Posts tagged ‘transfer’

Spreadsheets as an intuitive approach to variables: I don’t buy it

A piece in The Guardian (linked by Deepak Kumar on Facebook) described how Visicalc became so popular, and suggests that spreadsheets make variables “intuitive.” I don’t buy it. Yes, I believe that spreadsheets help students to understand that a value can change (which is what the quote below describes). I am not sure that spreadsheets help students to understand the implications of that change. In SBF (Structure, Behavior, Function) terms, spreadsheets make the structural aspect of variables visible — variables vary. They don’t make evident the behavior (how variables connect/influence to one another), and they don’t help students to understand function of the variable or the overall spreadsheet. If we think about the misconceptions that students have about variables, the varying characteristic is not the most challenging one.

The Bootstrap folks have some evidence that their approach to teaching variables in Racket helps students understand variables better in algebra. It would be interesting to explore the use of spreadsheets in a similar curriculum — could spreadsheets help with algebra, too? I don’t expect that we’d get the same results, in part because spreadsheet variables don’t look like algebra variables. Surface-level features matter a lot for novices.

 

Years ago, I began to wonder if the popularity of spreadsheets might be due to the fact that humans are genetically programmed to understand them. At the time, I was teaching mathematics to complete beginners, and finding that while they were fine with arithmetic, algebra completely eluded them. The moment one said “let x be the number of apples”, their eyes would glaze and one knew they were lost. But the same people had no problem entering a number into a spreadsheet cell labelled “Number of apples”, happily changing it at will and observing the ensuing results. In other words, they intuitively understood the concept of a variable.

Source: Why a simple spreadsheet spread like wildfire | Opinion | The Guardian

April 15, 2016 at 7:44 am 1 comment

Brain training, like computational thinking, is unlikely to transfer to everyday problem-solving

In a recent blog post, I argued that problem-solving skills learned for solving problems in computational contexts (“computational thinking”) were unlikely to transfer to everyday situations (see post here).  We see a similar pattern in the recent controversy about “brain training.”  Yes, people get better at the particular exercises (e.g., people can learn to problem-solve better when programming). And they may still be better years later, which is great. That’s an indication of real learning.  But they are unlikely to transfer that learning to non-exercise contexts. Most surprisingly, they are unlikely to transfer that learning even though they are convinced that they do.  Just because you think you’re doing computational thinking doesn’t mean that you are.

Ten years later, tests showed that the subjects trained in processing speed and reasoning still outperformed the control group, though the people given memory training no longer did. And 60 percent of the trained participants, compared with 50 percent of the control group, said they had maintained or improved their ability to manage daily activities like shopping and finances. “They felt the training had made a difference,” said Dr. Rebok, who was a principal investigator.

So that’s far transfer — or is it? When the investigators administered tests that mimicked real-life activities, like managing medications, the differences between the trainees and the control group participants no longer reached statistical significance.

In subjects 18 to 30 years old, Dr. Redick also found limited transfer after computer training to improve working memory. Asked whether they thought they had improved, nearly all the participants said yes — and most had, on the training exercises themselves. They did no better, however, on tests of intelligence, multitasking and other cognitive abilities.

Source: F.T.C.’s Lumosity Penalty Doesn’t End Brain Training Debate – The New York Times

March 18, 2016 at 7:26 am 5 comments

Little Evidence That Executive Function Interventions Boost Student Achievement: So why should computing?

Here’s how I interpret the results described below.  Yes, having higher executive function (e.g., being able to postpone the gratification of eating a marshmallow) is correlated with greater achievement.  Yes, we have had some success teaching some of these executive functions.  But teaching these executive functions has not had any causal impact on achievement.  The original correlations between executive function and achievement might have been because of other factors, like the kids who had higher executive function also had higher IQ or came from richer families.

This is relevant for us because the myth that “Computer science teaches you how to think” or “Computer science teaches problem-solving skills” is pervasive in our community.  (See a screenshot of my Google search below, and consider this blog post of a few weeks ago.)  But there is no support for that belief.  If this study finds no evidence that explicitly teaching thinking skills leads to improved transferable achievement, then why should teaching computer science indirectly lead to improved thinking skills and transferable achievement to other fields?

Why do CS teachers insist that we teach for a given outcome (“thinking skills” or “problem-solving skills”) when we have no evidence that we’re achieving that outcome?

Cursor_and_computer_science_teaches_you_how_to_think_-_Google_Search

The meta-analysis, by researchers Robin Jacob of the University of Michigan and Julia Parkinson of the American Institutes for Research, analyzed 67 studies published over the past 25 years on the link between executive function and achievement. The authors critically assessed whether improvements in executive function skills—the skills related to thoughtful planning, use of memory and attention, and ability to control impulses and resist distractions—lead to increases in reading and math achievement , as measured by standardized test scores, among school-age children from preschool through high school. More than half of the studies identified by the authors were published after 2010, reflecting the rapid increase in interest in the topic in recent years.

While the authors found that previous research indicated a strong correlation between executive function and achievement, they found “surprisingly little evidence” that the two are causally related.

“There’s a lot of evidence that executive function and achievement are highly correlated with one another, but there is not yet a resounding body of evidence that indicates that if you changed executive functioning skills by intervening in schools, that it would then lead to an improvement in achievement in children,” said Jacob. “Although investing in executive function interventions has strong intuitive appeal, we should be wary of investing in these often expensive programs before we have a strong research base behind them.”

via Study: Little Evidence That Executive Function Interventions Boost Student Achievement.

