Syllabus GDP2 CogMaster, ENS 2015-2016

Syllabus 2015-2016

Course Information 

GDP2 - Education, cognition, and the brain 
Advanced - M1, M2
Classes/ hours
13 classes X 2H = 26H (including final evaluation)
A strong interest for interdisciplinary and applicative research in cognitive science
Class attendance is mandatory
Ens Salle Prestige 
ground fl.
29, rue d'Ulm 75005 Paris
Days and hours
1st semester 
Thursday – 17h00-19h00 
1/10/2015 to 14/01/2015
  • Daniel Andler, SND, Groupe Compas
Office location 1: Maison de l’homme - rue Serpente 75006 – 1st fl /Office location 2: 29, rue d’Ulm 75005 – Institut d’étude de la cognition, 3rd fl
  • Roberto Casati, CNRS Research Director, Institut Jean Nicod, EHESS, ENS, CNRS
Office location: Institut Jaan Nicod 29, rue d’Ulm 75005 – Institut d’étude de la cognition, Pavillon Jardin, 1st fl
  • Elena Pasquinelli, PhD, Fondation La main à la pate
Institut Jean Nicod (Associate member)
Office location: Fondation La Main à la pâte – 43, rue de Rennes 75006 Paris



This course explores the impact of cognitive studies on education. It proposes a cognitive approach to the understanding of educational issues, such as learning, learning difficulties, teaching, education technologies. 

It introduces the research on the learning mechanisms and their neural underpinning, literacy, numeracy, learning disabilities and difficulties. It analyses the use of evidence in the shaping of educational interventions. 
It examines general problems raised by applied research in science.

Education can be considered as an exemplary case study for reflecting on the opportunities, limits, conditions and issues of the translation of basic research into practical applications. Education is also an ideal arena for ecological studies in cognitive science, and an opportunity for broadening the view of basic research.

The course is composed of 3 thematic slots, respectively dedicated the exploration of learning processes and mechanisms, teaching and education, the nature and problems related to the research in the field of cognition and education.


Students will learn to identify potential epistemological, ethical and pragmatic issues arising from the encounter between education and the study of the mind and brain.
  • They will develop their own reflection for addressing ethical and epistemological issues arising from the application of cognitive sciences to domains of social interest
  • They will enhance their critical thinking and communication skills by analyzing ongoing debates (mandatory readings) and presenting their reflections during class discussions.
  • They will learn about recent developments in cognitive sciences with potential applications to education and other domains of social interest.

Course mechanics

  1. 1. Class attendance is mandatory. Students are expected to attend no less than 80% of the classes in order to validate their course. 
  2. 2. Preparatory work is assigned before each class. Students send their assignments to the instructors, via email,  at the latest 24 hours before the corresponding class (English and French accepted). Late submissions will not be taken into account (subject of the email: gdp2_lessonX_name). 
  3. 3. At the end of the course, a workshop on open issues takes place, organized by the students, and to which all the students participate. Each student prepares a written work. The written work is sent to the instructors 2 weeks before the workshop and orally presented to the rest of the class during the workshop.

Course assessment

The final grade is expressed in X/20. The students’ progression in the objectives stated above and participation to the course is assessed through the evaluation of 2 kinds of productions:

  1. 1. Preparatory work for each class. 1 point is assigned for each completed assignment (10 points max). 
  2. 2. Written work for the workshop and and its oral presentation (10 points max).

Useful Readings (can be taken at any moment of the course)



1. October 1, 2015
D. Andler, R. Casati, E. Pasquinelli - Cognitive studies meet education: Introduction

- Introducing and mapping the field of mind, brain and education, 
- Drawing the perimeter of the field, briefly retracing the history of the encounter between mind-brain studies and education, presenting different positions and the actors of the field, including neuroeducation and evolutionary approaches to the understanding of education
- Presenting the approaches of evidence-based education and translational research, as well as the specificity of the cognitive approach to the understanding of educational issues

Homework (after the course): 
Make a list of educational topics, issues, questions, for which cognitive science research can be relevant. Send your list to the instructors 24h before class 2.

