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Biology of Learning

This page was authored by Wilfred Franklin of the Bryn Mawr College Biology department as the first set of activities to an Introductory Biology lab course. It was inspired by the 2002 book, The Art of Changing the Brain, by James E. Zull.

 

 

 

What do we already know about Thinking?

 

What is a thought? .... is it conscious? 

  • Develop with your partner a definition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Observations on Thoughts

What is this image?



  • What does a brain look like doing different tasks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary thus far:

 

  • A thought is a unique pattern of neuronal activity (a particular assembly of active neurons)
  • More generally, all brain function is associated with "unique patterns of neuronal activity".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do we already Know about Learning?

 

What is learning? 

  • Develop with your partner a definition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Observations on Memory and Learning

 

Test your ability to memorize the list of words in the trials below. Click each trial then hit "return" on your browser after 5 seconds. Write down as many words as you can recall.

  • Click - here - for trial #1
  • Click - here - for trial #2
  • Click - here - for trial #3

 

What happened in this memory activity and why? A conceptual diagram of the trials above -

Another diagram

 

A theory of integration and application versus speed.

  • larger networks have more nodes and thus are more likely to be triggered in a variety of contexts - integrating knowledge making it available for alternative applications.

  • larger networks often are slower, due to physical constraints. The fastest nerve impluse is the Giant Squid axon? ...but not much flexibility?

 

 

 

Another relavent observation about Neural networks.

Conclusion derived from Ambiguous Figures?
  • The same physical neural network can support different patterns of activity that correspond to different thoughts, ie., different thoughts/ideas are not necessarily different networks, just different patterns of activity.

 

So what is learning?

Hebbian learning - image 1 -

Netlogo Diffusion Network Simulation

Netlogo Team Assembly Simulation

 

Other Definitions:

O.E.D 

More on Memory and the Brain:

Summary from Dr. Bruce Graham of the Unviersity of Stirling, UK. (His Home page)

 

 

 

 

Summary thus far:

 

Thoughts:

  • A thought is a unique pattern of neuronal activity (a particular assembly of active neurons)
  • More generally, all brain function is associated with "unique patterns of neuronal activity".

 

 

 

Learning:

  • At a mechanistic level, learning can be thought of as persistent synaptic modifications.
  • That is to say the strengthening, inhibiting, rewiring or even creation of different patterns of neuronal activity.
  • implicit in this: learning must start with pre-existing, individual mental states.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Emotions and Learning

 

What is an emotion? 

  • Develop with your partner a definition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Observations on Emotions

 

What is it about Posttraumatic Stress Disorder that creates unforgettable memories?

Why are our happiest moments like our first kiss hard to forget?

  • These rhetorical questions imply that abundant antidotal evidences exist demonstrating the power of emotion to create lasting memories even if we wish to forget.
  • The mechanisms by which emotions affect memory are not well understood. However, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests a direct relationship between emotional content of an experience and the ability to remember the event.
What are emotions? Enlarging Networks and Building Connections                                                           For more on cognitive processes and emotions see: Regions of the Brain associated with Emotions The Feeling of What Happens by Antonio Damasio The Mind Wide Open by Steven Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

Summary thus far:

 

Thoughts:

  • A thought is a unique pattern of neuronal activity (a particular assembly of active neurons)
  • More generally, all brain function is associated with "unique patterns of neuronal activity".

 

 

Learning:

  • At a mechanistic level, learning can be thought of as persistent synaptic modifications. 
    • That is to say the strengthening, inhibiting, rewiring or even creation of different patterns of neuronal activity. 

 

 

 

Emotions:

  • Emotional content increases recall and persistence of memories. Highly emotional events flush parts of the brain with (among others) the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine.
    • Acetylcholine has been shown (in vitro) to increase branching and synaptic connections in some neurons.
  • Emotions may serve to enlarge neural networks because of the vast neural bundles connecting ancestral brain regions (limbic system) with the more derived brain regions (neocortex).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merging Education Theory with Neurobiology: It's all about Action!

 

  • The Kolb's Learning Cycle describes a highly effect method for "deep learning".
  •  memorizing to learn versus memory emerging out of the learning process
  • rooted in Piaget's theory of learning through assimilation and accommodation and roughly corresponding to his four stages of cognitive development.

