ModAnnie: Welcome to the first chat for Factors Affecting Learning! While we wait for the first questions, how about everyone briefly introduces themselves and their expertise?
Victoria: I’m a post-doc at York where I work on language development and the role that sleep plays in the consolidation of new language.
Jessica: Hi everyone! I’m a faculty member at Sussex. My research focuses on how children figure out what words mean and what we can do to help them remember them. I use a lot of illustrated storybooks in my research. @Victoria sleep is SOOOO important. I was able to include it as a factor in a study once. So interesting so see how it has such big effects on what children learn.
Catherine: Hi everyone, I’m a post-doc in Cambridge and study physical activity interventions among adolescents.
Annie: @Jessica Did you manipulate sleep or measure the amount of sleep children were already getting? What did you find?
Jessica: @modannie We read stories to 3yr children before they took naps (or stayed awake), then tested them on how many of the key words in the stories they could remember. We found that those who napped afterwords remembered significantly more even when we made. This was the case even when we checked on their memory 1 week later. But we didn’t manipulate their sleep per se.
ModAnnie: @Jessica That is very impressive!
Teensleep: Hi Everyone, we are post-docs at the University of Oxford working on sleep in adolescents and how improving sleep can improve academic achievement, health and well-being. We have just finished piloting our teacher-led sleep education programme.
Jessica: @Teensleep Team That sounds like a really exciting pilot!
Teensleep: Thanks Jessica. Its A LOT of data but we have some great objective and subjective measures of sleep!
Victoria: @Teensleep Could you tell us about your measures?
Teensleep: @Victoria Sure. All students completed the programme (modified CBTi) and completed a survey pre/post with the Kidscreen 27, Sleep Condition Indicator, Adolescent Sleep Hygiene Scale, Cleveland Adolescent Sleepiness Questionnaire, and Munich Chronotype. A subset of 15/20 students per school wore an actiwatch and completed a sleep diary for 2 weeks pre and post.
ModAnnie: @Teensleep Team Can you tell us a bit about what the programme involves?
Teensleep: @modannie its a teacher led, ten lesson (30min) sleep education package for year 10s. Theres a half day training session, teacher and student work books, parent leaflets, and powerpoints. Its 3 lessons on the science of sleep, 4 on sleep hygiene (behaviours conducive to good sleep) practices, and 3 lessons on relaxation tools and making a bedtime routine
Victoria: @Teensleep, I’m really interested in the extent to which educational research can ethically intervene in things that happen at home, like sleep quality. Do you have thoughts on this?
TeenSleep: @Victoria That’s a great question. The body of literature on the relationship between learning/cognitive function and exercise/physical activity is quite young. Ethically we are providing advice to parents on what might help sleep and knowledge to the students about sleep. I think in this case its about recognising all we can do re the home environment as sleep researchers is simply give advice.
Catherine: @Victoria I just did a quick pubmed search and it doesn’t look like there are enough high quality studies published for us to conclude if there’s a dose-response relationship yet. In terms of type of activity – there’s a hypothesis that activities which promote mindfulness and concentration (e.g., martial arts, yoga) might demonstrate stronger associations with learning/cognitive function. But there isn’t enough evidence to confirm/refute that hypothesis yet.
Victoria: @Jessica, do you have any thoughts on time of day effects for children’s learning? Some studies seem to suggest that learning closer to bed time means sleep can boost learning more effectively, but I’m sure most teachers would say their children are more attentive in the morning.
Jessica: @Victoria Yes, I’ve seen that too. There is some evidence that learning before bed can be good/more effective and my own work on learning daytime naps (and there is some adult work before naps). I guess for kids a bit before bedtime is good, but they do need to wind down. I don’t know much about that as a researcher (just as a parent).
TeenSleep: @Jessica We agree with a wind down! We advise a wind down of 60-90 minutes before sleep!
Jessica: @Teensleep Team Oh wow, even up to 90? I think of 60, but feel like it’s not enough. So that’s usefl to hear.
Victoria: @Jessica, we’ve really struggled to replicate these time of day effects, but I wonder if they’re stronger in your samples with younger children?
Jessica: @Victoria They could be. Perhaps a meta analysis on that could shed some light on things? I know there was a recent meta analysis by Anna Weighall and her collaborators, but they only included their studies (it was in a box as part of a larger review).
ModAnnie: @Teensleep Team What kind of activities count as winding down?
TeenSleep: @modannie, winding down activities would include reading (so long as it’s not too gory), music (so long as it’s not too rocking) and conversation, but nothing that involves a screen or caffeine!
