Cognitive Science of Teaching and Learning

Brain

This latest discussion is meant to be a reflection of my personal learning experience in this class. The topics spanned Artificial Intelligence to Playing the Whole Game to applications to real-life experience.

I had limited knowledge of Artificial Intelligence (AI) when we began. I remembered the robots of my childhood, such as WALL-E, Johnny 5 (Short Circuit), C3PO (Star Wars), and Rosie the Maid (The Jetsons). These examples of AI showed intelligence, compassion, and emotion. Computers can process millions of bits of information very quickly and perform tasks or answer questions. They can even converse. In reality, however, they are not able to feel emotion.

We’ve discovered emotion, or feelings, are necessary for true thinking. “Feelings can be seen as responses to facts and sensations that exist beyond the tight horizon of awareness. They can also be thought of as messages from the unconscious, as conclusions it has reached after considering a wide range of information — they are the necessary foundation of thought” (Lehrer, 2007).

The next steps in our journey brought us to how to understand how we think – cognition.

Cognition

There were some key concepts in this and include:

Rules – Rules are the guidelines for behavior. They are learned and keep life from deteriorating into chaos.

Logic – Logic is a name for the general family of formal proof systems with inference rules. It’s reasonable and based on connections between facts and observations.

Concepts – Concepts are the big picture ideas and are the representations of our mental images wherein groups of similar features are grouped together.

A perfect example of this is the class. We were given certain rules regarding assignments, due dates, participation, etc. The readings and research provided the logic to back up our ideas. This all comes together to form concepts of what we have learned and understand.

So how does this apply? In the workplace, we also have rules although the logic sometimes escapes us. The general concept for most business is to make money by providing some type of service. In teaching ESL, we will use grammar rules to help students understand and be able to speak English. Logic will come into play as we apply reasons for the rules and bring it all together to categorize similar concepts.

Making Learning Whole

After learning the basics of how we think, it was time to Play the Whole Game (Perkins, 2009). Perkins presented us with seven principles, using analogies, to learning how teachers can transform education.

Play the Whole Game – Start simple but teach the overall lesson. Explain the rules, and make the experience meaningful. This is especially important when teaching adults. Carl Rogers believed adult learners need their learning to be practical and applicable to their lives.

Make the Game Worth Playing – Help the students understand the why of learning. Is it applicable to their lives? Is it meaningful? What motivates the student, or even the teacher? My favorite quote on student engagement and motivation was by Wlodkowski (1999, p. 7) “Historically, motivation and sex share a similar fate: both promise extraordinary rewards but when actually realized they continue to mystify and confuse. At the core of each is desire”.

Work on the Hard Parts – Practice the difficult things. If multiplication is tough, work on it until the student ‘gets it’. Golfers work on their swing, quarterbacks work on their throw.

Play Out of Town – Transfer learning from one concept to another. Help the student see connections so every lesson is not learned in a vacuum. This is valuable outside the classroom as well. When children learn to walk, they no longer think about it when running to catch a ball. Math learning will be applied to handling a budget and shopping.

Uncover the Hidden Game – Dig deep and understand what is going on beneath the surface. The hidden games include:
• Strategy – break it down to the basics
• Causal Thinking – what is the relationship between cause and effect? Is it always the same?
• Inquiry – “What do you notice? What do you see? Why?” (p. 151)
• Power – sometimes exhibits of “power, privilege, and presumption” are not obvious. One size does NOT fit all

Learn from the Team – Learn from others. Social learning and a great ESL learning tool which is “Pair Problem Solving” (p. 175). Communities of Practice defined by Etienne Wenger (n.d.) “are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”. They share a craft or profession and there usually are experts.

Learn the Game of Learning – Help the students learn how to learn. Empower students. This is where the rubber meets the road. As Perkins says, “explicit principles are likely to serve learners well…as objects of reflection and plans of action…” (p. 210). School gives us the tools to continue our education.

