Archive for June 20, 2011

Using perceptual/pre-cognitive knowledge for better learning — of programming?

The approach of getting people to use perceptual knowledge, instead of cognition, goes against what I learned in cognitive science.  We want people to think about what they’re doing.  But I do see the value of this direction, and wonder if we could use this in computing education.  Certainly, part of the challenge in learning programming is learning to read programs.  Could we help people to learn to recognize patterns in the code usefully, even before they understand those patterns?  Would that help in getting past syntax challenges?

For years school curriculums have emphasized top-down instruction, especially for topics like math and science. Learn the rules first — the theorems, the order of operations, Newton’s laws — then make a run at the problem list at the end of the chapter. Yet recent research has found that true experts have something at least as valuable as a mastery of the rules: gut instinct, an instantaneous grasp of the type of problem they’re up against. Like the ballplayer who can “read” pitches early, or the chess master who “sees” the best move, they’ve developed a great eye.

Now, a small group of cognitive scientists is arguing that schools and students could take far more advantage of this same bottom-up ability, called perceptual learning. The brain is a pattern-recognition machine, after all, and when focused properly, it can quickly deepen a person’s grasp of a principle, new studies suggest. Better yet, perceptual knowledge builds automatically: There’s no reason someone with a good eye for fashion or wordplay cannot develop an intuition for classifying rocks or mammals or algebraic equations, given a little interest or motivation.

via Brain Calisthenics Help Break Down Abstract Ideas, Researchers Say – NYTimes.com.

June 20, 2011 at 9:04 am 4 comments


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