ModAnnie: @Teensleep Team @Victoria Those are the things I aim to do before bed, but I have a terrible habit of eating right before bed which I’m guessing is not a good thing!
TeenSleep: @modannie @victoria we also including a breathing/imagery/muscle relaxation activities.We got our students to create their own schedule around their own sleep timings, we did stipulate a phone to silent activity! Eating is a tricky one. You shouldn’t go to bed hungry yet digestion can keep us awake. We advise light snacks if needed that include a protein and low GI carbohydrate (peanut butter on oatcakes)
ModAnnie: @Teensleep Team Do you think that students are interested and taking the messages on board? My understanding is that you originally wanted to change school times to help students get more sleep that way, but this way means you need to persuade the student
TeenSleep: @modannie the students in our focus groups were very interested and engaged with the lessons (we did revise the lessons with students in a feasibility). We are still under embargo but do have some evidence that Teensleep might be helpful. We do still want to look at countering the biological delay in adolescents in a different way to delaying the school start time (which we found to be unfeasible in the UK as an RCT)
ModAnnie: @Teensleep Team Good to hear that they were interested in the information. In what other way could you counter the biological delay?
Victoria: @modannie, I think this is a really tricky one because actually the biggest impacts on learning that educational neuroscience studies see tend to be things like sleep, diet, stress, things that are about whether children turn up to school ready to learn.
ModAnnie: @Victoria Yes, and I’m fascinated by this study in the US where they’re giving families money as an intervention.
Victoria: @ModAnnie but by focusing on changing those things we’re taking changes to educational practice out of the classroom and into the home. In terms of stress, I read about a US school district that installed washing machines so kid (teens?) could wash their clothes at school and that really boosted attendance.
ModAnnie: @Victoria I guess that makes sense if those are the things that will have the biggest impact
TeenSleep: @modannie predominantly using light as a sleep tool. However, there is very little evidence out there about how much light is needed and the timing of light in this population
ModAnnie: @Catherine What are the key findings from your research on physical activity in teens? Does it seem to improve attainment?
Catherine: @modannie We’ve just finished some feasibility and pilot work trialling an active lessons intervention in secondary school students. It was beyond the scope of this feasibility and pilot work to test effectiveness on learning, however, previous studies show active lessons improve academic achievement among primary school children.
ModAnnie:@Catherine What’s the next step in your research?
Catherine: @modannie The feasibility and pilot work helped us identify aspects of the active lessons teacher training programme which require review. In general we demonstrated feasibility and acceptability of the intervention, but there are some components which require further pilot testing before progressing to a full trial.
ModAnnie: It sounds promising!
Jessica: @Pete I’m not familiar with your work (yet). But I have a 6yo who does love screens (in moderation). What are your big take aways?
Victoria: Ah, hi @Pete, I wrote some neuro-hit or neuro-myth articles for the Centre for Educational Neuroscience website and the effects of video games was something that I knew nothing about going in and was really interested by all the research in your area.
Pete: @Jessica I think you’ve already said it – everything in moderation. To be honest, there isn’t much in the way of good scientific work in the area at the moment. Just lots of scaremongering in the media.
Jessica: @Pete There definitely is a lot of that! I have included a couple studies about skype and eBooks in my lectures, but there isn’t a lot yet. That’s exciting though, because that means you can have a lot of influence on your niche.
ModAnnie: @all Does anyone have any take-away messages for teachers? They will be able to read the transcript online at a later date, so would be great to get any tips in. I suppose most of your research focuses on things that teachers might be able to tell student
Victoria: My take away for teachers reading this would be that what you’re doing is brilliant; all of the factors that affect learning that we’re talking about happen through you and with you!
TeenSleep: Although our programme is only for research at the moment we did work with Oxford Sparks (public engagement and science outreach). Oxford Sparks has a section called “”What makes you tick”” which includes videos and lesson plans for a range of ages around sleep
Catherine: My takeaway would be that there’s a growing body of research supporting the use of ‘active lessons’ among primary school students for improving academic achievement, lesson enjoyment and physical activity. Active lessons are when activity is used to support the delivery of academic material (instead of kids spending all of lesson sat down). Free resources for active lesson ideas can be found here: https://tagtiv8.com/super-movers-playing-big-boys-girls/
ModAnnie: Thanks everyone. I think the great thing about this area of research is that even if there is little impact on learning, having healthy sleep / diet / exercise etc is good for you
Jessica: Great link
Victoria: That’s a really useful resource, thank you
ModAnnie: Thanks @all very much for coming along to the chat, and engaging in conversation. It’s been really interesting and I’m sure teachers will be interested to read up on what happened (when the sun has gone in).