Posts tagged: Cognitive Stuff

Bloom’s hourglass

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By , October 8, 2009 1:56 pm

Blooms taxonomy - the hourglassSam Wineburg & Jack Schneider make an interesting case for inverting Bloom’s Taxonomy in their Education Week article. They show quite handily how being able to analyze before doing anything else in a history class might be the way to see if students really understand the material. And it would seem that they are indeed correct, to a point. I would suggest that the question that was asked in the history example is one that could only be asked of students who had already reached the top of the classic pyramid.

The worksheets that the teachers classically start units off with are useful for (there are also updated “digital” versions), if nothing else, the development of a vocabulary about “X”. That vocabulary can then be understood, applied, analyzed, synthesized and finally evaluated within a restricted field. Once questions are asked that cross these individual fields, the pyramid must be flipped in order to tease the information apart and get to the facts of the case. This way we know that the students know what we think they should as they are able to return to the “facts” that they were presented originally.

We might indeed be better off describing the concept as a torus (hat tip to D’Arcy) that goes around feeding itself, but that conversation could go on forever… so we won’t start it ūüėČ

World Science – Bobby plays an audience

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By , September 17, 2009 8:03 am

I must be on a video role here. This is not a TED talk, but certainly as interesting.

Philosophical Babies

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By , September 16, 2009 8:31 am

From CBC’s The Current:

The Philosophical Baby

Two hundred years ago, William Wordsworth wrote, The child is the father of the Man. The great romantic poet had a deep-seated belief that children were gifted with more innate, earthborn wisdom than adults. And ask any parent today … when you stare into the wide, unblinking eyes of a baby, you can’t help but wonder what they’re thinking.

But until recently, psychologists and philosophers tended to agree that babies’ minds are defined by impulse and id … little blank slates that absorb reason and logic as their neural connections are forged over time.

Alison Gopnik has a very different understanding of the infant brain. She’s a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, and the author of a new book called The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love and the Meaning of Life. She joined us today from Seattle, Washington.

Kid Bluesky

According to Alison Gopnik, kids are naturals for the research and development department. With that in mind we set out to find what insights we could glean from kids when it comes to solving some of the world’s biggest problems. Our brainstorming group involved students from The Grove Community School in Toronto and St. Mary’s Elementary school in St. John’s.

We started by asking them what lessons adults should learn from the playground, before moving on to such weighty questions as how to stop war and keep adults from fighting.

Putting these ideas together with some of the thoughts on Hurrying Baby, it seems that there is certainly much more that we can learn about learning from infants than we thought only a few years ago. I know that in my own experience watching my daughter learning about her world, that the idea of the lamp (broad illumination) vs that of the spotlight (adult attention) is very much the case. Babies attend to everything, and so they should, they have to in order to survive I would think. In addition to scientists, I would suggest that another group of adults who are similar to babies would be those in a Flow state.

When you are “flowing”, you pay attention to so much more than what you would if you are concentrating on something that is merely a task. I experienced this most recently this weekend. My brother and I were visiting the Inner Harbor area of Victoria the first time. He was there for a conference, and that is all he was originally interested in. I was there on vacation and my photo senses where on full alert. We were walking down the hall of the hotel and I pointed out an old dresser that was very nicely framed at the end of the hall. My brother said that he didn’t even notice it. On the last day, we visited the Royal BC Museum and my brother finally got the chance to be in a “flow state”. Exploring the museum, he was noticing things all over the place, just as I was. I don’t know for sure, but I would think that was as close to being a baby as we can get without jumping into the Delorian.

If you have the time, visit the page and have a listen.

Another run at Bloom

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By , June 12, 2009 9:08 am

A couple of years ago, I did a quick post on Bloom’s taxonomy and how it might be updated. The Bloom 2.0 that is mentioned there has been prettied up and rehashed here. The revisit offers up some solid options as to how one might go about implementing the use of this updated taxonomy in the classroom. For example:

  • Remembering – Recognising, listing, describing, identifying, retrieving, naming, locating, finding
  • Understanding – Interpreting, Summarising, inferring, paraphrasing, classifying, comparing, explaining, exemplifying
  • Applying – Implementing, carrying out, using, executing
  • Analysing – Comparing, organising, deconstructing, Attributing, outlining, finding, structuring, integrating
  • Evaluating – Checking, hypothesising, critiquing, Experimenting, judging, testing, Detecting, Monitoring
  • Creating – designing, constructing, planning, producing, inventing, devising, making

Within each of these new levels, student can engage in activities like social bookmarking at the remembering level. At understanding, students can categorize. To apply, students can hack and edit (that is quite the jump). At the analysing stage, students can link (wha??… this is harder/more cognitively involved than hacking and editing??). To evaluate and create, the student may post and publish respectively (kinda wimpy it seems after hacking and editing). Now, granted I cherry picked the options for each of these stages to prove a point. One that Brenda Sugrue pointed out (thanks to @jharche) – that the system is invalid, unreliable and impractical.