 

 

  • Perhaps the Learning Cycle is effective because it incorporates many parts of the brain thereby enlarging neuronal networks associated with any particular experience (even more so in the experience is emotionally engaging).
  • The learning cycle encourages students to act with many different parts to the brain. This wide spread activiting can eventually translate into new and enlarged neuronal activity patterns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Deduction, the Scientific Method (Inquiry) is the "Best" way to Learn:

 

The Scientific Method also has an interesting link to Brain structure and function

 More on the Science and the process of Science: Loopy VS Linear Science

 

Logical Deduction:

 

Major Premise: Completing the Learning Cycle is the most effective way to learn.

1st  Minor Premise: The Learning Cycle emerges from Brain structure and function.

2nd  Minor Premise: The Scientific Method also emerges from Brain structure and function.

 

Conclusion: The Scientific Method (Inquiry) is the "Best" way to learn.

 

 

 Click - here - for a related article on new links between neurobiology and scientific understanding.

 

 

 

 

Summary

  • Thoughts/Ideas/Thinking:
  • Thought is a unique pattern of neuronal activity (a particular assembly of active neurons) that represents concrete experience.  It can be about non-concrete abstraction, but most cognitive biologist would argue that abstraction is ultimately derived from more primary thoughts of sensory input.  Therefore, thoughts both unconscious and conscious, concrete and abstract are biologically grounded in the concept of "unique patterns of neuronal activity". More generally, all brain function is associated with "unique patterns of neuronal activity".
  • Concrete experience can be internal to the brain, as the nervous system not only monitors/senses the external environment, it also monitors/senses the body and the brain itself.
  • Learning:
  • At a mechanistic level, learning can be thought of as persistent synaptic modifications.  That is to say the strengthening, inhibiting, rewiring or even creation of different patterns of neuronal activity.  These new patterns result in a change in the nervous system that is at the foundation of all new thoughts, behaviors, feelings and intuitions. 
  • Practice, repetition and rehearsal helps to strengthen connections -  per Hebb's rule.  As students practice they are acting in a slightly new and different way, which leads to pattern enlargement and change.
  • Larger, more connected neuronal networks are believed to result in faster, easier recall and are more persistent. (More connections means higher probability of activity and activation of connected neurons, means stronger connections, means lower thresholds of activation, means a positive feedback loop resulting in the reinforcement of the synaptic modifications).
  • Therefore, engaging fully and often in all four parts of the learning cycle  corresponds to using more parts of the brain and results in deep lasting changes in the brain that are easier to recall.
  • The scientific method of looping between observing, reflecting, hypothesizing and testing mirrors the learning cycle which in turn reflects the structure and function of the brain.
  • Emotional content increases recall and persistence of memories. Highly emotional events flush parts of the brain with the neurotransmitter, Acetylcholine, which has been shown (in vitro) to increase branching and synaptic connections in some neurons.
  • Emotions may serve to enlarge neural networks because of the vast neural bundles connecting ancestral brain regions (limbic system) with the more derived brain regions (neocortex).
  • Learning is change, thus must build on previous knowledge.
  • All of this is preliminary and simply my model of the brain and learning given the current literature.

 

Key Points:

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4
  • Learning is enhanced though action and to even a greater extent by performing many types of activities from the reflective to manipulative and beyond to the emotional.  Action requires the brain to set up neuronal patterns that according to Hebb's law are continually undergoing refinement and modification. As more parts of the brain are engaged and setting up neuronal patterns, these enlarging traces of mental activity begin to influence and modify each other.  They can become wired together and result in new behaviors, ideas and feelings. This is what some in education call learning.  Perhaps it is just change - sometimes useful, sometimes harmful?

 

Assignment

Please post in your own words the answers to the following questions in your "Assignment Blog" on Blackboard.

  1. What is a thought? What if any, is the difference between concious and unconcious thoughts? 
  2. What is learning? What role if any, does memory play?...emotions?
  3. Look over the web site on Kolb's Learning Stlyes and explain with examples which style best describes your learning style.
  4. Given your learning style, identify which part of the scientific method (testing, sensing, reflecting, theorizing) will give you the most difficulty.
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Comments

Wil Franklin's picture

My Learning Style

I think I'm part accommodator, part diverger. Diverger resonates with me because I tend to take one concrete experience or observation and infer larger significance and patterns.  Over generalization is a problem for me because of this tendency.  On the other hand, it is easy for me to find patterns, make connections and transfer experiences to solve new and novel problems. 