June 1, 2015 at 7:44 am 7 comments

Important paper at SIGCSE 2015: Transferring Skills at Solving Word Problems from Computing to Algebra Through Bootstrap

I was surprised that this paper didn’t get more attention at SIGCSE 2015.  The Bootstrap folks are seeing evidence of transfer from the computing and programming activities into mathematics performance.  There are caveats on the result, so these are only suggestive results at this time.

What I’d like to see in follow-up studies is more analysis of the students.  The paper cited below describes the design of Bootstrap and why they predict impact on mathematics learning, and describes the pre-test/post-test evidence of impact on mathematics.  When Sharon Carver showed impact of programming on problem-solving performance (mentioned here), she looked at what the students did — she showed that her predictions were met.  Lauren Margulieux did think-aloud protocols to show that students were really saying subgoal labels to themselves when transferring knowledge (see subgoal labeling post).  When Pea & Kurland looked for transfer, they found that students didn’t really learn CS well enough to expect anything to transfer — so we need to demonstrate that they learned the CS, too.

Most significant bit: Really cool that we have new work showing potential transfer from CS learning into other disciplines.

Many educators have tried to leverage computing or programming to help improve students’ achievement in mathematics. However, several hopes of performance gains—particularly in algebra—have come up short. In part, these efforts fail to align the computing and mathematical concepts at the level of detail typically required to achieve transfer of learning. This paper describes Bootstrap, an early-programming curriculum that is designed to teach key algebra topics as students build their own videogames. We discuss the curriculum, explain how it aligns with algebra, and present initial data showing student performance gains on standard algebra problems after completing Bootstrap.

via Transferring Skills at Solving Word Problems from Computing to Algebra Through Bootstrap.

May 11, 2015 at 7:44 am 8 comments

National Academies Report Defines ’21st-Century Skills’

I looked up this report, expecting to see something about computation as a ’21st-century skill.’ The report is not what I expected, and probably more valuable than what I was looking for.  Rather than focus on which content is most valuable (which leads us to issues like the current debate of whether we ought to teach algebra anymore), the panel emphasized “nonacademic skills,” e.g., the ability to manage your time so that you can graduate and intra-personal skills.  I also appreciated how careful the panel was about transfer, mentioning that we do know how to teach for transfer within a domain, but not between domains.

Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who was not part of the report committee, said developing common definitions of 21st-century skills is critical to current education policy discussions, such as those going on around the Common Core State Standards. She was pleased with the report’s recommendation to focus more research and resources on nonacademic skills. “Those are the things that determine whether you make it through college, as much as your GPA or your skill level when you start college,” she said. “We have tended to de-emphasize those skills in an era in which we are focusing almost exclusively on testing, and a narrow area of testing.”

The skill that may be the trickiest to teach and test may be the one that underlies and connects skills in all three areas: a student’s ability to transfer and apply existing knowledge to a problem in a new context. “Transfer is the sort of Holy Grail in this whole thing,” Mr. Pellegrino said. “We’d like to believe we can create Renaissance men who are experts in a wide array of disciplines and can blithely transfer skills from one to the other, but it just doesn’t happen that way.”

via Education Week: Panel of Scholars Define ’21st-Century Skills’.

August 13, 2012 at 7:11 am 1 comment

Any cognitive benefit of video games? Video-game studies have serious flaws

Do video games provide some kind of cognitive benefit after the game play?  There have been arguments that video games lead to improved attention, quicker responses, and visual skills.  A paper in Frontiers in Psychology has reviewed the past literature and found that they are all flawed with some basic bias errors.  This doesn’t mean that video games don’t have cognitive benefits.  But we don’t have any evidence that they do.

Most of the studies compare the cognitive performances of expert gamers with those of non-gamers, and suffer from well-known pitfalls of experimental design. The studies are not blinded: participants know that they have been recruited because they have gaming expertise, which can influence their performance, because they are motivated to do well and prove themselves. And the researchers know which participants are in which group, so they can have preconceptions that might inadvertently affect participants’ performance.

via Video-game studies have serious flaws : Nature News.

October 4, 2011 at 9:33 am 4 comments

New NSF Program: Cyberlearning: Transforming Education

The second expected new NSF program that might fund computing education research has just been released. Very exciting!  What a great time to do work in computing education research!

Through the Cyberlearning: Transforming Education program, NSF seeks to integrate advances in technology with advances in what is known about how people learn to

  • better understand how people learn with technology and how technology can be used productively to help people learn, through individual use and/or through collaborations mediated by technology;
  • better use technology for collecting, analyzing, sharing, and managing data to shed light on learning, promoting learning, and designing learning environments; and
  • design new technologies for these purposes, and advance understanding of how to use those technologies and integrate them into learning environments so that their potential is fulfilled.

Of particular interest are technological advances that allow more personalized learning experiences, draw in and promote learning among those in populations not currently served well by current educational practices, allow access to learning resources anytime and anywhere, and provide new ways of assessing capabilities. It is expected that Cyberlearning research will shed light on how technology can enable new forms of educational practice and that broad implementation of its findings will result in a more actively-engaged and productive citizenry and workforce.

via Cyberlearning: Transforming Education (nsf10620).

October 2, 2010 at 9:16 am Leave a comment

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