Thinking across Cultures

By Donald M. Topping; Doris C. Crowell et al. | Go to book overview

37
Promoting Thinking in Physics and Algebra: Incorporating Cognitive Research Findings into Software Design

Jose P. Mestre William J. Gerace Pamela T. Hardiman Jack Lochhead University of Massachusetts

The increasing availability of the computer in the classroom has created a need for informed and creative instructional software. We think that the field of cognitive research in mathematics and science problem-solving processes can contribute significantly to the development of such software. Until recently, the fields of cognitive research and educational software design proceeded along fairly independent, noncrossing paths. Despite the fact that an increasing amount of this research has direct instructional implications, the results of cognitive studies are rarely published in journals read by educators or practitioners. Similarly, the majority of math and science educational software has been developed by expert programmers who have limited knowledge of pedagogy or learning theory. The result is software that is often flashy but does not enhance higher order thinking skills. Given this situation, it is not surprising that over 90% of the math/science educational software on the market is of the "drill and practice" variety.

Two areas of cognitive research in math and science learning bear implications to instruction, and consequently to educational software design. These areas are research on misconceptions and on differences between expert and novice problem solvers, which this chapter treats in two major sections. First, we provide a broad overview of the misconception literature and of the instructional implications associated with this body of research; we then describe a computer-based approach designed to teach students how to translate algebraic word problems into equations. We then provide an overview of the differences between experts and novices, and discuss a computer-based approach in which students are constrained to analyze physics problems in expert- like ways.

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