Magazine article USA TODAY

Pattern Classification May Be Key to Learning

Magazine article USA TODAY

Pattern Classification May Be Key to Learning

Article excerpt

It is both the bane of many parents and what has been called a major national vulnerability: the inability of many children to understand mathematics. Developing strategies to overcome that problem is the research focus of Nicole McNeil, associate professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind.

Members of the CLAD (Cognition, Learning and Development) Lab that McNeil directs recently collaborated with colleagues at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., to examine how the labels educators use to identify patterns affects preschoolers' understanding of these patterns. They compared concrete labels, which refer to the changing physical features of the pattern (e.g., "red, white, red, white"), to abstract labels, which describe the pattern using an arbitrary system that mimics the pattern (e.g., "A, B, A, B").

Children in the study solved a set of patterning problems in which they watched an experimenter explain a model pattern using either concrete labels or abstract labels and then tried to re-create the same pattern using a different set of materials.

"Children who were randomly assigned to the abstract labels condition solved more problems correctly than those assigned to the concrete labels condition," McNeil relates. …

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