I’ve commented on Donald Clark’s post on the subject that for it’s weaknesses, it is a good starting point for people who are not thinking about pedagogy. But as I’ve just shown, if you are just picking and choosing from a list that others have put together, you can very easily claim that you are teaching to a higher level by having students publish blog articles and post comments when in reality, they might not be doing as much as students at “lower” levels who are hacking and editing.This suggests that many instructors out there who are trying to pad their teaching can do so rather easily if those who are evaluating them don’t know what is really going on (what else is new?). I still think that Bloom provides a good starting point for those who understand what they are doing, but it certainly is an idea that is starting to show it’s age and it seems that we are in need of something new, based on new science.

Quit working, start daydreaming!

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By , May 21, 2009 9:08 pm

On the heels of the WILB work that I couldn’t find a reference for, I find another interesting study that blows a hole in the “time on task” mantra. Kalina Christoff and a team of collaborators at UBC recently published a paper – Experience sampling during fMRI reveals default network and executive system contributions to mind wandering (doi:10.1073/pnas.0900234106) (Discover Magazine) that suggests that a wandering mind helps improve a concurrent activity. The catch is that this phenomena is most notable when the subject is not aware of the wandering. Now I don’t know how this might happen – not knowing that your mind is wandering, but I have a good hunch that it has something to do with “flow” and “being in the zone”. Speaking of being in the zone, this “unwitting wandering” might be related to the improvement of vocabulary scores after watching sports – Sports experience changes the neural processing of action language. Sian L. Beilock et.al (doi: 10.1073/pnas.0803424105)

WILB Tinkering Rock Learning?

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By , April 7, 2009 9:24 am

Between Brent Coker and John Seely Brown, it seems to me that there is increasing evidence to support the use of “sprinting” when teaching and or learning. When people tinker, they do so in short sprints – things are adjusted and tested for a short spell, then another problem is addressed before returning to the first problem. WILB suggests that inline distractions are healthy and can help increase productivity – leading credibility to the use of microlectures, mini games and the like.

While this might not be the best way to get really deep into a given topic, it is certainly something to think about when one is trying to get students into a new topic – presenting small interesting bits with short breaks as opposed to large homogenious chunks will likely work better for both the instructor and the student.

As students become engaged, the chips can likely become chunks (all things being relative of course), but they should likely retain those “interesting shapes” to keep students going. Instructors might even want to encourage or suggest in some manner “useful distractions” as students get deeper into a topic.

WILB goofing off at work help you do more?

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By , April 6, 2009 5:19 pm

According to this study out of the U of Melbourne.




I can’t find the DOI, but I do wonder what this means for all those “time on task” people. Coker, B. L. S. (2009). Freedom to surf: The productive benefits of workplace internet leisure browsing

Another look at Google and the brain

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By , February 5, 2009 12:21 pm

This is an older story, but after looking at how Google rots or rocks the brain, here is another look into what this instant info universe has brought us.

Gary Small, a neuroscientist at UCLA in California who specializes in brain function, has found through studies that Internet searching and text messaging has made brains more adept at filtering information and making snap decisions.

But while technology can accelerate learning and boost creativity it can have drawbacks as it can create Internet addicts whose only friends are virtual and has sparked a dramatic rise in Attention Deficit Disorder diagnoses.

Small, however, argues that the people who will come out on top in the next generation will be those with a mixture of technological and social skills.

“We’re seeing an evolutionary change. The people in the next generation who are really going to have the edge are the ones who master the technological skills and also face-to-face skills,”

This is interesting – especially as it suggests that there will be a real need for both tech and social skills in the future – his book might just be worth a read.

Fluid Intelligence Training

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By , April 30, 2008 2:21 pm

This is an interesting paper on fluid intelligence and it fits nicely with the last post I had in my Cognitive Stuff tag. Susanne Jaeggi from the University of Michigan designed a test and found (among other things) that the task that: 

… this task worked where others have failed because it remained challenging. The students were never allowed to get comfortable with the task – as soon as they improved, it became accordingly more difficult. Faced with the combination of two info streams and shifting difficulty levels, they couldn’t develop simple strategies or switch to autopilot. The task was also very challenging. To succeed in it, students had to remember old items, constantly update the memories they were keeping, block out irrelevant ones, and manage two tasks at the same time using both sound and sight.

This certainly provides some good proof as to why continual and incremental challenge in a novel environment is good for learning. Games are obviously very good at being able to provide these environments,  but there is nothing stopping any classroom from providing the same type of challenge. 

Brains on autopilot

By , April 22, 2008 9:19 am

While this is not directly related to teaching and learning, but it is “almost”. A Norwegian team has determined that dull jobs put the brain into autopilot. Interestingly enough, this can be predicted using fMRI. If you put this together with a German study that suggests that¬†decisions¬†are made before we think they are lead me to think about a couple of things when it comes to teaching.¬†

  • What is the value of¬†repetition?
  • How valuable is novelty?
  • How do we differentiate the two?

When teaching, we want to make sure certain things become second nature, but we also need to make sure that people are looking for the novelty that will keep them interested. But if there are ways to determine when the brain will start to drift into autopilot, then can those determinants be identified in any way so that we can use them in training?

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