2. October 8, 2015
F. Ramus - The learning brain: Reading

This course will cover:

- The cognitive and neural bases of reading acquisition 

-       Methods to teach to read

- Experimental evaluations of methods 

- Interventions for poor readers.

Homework (in preparation for the course): Send 2 questions relative to the mandatory readings

3. October 15, 2015
M. Piazza* – The learning brain: Math

The scope of the lesson is to give students the ability to deepen their knowledge of the cognitive and neural basis of a fundamental cultural acquisition, that of numerical cognition. The course will tackle the cognitive primitives (start-up tools) in numerical abilities, with a particular emphasis on the developmental aspects, both phylogenetic and ontogenetic. We will construct arguments on the basis of research coming from different domains of cognitive neuroscience, such as that of neuropsychology, neurophysiology, and psychophysics, on both humans and non-human animals.

Homework (in preparation for the course): Send 1 question for each of the 2 mandatory readings
  1. Dehaene, S. & Cohen, L. (2007) Cultural recycling of cortical maps. Neuron, 56, 384-398.
  2. Piazza, et al. (2013). Education enhances the acuity of the nonverbal approximate number system. Psychological science, 24, 6, 1037 1043.

4. October 22, 2015
C. Huron – Les troubles spécifiques de l’apprentissage: le cas de la dyspraxie

Le but du cours est de décrire l’état de la recherche sur la dyspraxie, son impact, les méthodes de rémédiation et contournement. La dyspraxie développementale est un trouble des apprentissages spécifiques au même titre que la dyslexie. Selon Stamback (1962) « il s’agit d’enfants d’intelligence normale, ayant une relative facilité dans le domaine du langage mais présentant par ailleurs des difficultés importantes sur le plan moteur et de l’organisation spatiale » 

Homework (in preparation for the course): Send 1 question for each of the 2 mandatory readings

1. Caroline Jolly, Caroline Huron, Jean-Michel Albaret, and Edouard Gentaz. Analyse comparative des traces de lettres cursives d une enfant atteinte dun trouble dacquisition de la coordination et scolarisee en CP avec ceux d enfants ordinaires de GM et de CP. Psychologie Francaise, 55:145-70, 2010. [PDF]


5. November 5, 2015
G. Borst – The executive brain

The scope of the lesson is to introduce students to executive functions, and in particular to 

-       inhibitory control, 
- its neural underpinnings at the level of the prefrontal cortex
- its role in typical school tasks, such as reading, mathematics, and reasoning. 
- The executive ability remains critical throughout the whole life and even adults may sometimes need “prefrontal pedagogy” in order to learn inhibiting intuitive heuristics (or biases) in deductive reasoning tasks.

Homework (in preparation for the course): Send 1 question for each of the 2 mandatory readings
  1. Houdé, O., & Borst, G. (2014). Measuring inhibitory control in children and adults: brain imaging and mental chronometry. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 616. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00616
  2. Borst, G.*, Cachia, A.*, Vidal., J., Simon, G., Fischer, C., Pineau, A., Poirel, N., Mangin, J.-F., & Houdé, O. (2014). Folding of the anterior cingulate cortex partially explains inhibitory control during childhood: A longitudinal study. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 9, 126-135.
6. November 12, 2015
J.P. Lachaux* – The attentive brain

The course will cover attention, its exogenous and endogenous triggers

- the neural underpinnings of attention 
- the development of training sessions and pedagogical interventions for helping students to attain more optimal attentional states
- the specificities of translational research in the domain of attention and education.

Homework (in preparation for the course): Send 1 question for each of the 2 mandatory readings/videos
  1. Petersen, S. E., & Posner, M. I. (2012). The Attention System of the Human Brain: 20 Years After. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 35, 73–89. doi:10.1146/annurev-neuro-062111-150525
  2. Lachaux, J.P., Jerbi, K., Bertrand, O., Minotti, L., Hoffmann, D., Schoendorff, B., and Kahane, P. (2007). A blueprint for real-time functional mapping via human intracranial recordings. PLoS One 2, e1094. pdf
  3. Have a look at:

7. November 19, 2015
F. Ramus – Nature and nurture in education

The course aims at introducing the nature/nurture debate

- the genetic influences on cognitive abilities, 
- the brain is plastic: so what?
- the interactions between genetic and environmental factors in respect to major cognitive abilities
- neurogenetics and education: ethical and theoretical issues.