As anyone who has interacted with me for even just a moment can attest to, I like to act; sometimes before I think.  In this way I think I am part accommodator. 

The fact that I am a bit compulsive, luckily works for me because I am also very social. I am not attached to my ideas, instead prefer to through them out and have other people react and interact with them.  As I observe how they react and interact with them I modify, change or delete as needed. In this way I use social interactions to help me reflect on what works and what is not resonating with other people.

These two facets of my learning style makes the "reflecting" part of the scientific method difficult for me, but the "acting" and "theorizing" fun and second nature.

Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

Learning Style

 

After investigation of the Kolb's Learning styles I have come to the conclusion that I have changed over time.  I do not fit into any one category because of the nature of my changing learning style over the past years.  I would find myself somewhere between a diverger and a converger because I like concrete but I don't like to reflex too long; I like the active engagement but working by myself is not great.  I like to engage my students but sometimes I move too fast! I like to do activities that bring out the best in my students.  I try new ideas and if they don't work out I do a short reflection and move on.  I have learned over the years that less is more and I have learned that sometimes when we reflex to long we reflex ourselves into a wall!(Box)!  So in saying this, I am a divconverger!

 

Jill Bean's picture

Learning Styles

Having looked over Kolb's learning styles, I think I mostly fit into the assimilator style and am also somewhat  of a diverger as well.  I'm not sure how comfortable I am with these descriptions of learning styles.  They don't seem that helpful for me in thinking about my students.  

Assimilator--> key phrases that remind me of myself

  • like organized and structured understanding
  • to think than to act
  • have a strong control need
  • Give them reading material, especially academic stuff and they'll gobble it down.
  • Do not teach through play with them as they like to stay serious.

Diverger --> key phrases that remind me of myself

  • take experiences and think deeply about them
  • enjoy participating and working with others
  • fret over conflicts
  • are generally influenced by other people
  • like to learn via logical instruction

 

Deborah Hazen's picture

Kolb's Inventory for teens and adults

I've been doing some reading on Kolb's inventory and so far I note that the inventory is meant for use by teens and adults.

"The most relevant information for the learner is about intra-individual differences, his or her relative preference for the four learning modes, not the inter-individual comparisons." (Hay Group Tech Specs for LSI)

The down side for me is the language used to describe each of the four learning styles on the link provided ---I'm struggling with the boxes and language like "fret over conflicts" being tied to "take experiences and think deeply about them" and "are generally influenced by other people." Makes the diverger sound like a deep thinker who is never the less influenced by others and fretting over conflicts. How do they get anything done or have a thought of their own?

Clearly, I've got some issues wth learning style inventories---I'm going to read some more about Kolb.

Edward Bujak's picture

Kolb speaks on Cycle of Learning

 Deborah,

Thanks for the great link with the Kolbs' (husband and wife) speaking on the Cycle of Learning and Experiential Learning - http://www.learningfromexperience.com/images/.../Tech_spec_LSI.pdf  It's a 26 minute video clip, but very informative and worthwhile.

Verolga Nix-Allen's picture

Four Learning Styles

ACCOMADATOR:  I like hands-on with opening other boxes. I remember arranging a song and at the rehearsal I had the choir to sing the first part last and vice versa.  I am very interested in opening up other boxes for the choir by adding a "lining out" or "recitative" to the end of a song.  Within a song, even at a ministry, I  change the interpretation of a song.

Syreeta Bennett's picture

Learning stlye

I probably identified with the Converger the most.  I am a thinker. I think about every step I make. I am definitely not compulsive. Once I have settle my thoughts  into one coherent idea , I have to see it in practice. I have to see to my idea come into fruition. I don't mind working in groups but I do work better alone. I find solitude in my own thoughts. I  prefer looking for my own answers than have them given to me. I prefer hands on activities because I like to create concrete examples of my thought process either through writing, tables, and lists.  I do differ becaue I don't love computers. I tolerate them as a necessary tool for today but I prefer newspapers,  magazines, and books. I honestly don't know what part of the scientifc process would give me difficulty, I think probably getting started would be difficult for me because I would have to focus on one or two ideas and not the many in my head.

