What is Thinking Science?

Thinking Science is an evidence-based, two-year intervention program consisting of 30 lessons designed to accelerate learners’ cognitive function.

Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education, or CASE, was developed in the UK and was originally designed to accelerate students’ level of thinking so that they would be better able to cope with the demands of the science curriculum. The evidence base for Thinking Science shows a noticeable improvement in students’ ability, not only in science but also in English and mathematics (Gordon et al 2013, Adey & Shayer 1994).

As well as improving cognitive ability, Thinking Science allows students to gain an appreciation for the phenomena of science, a practical understanding of concrete concepts and improved confidence and participation due to its carefully planned delivery and reasoning patterns which are liked to Piagetian cognitive levels.

The Thinking Science program is built around five core principles (Adey et al 1995), which are embedded into each lesson as set phases:

Concrete preparation. Involves the teacher establishing familiarity for the students so that they can consider and negotiate any associated ideas and terminology needed to understand the challenge presented in the lesson.

Cognitive conflict. Students’ reasoning is stimulated by the addition of a surprising or dissonant observation during the challenges of the lesson. Students form expectations through the early stages of an activity, or from previous learning and the surprise of the unexpected observation – the cognitive conflict – is a key part to every lesson in Thinking Science.

Social construction. From their experiences leaners actively process information to form their own understanding. This is called ‘construction’. Thinking Science emphasises the shared development of explanations and understandings about the challenges and potential solutions. Teachers play a role in asking questions of students but not offering solutions.

Metacognition. Students reflect on their thinking and articulate the approaches taken to problem solving. This stage enables students to find out about other ways of thinking and evaluating.

Bridging. Involves the student and teacher working together to apply the ideas developed in the lesson to other problems in the real world. Associated science lessons can be used to help reinforce and remind students about the range of problem solving strategies and ways of thinking that they have developed.

Thinking Science lessons are usually delivered over two years when students are between the ages of 11 and 13. The lessons have been developed around specific reasoning patterns (or schemata) addressed through the activities including controlling variables, ratio and proportionality, compensation and equilibrium to analyse process, using correlation, probability, classification, formal models of thinking and compound variables. Lessons spiral through increasing levels of complexity related to the reasoning patterns and many teachers report the effective sequencing of the lessons (Dullard & Oliver 2012).

The delivery of Thinking Science lessons is crucial to the program’s success and a significant amount of work has been done to develop a model of professional learning for teachers (Adey 2006, Adey et al 2004).

The professional learning is scheduled over six days throughout the two-year program with specific goals for each day. It addresses technical questions about the lessons, gives teachers the opportunity to try out the lessons, review and become familiar with the theory behind the lessons and review their own school’s progress and consider steps for moving the program forward.

In Australia, the Thinking Science program is gathering momentum, with a large research project being carried out at the University of Western Australia (Dullard & Oliver 2012, Oliver et al 2012).

In Queensland, Cognitive Architecture is taking a lead role in the growing network of Thinking Science schools and supports the network by coordinating professional learning days, mentoring teachers and supporting technicians and by maintaining the program’s online presence.


Adey, P. & Shayer, M. (1994) Really raising standards: Cognitive intervention and academic achievement. London: Routledge.

Adey, P. (2006) A model for the professional development of teachers of thinking. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 1(1), 49-56.

Adey, P., Hewitt, G., Hewitt, J. & Landau, N. (2004) The professional development of teachers: Practice and theory. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Adey, P., Shayer, M. & Yates, C. (1995) Thinking Science: Student and teachers’ materials for the CASE intervention. Second edition. London: Nelson.

Dullard, H. & Oliver, M.C. (2012) ‘I can feel it making my brain bigger’: Thinking Science Australia. Teaching Science 58(2), 7-11.

Gordon, N., Smith, T. & Oliver, M.C. (2013) Thinking Science in the Smart State. Queensland Science Teacher, 39(1), 4-7.

Oliver, M.C., Venville, G. & Adey, P. (2012) Effects of a cognitive acceleration programme in a low socioeconomic high school in regional Australia. International Journal of Science Education, 34(9), 1393-1410.