Monday, May 16, 2011

Principles of how students learn (from Donovan and Bransford (editors). 2005. How Students Learn....)

Notes to myself:

The introductory chapter of this NRC book summarizes an earlier NRC report How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School.

They describe three key principles:
1. New knowledge must connect to existing knowledge already learned.
2. Facts and conceptual framework go together, hand-in-hand. A framework with facts is relatively meaningless (an empty framework) and facts without a framework make no sense, cannot be retained, or recalled.
3. Metacognition (understanding tips, tricks, and principles of learning) helps facilitate learning.

One common trap that I fall into is that I fail to appreciate what a limited experience most students students have of the natural world. Therefore, I fail to connect to their existing knowledge base. To connect this to the principles above, I fail to give students enough facts for a new conceptual framework. I assume that they already have lots of facts in hand (what a maple tree looks like, or what a sow bug acts like). What I may want to do is say or ask:
  1. "Here is a new conceptual framework, and here is how it works and what it is good for."
  2. "Here is a specific example of an empirical experiment that helped confirm the utility of this framework. This is how this example fits into this framework."
  3. "Here is another example...can you figure out how this example fits into the framework?"
  4. "Here are more examples. Go for it."
  5. "Can you find other examples?"
  6. "Can you imagine other ways to investigate the natural world using this framework?"
  7. "What do you like about this framework? What do you find confusing or frustrating about this framework?"
  8. "How might you modify this framework?"
(I might not get around to #7)

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