Stephen Cooney's picture

day 1-Kolb's Learning Styles

 Choosing from Kolb’s learning styles I’d say that I am a converger reaching out in equal parts to assimilator and accommodator.  I prefer to do, but can be, as needed, concrete or introspective. 

Considering the Scientific Method, I think the part to give me the most trouble would be the reporting/communication part.  Experimentation intrigues me; in a recent workshop I used some simple equipment with high-powered software to validate an important physics concept.  The mathematical manipulations of the data required thinking outside the box to take advantage of the power of software.  It all made sense to me; I struggled sharing it with some of my colleagues.  Those with strong math skills understood it, those without remained in the dark, despite my best efforts.

Edward Bujak's picture

Assimilators UNITE!

I believe I feel most comfortable in the assimilator quadrant of Kolb's Learning Styles.  I do like the cognitive approach.  I do not like jumping into situations with impulsive responses unless absolutely necessary.  This ability to collect all the facts before making a decision/ruling is extremely important for any administrator/principal/leader.   I do like a GOOD lecture, but I also like a GREAT demonstration to support or extend the lecture, but at the same time group work is also a learning avenue.  I tend to value the opinions of experts or trusted friends when it comes to big decisions.  I also love a thoughtful, provoking discourse on any topic, but it must be mindful and purposeful.  I love academic stuff, but I also love fun stuff.  I do not agree that the only way to get through to me is with a serious approach.    I do not agree that I am a control freak.

I like the theorizing and reflecting part of scientific method.  I guess I like the what-ifs, the extensions, the re-inventing part, but I also like to tinker and play with the "toys" and get my hands dirty.

Rachel Roberts's picture

Hands-On!

I believe that I am an Accomodator. I love hands on learning...hate routines...they drive me a little mad. With my students I do love to be creative and at times I have actually stemmed away from routine and took risks to try to get the students to understand various topics. I love the question "why". My next question usually is "why not" or "what if". I feel that these simple questions are the questions that spark students thoughts and experiences as well as prior knowledge on the subject.  Practical learning and hands-on learning allows me to soar.

I feel that the piece that would give me the most problem would be theorizing. This includes no connections to experiences or memories of internal models. Those puzzling questions may remain just that for me. I use my hands on experiences for my concrete thoughts, so therorizing is difficult for me because that is not a concrete, factual thought or "answer".

Dalia Gorham's picture

While looking at Kolb's

While looking at Kolb's Learning Styles, I beleive there are two learning styles that best describe me. Accomodator is the strongest learning style to decsribe me, I am very hands-on and often find myself asking "what if" and "why not". However, I do enjoy working with people rather than alone. It is for this reason my secondary learning style would be Divergers.  I am very motivated by logical instruction and conversation with others. In my opinion, a lot of learning happens through our experiences with others and sharing thoughts.

Moira Messick's picture

Look over the web site on

  1. Look over the web site on Kolb's Learning Stlyes and explain with examples which style best describes your learning style.  I can identify with all of the learning styles but if I had to choose the one most suited for me it would be an "ACCOMODATOR."  This is because I am a hands-on learner who does best through experiential learning.  I first understood this aspect of myself in college.  I did the co-op program through Drexel University where I studied marketing.  The classes were were interesting and I did well but it was not until I worked in IBM's marketing departments did I learn that it may not be the field that interested me the most.  It took these hands-on experiences to really understand my learning.  I was tutoring throughout my undergraduate studies and experiencing that felt right...this led me to teaching where I have been euphorically happy for twelve years.  I do like to tackle things head on and on my own before working with others.  Both of these qualities are illustrative of an "ACCOMODATOR."
  2. Given your learning style, identify which part of the sci entific method (testing, sensing, reflecting, theorizing) will give you the most difficulty.                                                                                  Theorizing would probably give me the most difficulty in the scientific method while testing would be my strong suit. 
Geneva Tolliferreo's picture

7/20 PM: Where do I fit in?

As I read the four Kolb's styles of learning, I find characteristics that do and do not apply to me in each of the four styles.  That is not a cop-out, it is simply confirmation of who I am not being wanting to be 100% in any box.

Theorizing would be the aspect I prefer the least, because I am more accustom to thinking on my feet, both in my former career and with my present interests.  As for the future, my theory is that I will succeed and God's Holy will lead me to do no less.

joycetheriot's picture

Don't box me in!

