• Updated
25 January 2021

A gap year to explore the cognitive science applied to education

Clémence Pichon is "normalienne" at the DEC. Passionate about cognitive science and education, she is taking a gap year during which she participates in an ambitious project on education with the Academie of Versailles. Meeting with a committed student.


Clémence Pichon

Clémence Pichon entered the ENS-PSL in 2018 after a competitive entrance exam, after having completed a multidisciplinary preparatory class, Letters and Social Sciences. "I was passionate about cognitive science during my preparatory years," she says, "and especially its link with education since it is my main field of interest, coming from a family of teachers. "She entered the DEC in L3 in her first year at school.

A gap year to explore educational systems

This gap year is both a lucky coincidence and a desire that Clémence had from her first year of master's degree. "During my M1 at the Cogmaster, I was already thinking about taking a break to explore educational systems abroad or to get involved in an applied research project on these different school systems." She then had the opportunity to do an internship with Coralie Chevallier researcher in cognitive science at the ENS and Elise Huillery researcher in economics at the Université Paris Dauphine-PSL in the second semester, which she will be conducting largely in isolation. "This internship was in fact the beginning of a major research project conducted with the Académie de Versailles. With the implementation of the project, Yann Algan, economist at Sciences Po, specialist in education, and Elise Huillery, needed someone to work full-time. The project was very interesting, because of its ambition, its themes, but also because I had contributed to determining its framework." The global health situation forcing Clémence to reconsider her ambitions to explore foreign educational systems and the international dimension partly present in this project led her to accept this proposal. "This is an opportunity for me to meet multiple actors from the educational field (researchers from various disciplines and interests, staff from the Académie de Versailles, but also actors from different educational organizations that we are trying to mobilize), to meet teachers and learn a lot from their experiences, to be at the heart of the creation of teacher training, to help change a little bit the way some teachers teach to develop motivation and perseverance in their students." This project gives her the opportunity to participate in an ambitious and useful research project.

"MotivAction", a training to help teachers build effective pedagogical practices to develop the socio-behavioural skills of young students

MotivActionClémence had already worked with Coralie, Yann and Elise in her first year as a research assistant on the evaluation of the Energie Jeunes program. "This program consisted of a 3-hour intervention per year in middle school classes to develop student motivation and perseverance. I had participated in its final year of evaluation, which revealed real impacts. " It was this study that motivated the MotivAction training project launched last February, in which she was asked to participate. This project is based on the observation that students' behaviour and attitude towards work is as important as intelligence, especially the motivation that the child puts into the task and perseverance. Three factors at the source of motivation and perseverance have been identified among others: a good self-esteem, the feeling of being able to accomplish tasks, cooperation. "These factors are what we call socio-behavioural skills and are fundamental to academic success". Experiences abroad have shown that certain practices, speeches and activities within the school have a very positive impact on students and their socio-behavioural skills. The goal of this program is therefore to strengthen these skills at school. Teachers have a crucial role to play, as they are in direct contact with their students for several hours every day. This program offers training supported by a research project. This training, which lasts from 1 to 3 days for first grade teachers at the Académie de Versailles, revolves around two poles: the reinforcement of the participants' scientific culture with the intervention of researchers (research conferences on themes related to the development of socio-behavioral skills), the enrichment of professional practices and gestures, and the construction of new practices that can be applied in class. The goal is to modify teachers' perceptions and practices to have a positive impact on students in terms of socio-behavioural skills, school well-being, motivation and thus improve their learning over time. "We use the contributions of cognitive science to better understand the levers that teachers can use to develop these skills."

And after the gar year ?

Next fall, Clémence will be returning to Cogmaster's M2 program and will focus on the Cognitive Engineering major created to meet the needs defined by the growing number of cognitive science applications in a wide variety of sectors (such as education, public policy, brain-machine interface, etc).  She thinks of doing a rather applied internship. "For the moment, I would very much like to do an internship that includes links with different educational systems and/or links with environmental education, citizenship, critical thinking". Eventually, she would like to take the competitive exam for school teachers, and would like to move towards a thesis linking cognitive science and education. "But, as I still have two years at the ENS, I still have some time to think about it."