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Dr Michelle Ellefson

Reader in Cognitive Science, Faculty of Education
Bye-Fellow, Undergraduate Tutor and Director of Studies for Education, Gonville & Caius College

Contact information

01223 767684

Faculty of Education
184 Hills Road
United Kingdom


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.

Research interests

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


Poletiek, F.H., Conway, C.M., Ellefson, M.R., Lai, J., Bocanegra, B. R., & Christiansen, M. H. (in press). Under What Conditions Can Recursion be Learned? Effects of Starting Small in Artificial Grammar Learning of Center Embedded Structure, Cognitive Science. DOI: 10.1111/cogs.12685
Ellefson, M.R., Ng, F.F., Wang, Q., & Hughes, C. (2017). Efficiency of executive function: A two-generation cross-cultural comparison of samples from Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. Psychological Science, 28, 555-566. DOI: 10.1177/0956797616687812Teparek, M., Morgan, R., Ellefson, M., & Kingsley, D. (2017). Starting from the end: what to do when restricted data is released. Data Science Journal, 16, 10. DOI: 10.5334/dsj-2017-010Goedert, K.M., Ellefson, M.R., & Rehder, B. (2014). Differences in the weighting and choice of evidence for plausible versus implausible causes. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition, 40, 683-702. DOI:10.1037/a0035547Hughes, P.W., & Ellefson, M.R. (2013). Inquiry-based training improves teaching effectiveness of biology teaching assistants. PlosONE, 8, e78540. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0078540Apedoe, X.A., Ellefson, M.R., & Schunn, C.D. (2012). Learning together while designing: Does group size make a difference? Journal of Science Education and Technology, 21, 83-94. DOI:10.1007/s10956-011-9284-5Vousden, J.I., Ellefson, M.R., Solity J., & Chater, N. (2011). Simplifying reading: Applying the simplicity principle to reading. Cognitive Science, 35, 34-78. DOI:10.1111/j.1551-6709.2010.01134.xEllefson, M.R., Treiman, R., & 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. DOI:10.1016/j.jecp.2008.05.008Apedoe, X.A., Reynolds, B., Ellefson, M.R., & 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. DOI:0.1007/s10956-008-9114-6Ellefson, M.R., Brinker, R.A., Vernacchio, V.J., & 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. DOI:10.1002/bmb.20203Ellefson, M.R., Shapiro, L.R., & Chater, N. (2006). Asymmetrical switch costs in children. Cognitive Development, 21, 108-130. DOI:10.1016/j.cogdev.2006.01.002

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