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Michelle Ellefson

Position/Status

  • University Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Education
  • Course Manager: Education Tripos
  • Bye-Fellow and Director of Studies in Education for Gonville and Caius College
  • External Director of Studies in Education for Emmanuel College

Websites

E-mail Address

mre33@cam.ac.uk

Phone

(+44) 01223 767684

Qualifications

  • PhD in Brain and Cognitive Sciences (Southern Illinois University)
  • MA in Brain and Cognitive Sciences (Southern Illinois University)
  • BA in Psychology, summa cum laude (University of Minnesota)

Membership of Professional Bodies/Associations

  • Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD)
  • Association for Psychological Science (APS)
  • Cognitive Science Society
  • The Psychonomic Society
  • Women in Cognitive Science (WiCS)

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Profile

Michelle Ellefson convenes the INSTRUCT Research Group (Implementing New Student and Teaching Resources Using Cognitive Theory). Michelle has scientific interests in cognition, neuroscience, child development, and education, integrating them into a multi-disciplinary research programme aimed at improving math and science education. Using an iterative process, she pairs laboratory based research with classroom learning and curriculum development in order to better understand mechanisms responsible for cognitive development and to leverage that understanding to improve educational practice. Her current research projects focus on the role of executive functions in school achievement and how children's reasoning about causes and effects impacts how they think about scientific phenomena. In addition, she is applying specific cognitive principles to classroom learning, including simplicity and desirable difficulties. Initially trained in developmental cognitive neuroscience, her interests in improving cognitive outcomes for all children have inspired her to reach beyond this foundational training to develop her integrative, multi-disciplinary approach that informs both school practice and theoretical accounts of cognitive development.

Academic Area/Links

Psychology & Education


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Research Topics

  • Applications of cognitive science/neuroscience to improved educational practice
  • Executive functions
  • Task switching
  • Causal reasoning
  • Scientific reasoning
  • Science education

Prospective PhD Applications

Michelle would welcome informal contact from prospective PhD students on any of the research topics mentioned above.

Current Research Projects

  • Task switching and executive functions in maths and reading achievement
  • Causal reasoning in chemistry and biology
  • Development of executive function abilities in children and adolescents
  • Executive function intervention programmes for older children
  • Applications of the simplicity principle in classroom learning
  • Evaluating causal efficacy: children and adults, novices and experts
  • Design-based (or inquiry-based) learning for science education

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Course Involvement

  • Postgraduate
    • PhD / EdD supervisor
    • MPhil / MEd supervisor
    • MPhil/MEd (Psychology and Education): Quantitative data analysis, cognition and cognitive development, project supervision
    • MPhil (Educational Research): Quantitative data analysis
    • PGCE lecturer
  • Undergraduate
    • Course Manager: Education Tripos
    • Director of Studies for Gonville and Caius College
    • External Director of Studies for Emmanuel College
    • Lectures on cognitive development, language development, social development, and quantitative data analysis
    • R and I project supervisor
    • INT1 and INT2 project supervisor

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Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Hughes, P.W., and Ellefson, M.R. (2013). Inquiry-based training improves teaching effectiveness of biology teaching assistants. PLOS one, 8: e78540.

Apedoe, X.A., Ellefson, M.R., and Schunn, C.D. (2012). Learning together while designing: Does group size make a difference? Journal of Science Education and Technology, 21, 83-94.

Vousden, J.I., Ellefson, M.R., Solity, J., and Chater, N. (2011). Simplifying reading: Applying the simplicity principle to reading. Cognitive Science, 35, 34-78.

Ellefson, M.R., Treiman, R., and Kessler, B. (2009). Learning to label letters by sounds or names: A comparison of England and the United States. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology , 102, 323-341.

Apedoe, X.A., Reynolds, B., Ellefson, M.R., and Schunn, C.D. (2008). Bringing engineering design into high school science classrooms: The heating/cooling unit. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 17, 454-465.

Ellefson, M.R., Brinker, R.A., Vernacchio, V.J., and Schunn, C.D. (2008). Design-based learning for biology: Genetic engineering experience improves understanding of gene expression. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 36, 292-298.

Young, M.E., Wasserman, E.A., and Ellefson, M.R. (2007). A theory of variability discrimination: Finding differences. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 14, 805-822.

Ellefson, M.R., Shapiro, L.R., and Chater, N. (2006). Asymmetrical switch costs in children. Cognitive Development, 21, 108-130.

Christiansen, M.H., Conway, C.M., and Ellefson, M.R. (2003). Raising the bar for connectionist modeling of developmental disorders. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25, 752-753.

Young, M.E., and Ellefson, M.R. (2003). The joint contributions of shape and color to variability discrimination. Learning and Motivation, 34, 52-67.

Young, M.E., Ellefson, M.R., and Wasserman, E.A. (2003). Toward a theory of variability discrimination: Finding differences. Behavioural Processes, 62, 145-155.

Molfese, D.L., and Ellefson, M.R. (1999). The use of event-related potentials to study cognitive disorders. Journal of Molecular and Chemical Neuropathology, 13, 263-264.

Books and Book Chapters

Christiansen, M.H., Dale, R.A.C., Ellefson, M.R., and Conway, C.M. (2002). The role of sequential learning in language evolution: Computation and experimental studies. In A. Cangelosi and D. Parisi (Eds.), Computational approaches to the evolution of language. Springer Verlag: New York.

Christiansen, M.H., and Ellefson, M.R. (2002). Linguistic adaptation without linguistic constraints: The role of sequential learning in language evolution. In A. Wray (Ed.), The transition to language: Studies in the evolution of language (pp. 335-358). Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK. [Chapter selected by peer review].

Molfese, D.L., Narter, D.B., Van Matre, A.J., Ellefson, M.R., and Modglin, A.A. (2001). Language development during infancy and early childhood: Electrophysiological correlates. In J. Weissenborn and B. Hoehle (Eds.), Approaches to Bootstrapping: Phonological, lexical, syntactic and neurophysiological aspects of early language development, Volume 2 (pp. 181-229). John Benjamins: Amsterdam-Philadelphia.

Ellefson, M.R. (1996). Someone I love has cancer: An interactive workbook for children whose loved ones have cancer. American Cancer Society, Minnesota Division, Minneapolis, MN.

Curriculum Development

Abrasheff, R., Ellefson, M.R., and Schunn, C. D. (2007). Designer bacteria: A design-based learning unit for high school biology, Version 2. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA. (By convention, the authors are listed alphabetically).

Apedoe, X, Ellefson, M.R., and Reynolds, B., and Schunn, C. D. (2007). Heating/cooling systems: A design-based learning unit for high school chemistry, Version 2. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA. (By convention, the authors are listed alphabetically).

Abrasheff, R., Ellefson, M.R., and Schunn, C. D. (2006). Designer bacteria: A design-based learning unit for high school biology, Version 1. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA. (By convention, the authors are listed alphabetically).

Apedoe, X, Ellefson, M.R., and Reynolds, B., and Schunn, C. D. (2006). Heating/cooling systems: A design-based learning unit for high school chemistry, Version 1. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA. (By convention, the authors are listed alphabetically).