain and subject to intense debate. One view is that a translational educational science would go straight into educational practice without being mediated by educational psychology. Others suggest that there is a role for those with educational knowledge to bridge between neuroscience and education. It has also been argued that these translational issues are similar to those that have been experienced over a longer period by educational psychology, with important implications for an educational neuro-science. One implication is that the promise of translating basic science depends on engaging teachers in reflective practice which is open to research informed understanding and knowledge relevant to pedagogic knowledge and using lessons as sites for teacher enquiry.

This project aims to address this translational issue by developing an original use of Lesson Study to facilitate a constructive interaction between specific neuropsychological knowledge and particular mathematics education knowledge and practice. Lesson Study was originally developed in Japan over a century ago as a collaborative form of professional development. We consider that Lesson Study can be a powerful vehicle because of its focus on collaboration (in and outside the classroom), its procedures (a cyclical and iterative process of reviewing, planning and teaching), its ethos (enquiry, openness to knowledge relevant to teaching and parity between participants) and its focus on the lesson and the teaching-learning interactions. This project assumes that Lesson Study can provide the means for translating neuropsychological knowledge into educational thinking and practice and in turn that neuropsychological knowledge can be informed and adapted by the process; seeing the bridging as two-way. This is the key aspect of the originality of the proposed project.

School level mathematical thinking and understanding has been chosen because of its centrality to the school curriculum, while being a major interest for neuroscientists. Using the Lesson Study approach to bridge between neuropsychological knowledge and mathematics education will take the form of setting up Lesson Study teams that includes two maths schoolteachers, University mathematics educational specialists and a neuropsychologist. The project therefore will initiate inter-disciplinary partnerships with HEI and between HEI and schools.

Methodologically, we will build on and further develop the Lesson Study model which was successfully established from one of the previous GSE research studies in two key ways, i. extending Lessons Study teams to include neuropsychologists and mathematics education specialist knowledge and ii. to bridge within the Lesson Study teams between research based knowledge about learning and teachers’ pedagogic knowledge. In this cycle, the team will work collaboratively around the 3 key research lessons interspersed between 4 team meetings. All lessons will be video-recorded. After each research lesson the team will have reflective sessions to critically evaluate the learning and redesign the teaching for the next research lesson.

We plan to undertake two Lesson Study trials (one in a primary and the other in a secondary school) that will be evaluated in terms of i. specific mathematics gains in the Lesson Study classes compared to a contrast non-Lesson Study class in the same school, ii. changes in specific math self efficacy between Lesson Study and non-Lesson Study teachers, iii. a discourse analysis of the Lesson Study team’s deliberations (with a focus on the balance of interaction turns, the content of the interactions in 4 team meetings), iii. an analysis of the perspectives on the processes and outcomes of the Lesson Studies of all team members and the case pupils (around whom the research lessons were designed). We expect that class teachers will enhance their professional knowledge/practice and self efficacy, the neuropsychologists will learn about translation issues and perhaps derive new ideas for basic research, the mathematics educators develop their understanding of the relationship between theory and practice in professional learning and the pupils have positive learning outcomes.

The outcomes of these two Lesson Study will provide the basis for further larger scale projects using this novel form of Lesson Study with other forms of knowledge translation in mathematics and other areas of education.