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Applying Cognitive Science to Education: Thinking and Learning in Scientific and Other Complex Domains

Applying Cognitive Science to Education: Thinking and Learning in Scientific and Other Complex Domains

by Frederick Reif

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ISBN-10: 0262515148

ISBN-13: 9780262515146

Pub. Date: 08/13/2010

Publisher: MIT Press

Many students find it difficult to learn the kind of knowledge and thinking required by college or high school courses in mathematics, science, or other complex domains. Thus they often emerge with significant misconceptions, fragmented knowledge, and inadequate problem-solving skills. Most instructors or textbook authors approach their teaching efforts with a good


Many students find it difficult to learn the kind of knowledge and thinking required by college or high school courses in mathematics, science, or other complex domains. Thus they often emerge with significant misconceptions, fragmented knowledge, and inadequate problem-solving skills. Most instructors or textbook authors approach their teaching efforts with a good knowledge of their field of expertise but little awareness of the underlying thought processes and kinds of knowledge required for learning in scientific domains. In this book, Frederick Reif presents an accessible coherent introduction to some of the cognitive issues important for thinking and learning in scientific or other complex domains (such as mathematics, science, physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, or expository writing).

Reif, whose experience teaching physics at the University of California led him to explore the relevance of cognitive science to education, examines with some care the kinds of knowledge and thought processes needed for good performance; discusses the difficulties faced by students trying to deal with unfamiliar scientific domains; describes some explicit teaching methods that can help students learn the requisite knowledge and thinking skills; and indicates how such methods can be implemented by instructors or textbook authors. Writing from a practically applied rather than predominantly theoretical perspective, Reif shows how findings from recent research in cognitive science can be applied to education. He discusses cognitive issues related to the kind of knowledge and thinking skills that are needed for science or mathematics courses in high school or colleges and that are essential prerequisites for more advanced intellectual performance. In particular, he argues that a better understanding of the underlying cognitive mechanisms should help to achieve a more scientific approach to science education.

Product Details

MIT Press
Publication date:
Bradford Books Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Table of Contents

Preface     xiii
Basic Issues     1
Performance, Learning, and Teaching     3
Thinking about thinking     3
Basic issues     4
Importance of these issues     5
Structure of the book     8
Intellectual Performance     11
Description of performance     11
Performance in complex domains     13
Characteristics of good performance     15
Analysis of performance     18
Analysis of good performance     21
Comparisons and overview     23
Summary     26
Good Performance     27
Usability     29
Important Kinds of Knowledge     31
Declarative and procedural knowledge     32
Comparative advantages and disadvantages     33
Uses of declarative and procedural knowledge     34
Condition-dependent knowledge     37
Educational implications     38
Summary     41
Specifying and Interpreting Concepts     43
Knowledge and concepts     44
Types of concepts     47
Kinds of concept specifications     51
Scientific importance of conceptspecifications     54
Educational implications     57
Summary     59
Interpreting Scientific Concepts     61
Students' interpretation of the concept acceleration     62
Motion and the concept of acceleration     66
Specification of acceleration     69
Causes of interpretation deficiencies     71
Requirements for usable concept knowledge     77
Educational implications     80
Summary     83
Managing Memory     85
Properties of human memory     86
Basic memory processes     88
Practical memory management     94
Educational implications     98
Summary     100
Effectiveness     101
Methods and Inferences     103
Methods and procedures     104
Specification of procedures     106
Making inferences     109
Educational implications     113
Summary     116
Describing Knowledge     119
Descriptions and their referents     120
Alternative descriptions     122
Characteristics of different descriptions     126
Complementary use of different descriptions     129
Educational implications     132
Summary     136
Organizing Knowledge     137
Importance of knowledge organization     138
Some forms of knowledge organization     139
Dealing with large amounts of knowledge     142
Knowledge elaboration     143
Hierarchical knowledge organization     145
Examples of hierarchical knowledge organizations     149
Educational implications     155
Summary     161
Flexibility     163
Making Decisions     165
Importance of decision making     166
Kinds of decisions     168
Making complex decisions     170
More refined option assessments     173
Limitations of analytic decisions     177
Practical decision making     180
Decisions in scientific domains     183
Educational implications     185
Summary     187
Introduction to Problem Solving     189
Problem Characteristics     190
Challenges of improving problem solving     196
Educational implications     199
Summary      200
Systematic Problem Solving     201
A useful problem-solving strategy     201
Describing a problem     204
Analyzing a problem     207
Constructing a solution     210
Examples of solution constructions     214
Assessing a solution     221
Exploiting a solution     223
Educational implications     224
Summary     227
Dealing with Complex Problems     229
Managing complexity by task decomposition     229
Planning     231
Supportive knowledge     235
Helpful form of solution     237
Quantitative and qualitative problems     238
Writing as problem solving     243
Applying the problem-solving strategy to writing     244
Educational implications     249
Summary     252
Efficiency     255
Efficiency and Compiled Knowledge     257
Importance of efficiency     258
Compiling knowledge     260
Routine performance     261
Automatic performance     263
Benefits and dangers of efficient performance     266
Educational implications      267
Summary     269
Reliability     271
Quality Assurance     273
Ensuring good quality     274
Preventing defects     276
Assessing performance     278
Improving performance     280
Metacognition     281
Educational implications     282
Summary     284
Good performance and the instructional challenge     285
Prior Knowledge     287
Unfamiliar Knowledge Domains     289
Prior knowledge and new learning     290
Everyday and scientific domains     293
Contrasting scientific and everyday cognitions     297
Scientists' and students' conceptions of science     302
Educational implications     306
Summary     308
Naive Scientific Knowledge     311
Characteristics of naive scientific knowledge     312
Students' prior knowledge about science     314
Naive conceptions about motion     316
Naive notions about the causes of motion     319
Force as a cause of motion     322
Educational implications     327
Summary     332
Learning and Teaching      333
Developing Instruction     335
Instructional development as a problem-solving task     335
Stages of instructional development     337
Overview of instructional development     339
Summary     342
Designing the Learning Process: Goals     343
Describing the learning problem     343
Analyzing the learning problem     347
Comparative analysis     354
Summary     355
Designing the Learning Process: Means     357
Decomposing and sequencing the learning process     357
Encoding new knowledge     360
Managing cognitive load     361
Exploiting useful organization     365
Ensuring the utility of acquired knowledge     372
Ensuring the reliability of acquired knowledge     373
Assessing a learning design     374
Achieving genuinely good performance     375
Summary     375
Producing Instruction to Foster Learning     377
Describing the instructional problem     377
Analyzing instructional needs     380
Helpful instructional interactions     381
Managing instruction     384
Learning by teaching      388
Assessing instruction     394
Summary     399
Implementing Practical Instruction     401
Traditional Instructional Methods     403
The instructional delivery problem     403
Lectures     406
Textbooks     408
Homework assignments     409
Small instructional groups     411
Assessment of instructional delivery     412
Summary     415
Innovative Instructional Methods     417
Modified lecture forms     417
Cooperative learning     420
Packaged instruction     423
Technology-supported instruction     428
Potential benefits of educational technology     432
Summary     437
Some Educational Challenges     439
Providing more individual learning assistance     439
Teaching general thinking and learning skills     440
More scientific approaches to education     443
More significant educational role of universities     445
Summary     448
References     451
Index     465

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