Using Cognitive Science to Improve K12 Education

Photo by Uriel SC on Unsplash

I will be honest, I’ve always been a crammer. I got through high school and college by doing as little as I could to get through the classes that didn’t really matter. That mostly meant quickly memorizing everything I could in the couple days before a test. Sometimes that worked and sometimes it didn’t.

As a Neuroscience student I got very good at, for instance, quickly memorizing the anatomical structure of different parts of the brain, but this also led to some mistakes in classes that I wasn’t invested in. …


Every year, Americans spend more on lotteries than they do on music, movies, sporting events, and books combined. Despite all the odds, it’s seen by many as a viable form of savings.

As a math teacher, I don’t know how to process that. The expected return is basically zero yet so many of us are still tricked into funding it. The real problem, though, is that the majority of people who frequently participate in the lottery are from the lowest levels of education and socioeconomic status (tend to come from the bottom 20%).

It’s a tax on people who don’t…


How a focus on easily measured success may miss the point

In 2015 I co-founded a nonprofit to combat food insecurity. Since then we’ve grown into a full 501c 3, we’ve fed a lot of food insecure people within our community, and we’ve figured out ways to sustainably build food pharmacies and food cooperatives. We have supported the health of thousands of members and we’ve saved them thousands of dollars.

Yet…one article by the effective altruism organization givewell has made me not only reconsider the entire mission of organization, but also whether we have really accomplished anything.

For those unfamiliar with effective altruism, it is a philosophical approach to philanthropy that…


Why Keeping Teachers in Schools for the Long-term is so Important

No matter what, education is centrally about improving student outcomes. We do a lot to try and maximize that, but many of our policies end up having unintended negative consequences. In particular, many of our school improvement policies can make teacher lives so miserable that it can often be difficult to retain teachers.

In Nashville alone, most under performing schools are lucky to keep teachers for an entire school year. Frequently, teachers will leave in the middle of the semester which results in students being taught by long-term substitute teachers who don’t actually teach. This all leads to a sense…


The short answers are culture and choice

There was a period in the 2000’s when we thought that Khan Academy was going to save education. To anyone without teaching experience it makes a lot of sense. Khan Academy provided better and more concise explanations of math and science problems than most teachers could, and it provided them for free and online.

Millions of internet connected kids could arguably get better instruction from Khan than what they got at their own school. And, no doubt, Khan Academy has had a tremendous impact on education — I used it growing up and I still refer students to it as…


Many Americans Don’t Know Enough Math To Understand Coronavirus

My life is split into 2 parts. One side of my life is spent at home and on the computer. I write and I read a lot. My social media feed and my social life is made up of mainly educated folks. The other part of my life is spent as a math teacher. I teach geometry in an urban high school.

When I’m around friends and writing on the internet, I take it for granted that everyone will understand me when I’m talking about probabilities and basic numeracy. …


As a teacher I’m told a lot of stories about how education works and how we are going to fix it. We tell the stories because they give us easy-to-understand enemies along with optimistic explanations of our problems. But these stories are not often based in evidence. And when they aren’t clearly wrong, they are much more complicated than the stories on the ground. I’m going to try to collect the stories I’m told and do my best to show why they are probably wrong or at least not clearly right.

1. The US spends a lot on education

Spending is the guiding principle for how most people…


Or different ways to help students be more rational

This is an idea that I frequently talk about to students and colleagues that I stole from Tyler Cowen who may have stole it from someone else. It goes along with a lot of how I’ve been thinking about improving rationality through culture rather than education. In other words, it’s very difficult to increase a student’s raw ability to better solve problems, so a possibly more effective way for improving rationality is to incentivize students to adopt common rational decision-making heuristics through the norms and culture of a school.


We have built our entire education system on standardized testing. It would seem like we should have a lot of the details for testing figured out. However (and without going into too much of the messy details) there’s a lot we just don’t quite understand. in particular I can’t find any research beyond basic surveys that tries to assess what the optimal testing schedule is. The best I can find is some pretty vague surveys (summarized in this article) that basically just say that teachers, students, and parents think there is too much testing. …


Prices have gone up 200% in 20 years, we need to find a new way forward

For me the beginning of every semester in college went the same way. I would get a list of textbooks from my syllabi. I’d spend hundreds of dollars chasing after used versions of the books, and then, for the most part, I’d barely use the books. Sometimes that was just due to my laziness, but oftentimes the professor would just end up not using it, choosing to instead focus course content on their slideshows despite the fact that they “required” the textbook.

https://www.mercatus.org/system/files/helland-tabarrok_why-are-the-prices-so-damn-high_v2.pdf

Now I won’t pretend like that is representative of every college student, but I suspect that sort of…

Corey Keyser

Math Teacher writing on Philosophy and Policy and Science and Education and Other Things. coreykeyser@gmail.com

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