The Best Science of Learning Books For Teachers

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Teachers have a lot on their plates.  Still, we can boil down teaching to two basic things: how teachers teach and how students learn.  So easy, right? 

Obviously not. There is a range of teaching philosophies and centuries of debate on how students learn.  The recent movement of the “science of learning” underlines the complexity of understanding how students learn.  It is an interdisciplinary project that utilizes multiple areas including neuroscience, psychology, and basic educational methods and practices. 

You can read a summary of the science of learning, including the important role of the scientific method, here.  But, what if you want a more expansive understanding of the details…

Read All About It

My purpose here is to provide some of the best books out there about the Science of Learning.  

Things I look for: the author’s expertise, the specific subject matter, what others are saying about them, the skillset of the intended audience, and any deficits that might be red flags.


[1]  Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, Mark A. McDaniel

The different backgrounds of the authors of this book suggest the “kitchen sink” nature of the science of learning.  We have a management consultant, a professor of psychology, and a director of the Center for Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning, and Education.

This is a best-seller, which has received much praise and respect for its insights. The book discusses how memory works, how best to communicate knowledge, and keep students engaged. The book provides both theory and practice, including real-life accounts of learning in action.  

Possible Problems: Some readers think too much is focused on putting the theory into practice and find the examples (including male-focused sports and military) unsatisfying.  Some find the writing too dry.  Check it out first if possible, including “look inside” at Amazon.

[2]  Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning by Pooja K. Agarwal and Patrice M. Bain

This book is co-written by a cognitive scientist and a veteran K-12 teacher. 

The authors tag team to explain cognitive research and apply it in the classroom setting.  They present step-by-step guidance on how to transform teaching with four essential strategies: Retrieval practice, spacing, interleaving, and feedback-driven metacognition.

Possible Problems: A few people thought the writing was too “dumbed down.”  

[3]  Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning by James L. Lang

James Lang is a university professor and his wife is a kindergarten teacher.  

This book is part of the “small teaching movement.”  It argues that small, manageable changes to teaching could have a significant positive impact on student learning. The book allows teachers to “mix and match,” determining what tools provided work for them.  

The book applies lessons in research in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and biology to the classroom environment, including classroom and online learning.

He also wrote Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About.

Possible Problems: Some readers complained that the book provided “nothing new” and was too much merely a summary of past works.  

[4]  The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony With Your Brain by Terry Doyle and Todd D. Zakrajsek

The authors have long careers in education and education research with special expertise in neuroscience (Doyle co-authored seven books on the subject) and psychology.

This book recently was released in a third edition.  

This book is particularly targeted at college students to give them advice on how to better learn. It explains a number of complex concepts and research findings in neuroscience, cognitive and educational psychology, exercise science, and physiology in an easy-to-digest fashion.

Possible Problems: Some complain the information is too obvious.  This book is geared toward college students though it has wider applications.  Others might not find it as useful.  

[5]  Why Don’t Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom by Daniel T. Willingham

Daniel Willingham is a cognitive psychologist, whose specialty is research on the biological and cognitive basis of learning.  

This book translates his research into workable teaching techniques.  The science of learning concerns using various disciplines to help students learn.  Expertise like this is very important in this process.  The book explains how story, emotion, memory, context, and routine are important in building knowledge and creating enduring learning experiences.

The book has many photographs and other illustrations that help to apply its principles using familiar examples such as celebrities.  

Possible Problems: The focus on cognitive theory might not appeal to some people who wish for a more diverse analysis.  The book is somewhat more specialized. 

[6] How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens by Benedict Carey

Benedict Carey is an award-winning science reporter who has been at The New York Times since 2004.  He has degrees in math and journalism.

Carey uses his skills in reporting science and education to handle the science of learning. The book examines recent education research and landmark studies to uncover the truth about how our brains absorb and retain information.  It is good both for teachers and students to help understand how we learn and how the lessons of recent research were applied in the classroom.

Possible Problems: Some readers argued the book was poorly edited, not doing a good job of translating the material into easily digested form.  A tad ironic.  

[7]  How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching by Susan A. Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, et. al.

A range of authors takes advantage of a range of perspectives (cognitive, developmental, and social psychology; educational research; anthropology; demographics; organizational behavior) to provide seven general principles on how students learn.  Many helpful figures and appendixes.  

The book is particularly focused on teaching college students.

Possible Problems: A few people with a common complaint: “says nothing new.”  

[8]  The Science of Learning: 99 Studies That Every Teacher Needs to Know by Edward Watson and Bradley Busch

The authors have expertise in strategic management consulting and psychology.

The science of learning is a growing field with a range of studies covering the different areas involved.  It can get rather overwhelming. 

This book translates 99 of the most important and influential studies on the topic of learning into accessible and easily digestible form.  This is a second edition, adding 22 more studies.  

Teachers might have 99 problems, but with this book, understanding the latest scholarship won’t be one.  (This reference works best with millennials.)  

Possible Problems: The summaries do not provide an in-depth analysis of the material.  