Homework (in preparation for the course): Send 1 question for each of the  2 mandatory readings
  1. Shakeshaft NG, Trzaskowski M, McMillan A, Rimfeld K, Krapohl E, et al. (2013) Strong Genetic Influence on a UK Nationwide Test of Educational Achievement at the End of Compulsory Education at Age 16. PLoS ONE 8(12): e80341. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0080341
  2. Chapter 1 Genetics, school, and learning of the following: Asbury, K. & Plomin, R. (2013). G is for Genes: The impact of genetics on education and achievement. Wiley-Blackwell

8. November 26, 2015
E. Pasquinelli – Neuromyths & other ethical issues in education

Discussing ethical and epistemological issues raised by the encounter between cognitive science and education, namely: 
  • the neuroscientific literacy of teachers
  • neuromyths, why they do exist and persist
  • how are neuromyths revealed
  • how to fight against their diffusion, and why
  • other neuroethical issues in education.
Homework (in preparation for the course): Send 1 question for each of the 3 mandatory readings
  1. Dekker, S.J., Lee, N.C., Howard-Jones, P. & Jolles, J. (2012). Neuromyths in education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 1-8. 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00429
  2. Willingham, D. (2009). Three problems in the marriage of neuroscience and education. Cortex (Elsevier Science) 45 (4): 544–545 
  3. Farah, M. (2002). Emerging Ethical Issues in Neuroscience, Nature Neuroscience, 5, 11, 1123-1129.

9. December 3, 2015
D. Andler – Cognitive science, education, real life: can they truly connect?

The basic rationale of bringing cognitive science to bear on education is that education is mostly a matter of learning, while learning is a psychological-cum-neuronal process, so that the science in charge of psychological-cum-neuronal mechanisms, viz. cognitive science, cannot fail to be of critical relevance to education.  Now this raises a series of conceptual issues that the students will be invited to debate.

Homework (in preparation for the course): Send 1 question for each of the 3 mandatory readings
  1. Carr, David, "The goals of education", in J. Arthur & I. Davies, eds., The Routledge Education Studies Textbook, Routledge, 2010
  2. John White, "Intrinsic aims", in J. White, ed., The Aims of Education Restated, Routledge, 1982, rééd. 2012
  3. Brooks, David, "Communities of character", International New York Times, 27 nov. 2015

10. December 10, 2015
R. Casati – Good design (for technologies) in education

Discussing the role of "smart objects" and graphic representations in facilitating learning, thinking, memorizing
  • low tech vs high-tech solutions that do not address real problems
  • how to favor conceptual change through education

Homework (in preparation for the course): Send 1 question for each of the 2 mandatory readings

1.Students, computers and learning. Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA OECD) 2015 (assignment: Executive Summary and Section 8)
2. Ferris Jabr, The reading brain in the digital age. Sci Am, apr 2013

11. December 17, 2015
Participation to the workshop on “The cognitive underpinnings of the teaching brain”
Students are invited to assist to the conference “The cognitive underpinnings of the teaching brain”.

Gaining perspectives on a new field of research – teaching as a cognitive ability - that brings together cognitive, developmental, evolutionary and comparative psychology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, cognitive anthropology, pedagogy. 

Homework (in preparation for the course): Send 1 question for each of the 2 mandatory readings
  1. Skerry et al. (2013). The origins of pedagogy : Developmental and evolutionary perspectives. Evolutionary psychology, 11, 3, 550-572
  2. Strauss, S., Calero, C., Sigman, M. (2014). Teaching, naturally, Trends in neuroscience and education, 3, 2, 38-43. 


12. January 7, 2015 - Students' Workshop

13. January 14, 2015 - Students' Workshop


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