Other Important Concepts

We explored our personal learning styles and how this may affect our teaching styles. While I had no big surprises, it was helpful to see the different styles for each of my classmates. In a previous class I learned that most adults are visual learners. As Felder and Solomon (n.d.) point out most college instructors present material either in written or lecture format. When I teach ESL I plan to emphasize visual learning for the adult students, but incorporate other learning styles too.

We also discussed dynamic learning systems. The definition of dynamic is, “always active or changing”, (Merriam-Webster). So learning systems should be changing constantly. Since beginning this program, I’ve seen many changes in how we teach. We started with one-room schoolhouses and have evolved to online programs such as this. Adult education in particular, has changed drastically over the years with the emergence, and proliferation, of online education. The number of online students, with at least one course, surpassed 6.7 million in 2012 (Babson Study, 2012). WOW!

Another important concept was that of Cognitive Illusions. World Mysteries talks about the four kinds of cognitive illusions:
1. Ambiguous – offer significant changes in appearance
2. Paradox – impossible
3. Distorting – distortions of size, length, or curvature
4. Fiction – genuinely not there to all but a single observer
Illusions can be called departures from the truth. They are not logical and break the rules. We have circled back. A great video from Beau Otto (2009) gives great examples of what the eye sees may not be real.

http://www.ted.com/talks/beau_lotto_optical_illusions_show_how_we_see

How does this impact and influence my present or future professional learning environment? I’ve been lucky to have a training mentor in my current job. Without knowing the rules, logic, or even concepts I’ve learned by playing on her team. Now I have tools! As my goal is to teach English to adult speakers of other languages, I would like to develop a lesson plan using both formal and informal learning. I will apply the lessons of Playing the Game to these learners. I’m much more cognizant of learning styles and will incorporate different ways of imparting the same information. Mostly, I hope to motivate and engage the students by giving them guidance so they can be in control of their own learning.

How does this impact and influence the world of education and training? Knowledge is power and we can change one classroom at a time. As many new teachers are, I am excited and ready to make a difference. Is this an illusion? The reality may be that time, budgets, and apathy will take a toll. However, I believe we are forming our own Community of Practice and will work together to be better teachers.

How does this impact and influence my personal learning journey? As a student, I’ve gained deeper understanding into my own personal motivation for going back to school at 60 years of age. I can’t help but compare this experience with prior learning environments. I’m fully playing the game and applying concepts to my own reading and research. I’m reminded of Perkins discussion of the “hearts & minds” theory. Every school, every class, every teacher, and most parents do this at some time. “Take it to heart, keep it in mind, and do better next time” (p. 80). I will demand and give constructive feedback.

Questions for the future? Since I haven’t taught in a classroom yet, I wonder how I will recognize the hidden games. Will the lesson plans be effective? Will I be a good teacher?

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Beau Otto (2009), “There is no inherent meaning to information. It’s what we do with that information that matters”.

References

Babson Study, http://www.sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/changing_course_2012

Felder, R., & Soloman, B. (n.d.). Index of learning styles questionnaire. Retrieved from http://www.engr.ncsu.edu/learningstyles/ilsweb.html

Lehrer, J. (2007, April 29). Hearts and minds. Boston Globe. Retrieved from http://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2007/04/29/hearts__minds/

Merriam-Webster Dictionary (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dynamic

Otto, B. (2009). Optical Illusions show how we see [Video File]. Retrieved from
http://www.ted.com/talks/beau_lotto_optical_illusions_show_how_we_see

Perkins, D. (2009). Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rogers, C.R. (1961) On becoming a person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

Webster’s Dictionary (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/

Wenger, E. (n.d.). Communities of practice: A brief introduction. [Website]. Retrieved from http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/06-Brieft-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf

Wlodkowski, R. J. (1999). Motivation and diversity: A framework for teaching. New Directions for Teaching & Learning (78), 7.

World Mysteries. (2011). Cognitive illusions. [Website]. Retrieved from http://www.world-mysteries.com/illusions/sci_illusions3.htm