Module 1: Principles of Learning, Part 1


Prior Knowledge, Mental Models and Knowledge Organization

In this module, you’ll explore a few key principles of learning drawn from cognitive and psychological science research. You’ll hear from experienced STEM instructors about how these learning principles play out in their classrooms. Module developers Derek Bruff and Michele DiPietro will explain these principles and discuss teaching practices that tap into them. And we’ll ask you to reflect on your own experiences as learners to better understand these principles and set the stage for future weeks of the course.

Please see the Facilitator Guide 2015 for Module 1 for some suggestions of activities you can do in your MCLC or classroom to dive deeper into these topics.

Principle #1 – Prior Knowledge and Mental Models


Video 0.1.1 —  Week 1 Introduction

Dr. Derek Bruff from Vanderbilt University and Dr. Trina McMahon from the University of Wisconsin introduce the concepts and content that will be covered in the first week of the course.

Video 1.1.1 — Student Misconceptions in Physics, Part 1

Vanderbilt physics professor, Dr. Shane Hutson discusses the misconceptions students can bring into his physics courses. He also addresses where these misconceptions come from and how this can influence student learning.

Video 1.1.2 — Importance of Mental Models

Dr. Derek Bruff from Vanderbilt University discusses how mental models that students carry into a new course can influence their perception of new information. He then stresses the importance of addressing these erroneous mental models in order to provide students with an accurate mental representation of the concepts they will cover in the course.

Discussion: What misconceptions might students have about a topic in your discipline? Consider misconceptions that are relatively easy to resolve, as well as ones that are much harder to address. If you know of educational research on misconceptions in your discipline, please share references.

Video 1.1.2 Slides

Video 1.1.3 — Catalog of Misconceptions 

Michele DiPietro from Kennesaw State University explores examples of student misconceptions in several areas of study.

Video 1.1.3 Slides

Video 1.1.4 — Categories of Misconceptions 

Dr. Michele DiPietro from Kennesaw State University and Dr. Derek Bruff from Vanderbilt University introduce several categories that allow us to classify student misconceptions. He also arranges these categories in terms of the easiest to the hardest to address while providing examples of each.

Discussion: Select one of the misconceptions identified by your peers in Part 1 of this activity. Using the categories of misconceptions named by Michele DiPietro (proposition level misconceptions, flawed mental models, ontological miscategorizations, embedded beliefs), categorize the misconception identified by your peer. Why this category? Why do you think students hold this misconception?

Video 1.1.4 Slides

Video 1.1.5 — Activating Prior Knowledge 

Dr. Michele DiPietro from Kennesaw State University discusses the concept of activating prior knowledge to efficiently convey a concept. He presents several example questions to demonstrate the importance of activating prior knowledge.

Video 1.1.5 Slides

Video 1.1.6 — How to Activate Prior Knowledge 

Dr. Derek Bruff from Vanderbilt University discusses effective methods for surfacing and activating prior knowledge. These methods include: peer instruction, analogies, and even the timing and use of demonstrations in lecture.

Discussion: The flipped classroom is an approach to course design that is growing in popularity with STEM instructors. In the flipped classroom, students receive their first exposure to a new topic before class, typically through a textbook or explanatory video. This frees time during class for more active learning—the kind of practice and feedback we discuss in this module. This structure can be very effective, given the value of practice and feedback, but it often runs counter to the idea of creating “times for telling,” since it puts the “telling” first in the learning sequence. How do you reconcile this tension?

Video 1.1.6 Slides

Video 1.1.7 — Student Misconceptions in Physics, Part 2

Dr. Shane Hutson from Vanderbilt University discusses how he identifies and addresses student misconceptions in his physics courses. He provides examples of effective techniques he uses in the classroom including, how he utilizes clickers and peer instruction to surface and then address some of the common misconceptions he encounters his courses.

Principle #2 – Knowledge Organization


Video 1.2.1 — The Big Picture in Genetics, Part 1

Dr. Kathy Friedman from Vanderbilt University and Dr. Jennifer Osterhage from the University of Kentucky discuss their experiences in teaching genetics courses. They introduce the idea of using concept maps to identify the level and organization of student understanding as well as the importance of synthesizing information rather than simple memorization.

Discussion: Sometimes students and instructors view learning as a process of presenting information (that’s the instructor’s job) and memorizing that information (that’s the students’ job). There’s strong evidence that deep learning requires much more than memorization, and yet memorization is still a focus of much of undergraduate STEM education. In what ways has memorization been important to your own experiences as a STEM learner? In what ways has memorization alone been insufficient?

Video 1.2.2 — Building Adaptive Expertise 

Dr. Derek Bruff from Vanderbilt University identifies the differences in conceptual understanding between a novice and an expert in a given field of study while introducing and discussing the distinction between routine expertise and adaptive expertise.

Video 1.2.2 Slides

Video 1.2.3 — The Role of Knowledge Organizations 

Dr. Michele DiPietro from Kennesaw State University identifies different types of knowledge organization. He also provides an in depth discussion of the differences in knowledge organization between novices and experts.

Video 1.2.3 Slides

Video 1.2.4 — Knowledge Organization Research 

Dr. Michele DiPietro from Kennesaw State University introduces several studies that provide insight into how knowledge organization differs between novices and experts. He goes on to address why knowledge organization is important and identifies effective methods helping students organize knowledge in the most useful ways.

Video 1.2.4 Slides

Video 1.2.5 — Helping Students See the Big Picture 

Dr. Derek Bruff from Vanderbilt University provides an in depth discussion of strategies educators can use to help students consolidate and synthesize facts. The resultdevelopment of an accurate and complete conceptual understanding of a topic.

Discussion: Concept maps can be tools for helping students develop more robust knowledge organizations. As described here, concept maps are fairly freeform, but many disciplines have formalized ways of visualizing knowledge organizations. For instance, paleontologists use cladograms to organize relationships among species. (Here’s one example, and here’s an explanation of cladograms.) Share an example of a formalized knowledge visualization from your field. How might you use such a visualization in your teaching? How might students find the visualization challenging?

Video 1.2.5 Slides

Video 1.2.6 — The Big Picture in Genetics, Part 2

Dr. Kathy Friedman from Vanderbilt University and Dr. Jennifer Osterhage from the University of Kentucky discuss the methods and organizational tools they use in their genetics courses to effectively convey complex concepts to their students.

Discussion: Given the principles and practices discussed this week, what are your takeaways? That is, how might you apply these principles and practices in your teaching context?

Video 0.1.2 – Week 1 Wrap Up

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