[9]  Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide by Megan Sumeracki, Oliver Caviglioli, and Yana Weinstein

The authors are professors of psychology and school principal.  Each found ways to make scientific research on learning more accessible to students, teachers, and other educators. Caviglioli, for instance, co-created visual guides for evidence-based teaching techniques.

These “learning scientists” discuss six effective strategies to cultivate independent learning.  They offer practical tips to teachers, students, and parents for applying these strategies in the classroom and at home.

Possible Problems: Some readers found the design of the book lacking, including a too small font. The book did not translate well in e-book format for some readers.  

[10]  Neuroteach: Brain Science and the Future of Education by Glenn Whitman and Ian Kelleher 

Whitman directs the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning.  Kelleher is an expert in geochemistry and measures the effectiveness of research-informed teaching strategies.

This book helps translates our knowledge of neuroscience into practical classroom applications.  Neuroteach explains how the brain receives, filters, consolidates, and applies information for the short and long term.  And, how to apply this to individual students.  

Possible Problems: The book does not do enough to address the needs of struggling students, focusing more on top (“high flyers”) and average students.  

Best Books On Scientific Method 

The scientific method

is an important part of the science of learning. Here are some books that address this subject.

[1] A Beginner’s Guide to Scientific Method by Stephen Carey

This is a basic introduction (160 pages) to the scientific method, including the proper approach to inquiry and avoiding pseudoscience and untested fallacies.  Stephen Carey received his Ph.D. in logical theory.  This book is appropriate for college students.  

[2]  A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking with Statistics and the Scientific Method by Daniel J. Levitin

The author is a neuroscientist, cognitive psychologist, and a former professor of psychology and neuroscience at McGill University. 

We are plummeted with information (and a lot of misinformation) in this social media age.  This book examines statistical information and faulty arguments to show how to use critical thinking and the scientific method to stay on the right path.  

[3]  Solving Everyday Problems With The Scientific Method: Thinking Like A Scientist by Don K Mak, Angela T Mak, Anthony B Mak

The scientific method is a way of thinking and processing information.  It is not just helpful to do scientific experiments.  

This is shown by this book which applies the method to everyday tasks including health issues, money management, traveling, and household tasks.  A helpful way to understand the wide application of the scientific method in the classrooms and learning overall.   

[4]  The Scientific Method: An Evolution of Thinking from Darwin to Dewey by Henry M. Cowles

The author is a scholar of the history of science and medicine. This book is a history of the modern development of the scientific method into a modern “way of thinking.”  

The Scientific Method tells the story of how this approach took hold in laboratories, the field, and eventually classrooms, where science was once taught as a natural process.  This is a well-received work of intellectual history regarding the story behind the scientific method.

[5]  How to Think Like a Scientist: Answering Questions by the Scientific Method by Stephen P. Kramer and Felicia Bond

The author has a lifelong knowledge of science both in college (biological degree) and as a junior high teacher on a Navajo Reservation.  This book explains the scientific method in a way appropriate for elementary and junior high school students.  

[6]  The Scientific Method: Reflections from a Practitioner by Massimiliano Di Ventra

Massimiliano Di Ventra is a Professor of Physics at the University of California.  This book shows how the scientific method works in the words of an everyday user.  It deals with basic topics such as exploring the role of observation and experimentation, hypothesis, theory, and competing theories in the scientific process in a concise “very short intro” package.   


Science of Learning covers a lot of ground.  Before you start reading and applying it to your classroom and own pursuits, here are a few more books you might find helpful. 

[1] Uncommon Sense Teaching: Practical Insights in Brain Science to Help Students by Barbara Oakley PhD, Beth Rogowsky EdD, Terrence J. Sejnowski 

A lot of scientific and educational knowledge and experience went into this one.  

Drawing on research findings as well as the authors’ combined decades of experience in the classroom, this book explains how to help students remember their lessons as well as be motivated and engaged.  Helpful for those classrooms with most of the students looking at the clock.  The answer is in neuroscience.

[2]  The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students by Thomas Armstrong

Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., is an educator, a psychologist, and a writer who has worked in the education field for more than 40 years.

Parents and students will tell you that teenagers are a handful. But, to be fair to the little demons, they are a work in progress. Armstrong uses his talents (and current neuroscience research) to help explain how the teen brain works. He then proves eight instructional elements to help students develop the ability to think, make good choices, and develop into good adults.

[3]  All Learning Is Social and Emotional: Helping Students Develop Essential Skills for the Classroom and Beyond by Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher, Dominique Smith

The authors are skilled in the area of educational leadership and teaching support. They wrote and co-wrote multiple books.

Science of learning includes analysis of how to best engage your students and teach them good learning skills This book examines the subject of social and emotional learning. The authors provide a five-part model that can be applied to all classroom environments.

[4] Stikky Night Skies by Laurence Holt

Laurence Holt is a science of learning enthusiast.  He has a series of “Stikky” books that put the principles of the science of learning into action to help students of all ages learn.  

This one promises you will “Learn 6 constellations, 4 stars, a planet, a galaxy, and how to navigate at night – in one hour, guaranteed.”  If the best way to learn is by doing, this series is a good place to start.  I still think it might take a bit more than an hour for some.