After reading the 4 non-neutral learning "Styles" I have decided that I must be the fifth category: a Diconmodasimtor. There are aspects of each that I lean (learn) toward and can change into at any time depending on the environment. My strong belief is that the majority of my students are in the same category!

Deborah Hazen's picture

Open boxes----Closed boxes

Labels, especially learning styles, do feel like closed boxes--especially by way of introduction to new people in a new group. Kolb's boxes feel particularly confining to me...I'm pondering my own reaction.

Diedre Bennett's picture

Kolb's Learning Style

After looking over Kolb's Learning Styles, I believe I am mostly a Diverger.  I often replay and think deeply about experiences I have had. I'm always trying to make sense of them.  I've been told when I questioned certain situations that "it's not that deep." For me something has to make sense and sit right with me. As a diverger I suppose reflecting would give me the most trouble.  I would probably over analyze my results. I would need to be sure of my results in order to come up with a theory that I was comfortable with and could stand behind.

 

Stephanie Dubin's picture

My Learning Style

 

I believe that I am Divergers learner. I am told many times that I ask why often. I have trouble excepting things just because, I like to find and answer the, "but why" part of it. I learn best by participating in something hands on and discussing it with others. I do get upset when there are conflicting view points.

I enjoy the testing and thoerizing part of the scientiific method but sometimes get hung up on reflecting. I start to questioning results and wonder if the experiement was done many times would there be other results.

Janet Scannell's picture

Kolb in 5 min --> I'm a diverger

My take on Kolb's learning styles is that I'm a diverger. I'm also an "S" in the MyersBriggs (as opposed to "N") which is a Sensor as opposed to an iNtuitive. Sensors and Divergers like to gather data. 

I found the other spectrum, the processing scale, to be very interesting. I connect with the "reflective" end rather than the "active" end - exploration with conversation sums me up well.  I haven't heard of another learning or behavior model with this take on how one integrates information. I find this useful.

I've been so involved with the scientific method that I must've figured out how to compensate for whichever aspect would 'normally' be difficult for a diverger. 

 

elovejoy's picture

3. Look over the web site on

3. Look over the web site on Kolb's Learning Stlyes and explain with examples which style best describes your learning style.

According to Kolb's Learning Styles, I would consider myself a diverger.  When I was little, my favorite question to ask my parents was "WHY?!" (as I'm sure is the same case for many kids).  I definitely like working in groups and hearing different opinions and voices, but I also definitely do not like conflict and avoid it as much as possible.  I am a big hands on learner.

4. Given your learning style, identify which part of the scientific method (testing, sensing, reflecting, theorizing) will give you the most difficulty.

I have the most difficulty reflecting and theorizing.

RecycleJack Marine's picture

KOLB'S LEARNING STYLES

I think I am an Accomodator (Concrete experiencer/Active experimenter)

Accommodators have the most hands-on approach, with a strong preference for doing rather than thinking. They like to ask 'what if?' and 'why not?' to support their action-first approach. They do not like routine and will take creative risks to see what happens.

They like to explore complexity by direct interaction and learn better by themselves than with other people. As might be expected, they like hands-on and practical learning rather than lectures.

I am actively searching for answers to things I discover out in the real world, but I don't always go all the way out onto the board before "I dive in" to the challenge.

From among the parts of the Scientific Method, I am sure that I would rather not involve myself in testing any theories, In fact, I historically do not test well.

Kathy Swahn's picture

Kolbs learning styles

Accommodators (Concrete experiencer/Active experimenter)

Accommodators have the most hands-on approach, with a strong preference for doing rather than thinking. They like to ask 'what if?' and 'why not?' to support their action-first approach. They do not like routine and will take creative risks to see what happens.

They like to explore complexity by direct interaction and learn better by themselves than with other people. As might be expected, they like hands-on and practical learning rather than lectures.

· Look over the web site on Kolb's Learning Styles and explain with examples which style best describes your learning style.

 

I think of myself as an accommodator when learning. I have found that I enjoy taking basic concrete thought and learning to adapt that thinking into a higher thought. I feel it is important for learners to create new thoughts and ideas to promote learning. When the learning is created rather than just “spoon fed” the learning is deeper with longer lasting results. I have found that I make more learning connections by doing rather than just listening or just reading.

