Scientific Learning

SYNAPSE introduces seven steps proven to help students manage attention, complexity, cognitive load, sleep, and stress.


A neuroscientist turned full-time educator, Christine Marshall works to build translational bridges between the field of cognitive science and her students. She designed a co-curriculum on learning and memory and worked with students and colleagues to embed these lessons into core biology courses at Andover. This spring, she launched a new interdisciplinary science elective, "The Neurobiology of Learning, Memory and Sleep." Marshall is currently measuring outcomes of her curriculum, using a novel assessment instrument she developed with outside collaborators and support from the Tang Institute.

The overarching goal of her research is to nurture specific attitudes and behaviors that promote academic maturation in our students, while strengthening their love of learning. Teaching students the neurobiology and cognitive psychology of learning, and strategies for proactively managing their attention, cognitive load, sleep and recall is central to this effort.


Before students can effectively integrate knowledge about the science of learning into their studies, they must become open to the idea of changing their current habits. To achieve this, Marshall introduces what she calls “Scientific Learning“ to her students, in which they apply the scientific method to their own study practices and habits of mind.

“We are all scientific learners,” said Marshall. “A continuous cycle of informing, experimenting, and reflecting fuels each baby step during our early years. Yet our learning behaviors tend to change as we grow older, when more of the information we learn is imparted with less experimentation or discovery. Students who re-engage their scientific learning roots are often the happiest and most effective lifelong learners.”

The seven steps of SYNAPSE are based upon this belief, inspired by the fundamentals of neuroscience and Christine’s work with students in the classroom.

"At Andover, we ask our students to work at the leading edge of their ability, stretching their way through higher levels of disciplines and deliberately adopting new practices and habits of mind. SYNAPSE is a fun way for students to learn about different learning strategies, coming away with a more nimble stance towards learning and positive view of their potential."

Christine Marshall Instructor in Biology, Tang Institute Fellow


Christine Marshall collaborated with educational psychologist Samuel T. Moulton, PhD and members of the Library/Institutional Research teams to develop a novel instrument for assessing outcomes from the science of learning curriculum. A synthesis of existing and novel surveys, the instrument was designed to be content-independent and to assess three aspects of learning behavior:

  • Scientific Literacy: attitudes, enjoyment and valuation of science
  • Scientific Learning: experimentation with learning strategies and reflection

The Seven Steps of SYNAPSE


Reduce the process to its core elements.


“Yes!” Activate your growth mindset.


Convert what you’re learning into a story.


Connect new ideas to what you already know.


Relate what you’ve learned to your own life.


Say YES to sleep.


Apply your new knowledge to real situations.

Share SYNAPSE with your students

Find TED-Ed Lessons using SYNAPSE