Using cognitive science to improve STEM teaching is conference focus, Sept. 27-28

Developing new and innovative approaches for the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is the primary goal of an interdisciplinary conference to be held Sept. 27-28 at the Charles F. Knight Executive Education & Conference Center at Washington University in St. Louis.

Titled “Integrating Cognitive Science With Innovative Teaching in STEM Disciplines,” the conference is sponsored by the Center for Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning and Education (CIRCLE) and the Provost’s Office at Washington University with funding from the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

This conference aims to bring together educators and researchers from a variety of disciplines, including education, psychology, cognitive science and all STEM fields to stimulate interdisciplinary conversation and collaboration. The primary goal of the conference is to develop and evaluate innovations in STEM pedagogy.

The conference will include presentations on developing and evaluating educational innovations by more than a dozen experts drawn from the cognitive sciences as well as physics, chemistry, biology and engineering. Roundtable sessions will synthesize the current state of knowledge on STEM education, identify issues in need of further research, encourage further development of an evidence-based framework for STEM education, and encourage the integration of ideas and collaborative efforts across disciplines.


The conference registration reached capacity and is closed, but sessions will be recorded and streamed online for those interested in learning more about the conference presentations.

The conference begins at 9 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, with opening remarks from the university’s chancellor, Mark S. Wrighton, and a greeting from CIRCLE co-directors Mark McDaniel and Gina Frey.

McDaniel, PhD, professor of psychology in Arts &
Sciences, studies memory and education as director of the university’s
Memory and Complex Learning Laboratory.

Frey, PhD, executive director of The Teaching Center at the university and a professor of the practice in chemistry in Arts & Sciences, investigates the effectiveness of STEM pedagogies, with an emphasis on active-learning methods.


More information and a preliminary program agenda are available on the conference website or by contacting Mike Cahill, PhD, a research scientist and project manager at CIRCLE at (314) 935-8809 or

CIRCLE is designed to provide a bridge between Washington University faculty and researchers in cognitive and learning sciences to facilitate collaborative projects that improve student learning.

It fosters the implementation of innovations in teaching across the university, including those that apply research from the cognitive and learning sciences; supports research to evaluate the effectiveness of these innovations for enhancing student learning and retention of knowledge; and disseminates the results of these classroom-based evaluations using experimental methods to the Washington University community and beyond.

Current projects include analyzing the effect of learning approaches and active-learning strategies in introductory science courses at Washington University.

The Learning Approaches in General Chemistry project asks whether a more theory-based or conceptual student learning approach relates to higher performance in introductory chemistry courses at Washington University and six other universities as part of a LUCE consortium grant.

The Active Physics project investigates the differences between the traditional lecture-based sequence and a more active-learning-based sequence for introductory physics at Washington University.

CIRCLE also is consulting with faculty in engineering, business and medicine to develop future collaborative projects.

For more information on these projects, visit the CIRCLE website at