· given your learning style, identify which part of the scientific method (testing, sensing, reflecting, theorizing) will give you the most difficulty.

This poses a difficult question for me since I think that this learning style lends itself to the scientific method. First ask a question and format a hypothesis, test – test – test, then analyze the data (see if questions were answered) all of which fits into the accommodators learning curve. Given that I guess the end of the scientific method presenting/sharing data would be my short coming.

 

Geneva Tolliferreo's picture

7/20 PM: Why the brain needs rest...

With sooooooooooooooooooo many neurons and sets of neurons firing at the same time, we need to rest so our brain will catch up processing it all.

RecycleJack Marine's picture

acetocholine and alzheimers disease

Check out this site if you are interested

RecycleJack Marine's picture

acetocholine and alzheimers disease

Brie Stark's picture

We were discussing multiple

We were discussing multiple choice questions and testing a bit during the afternoon session, and it got me thinking -- couldn't rewording, only a little bit, really foster inquiry learning?  Example:

1) Pick the right answer [a, b, c, d] --> there is a single truth, not open-ended.
2) Pick the best answer to describe _____ situation [a, b, c, d] --> there is a truth for a specific situation and inquiry still exists.

Joyce said that, if there are 2 parts to a project (ex. journal and physical project), perhaps one part could constitute the 'A' grade.  As a student, I see loopholes in this (it's only natural, sadly)... because, growing up with diverse friends, many of those friends would know to see this loophole and therefore put more effort into the part they desire and completely disregard the other.  While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, is it inquiry learning in its entirety?  I think it is an arguable, and good, point.

Is all inquiry created equal?  I think the point of inquiry, at least to me, is to stress development as a learning process.  In other words, in any inquiry-based lesson, every student and teacher should learn something new from their peers.  I think that, perhaps, in a 'guided' inquiry-based lesson, this developmental process is not as emphasized, but rather, reaching goals is emphasized.  Isn't this strikingly close to a lecture-setting, only, perhaps, in a forum instead of a lecture?  It's debatable.

While Wil stressed retrieval, I honestly think that subjective meaning is an important thing to take away from the 'trials' -- we all could've interpreted the second trial in different ways: an algebra wears the little mermaid; the little mermaids wears an algebra -- etc.  We have context with syntax ('an' must go with the only word starting with a vowel, thus, 'algebra') but we choose to put them together in different ways.  That way, we ALL have individual, subjective meanings that help us create association and retrieve information.  I think this is especially important to consider in education: meaning is subjective.

I think emotions are an untapped resource for instructors.  On a very extreme side, an argument could be made by using the brainwashing regime that China instigated (and most likely Russia, during the cold war) in order to convince American prisoners of war to believe in communism.  It worked because the Chinese tapped into the primordial brain and used fear, regret, anguish -- every raw emotion possible -- to get their point across.  While this is an extreme case, it does make a setpoint with which to approach education: how much should we use emotions and to what good can they be used?

Learning Styles: 1/2 diverger (like participating with others, use single experience to multiple possibilities -- but, don't fret over conflict), 1/2 converger (enjoys solitude/independence, thinks carefully and makes small changes -- not so much computer-based learning), and moreso assimilator (like direct knowledge, learn through conversation, very logical, very cognitive-approaching, reading material..).

Deborah Hazen's picture

Looking for the A grade

Where do our thoughts about grades in general (what they mean on so many levels) and grade inflation take us?

Edward Bujak's picture

grade inflation is pervasive

Thanks for the great article on grade inflation.

This is nothing new and true at all levels of schooling.  Is it a busineess ... just look at the facts and grade inflation is just one.

While an undergrad many years ago my high school friend and I attended a good university.  He was a chemical engineer with a 3.8/4 GPA while I was an electrical engineer with a 2.8 GPA.  He was in the middle of the chemical engineering graduating class while I was in the top 25% of my EE class.  Hummmm.  Grade inflation is pervasive ... well maybe not in EE at that school.  And this was college ... so parents were not the issue.

I really like the "content deflation" term.  I hape to work that into my repertoire.  :)

 
Edward Bujak's picture

DELETE

 

 
Edward Bujak's picture

MC tests - inquiry? ... well ....

Meaningful Multiple Choice (MC) responses are limited and can be biased unless worded extremely carefully.  This is THE reason ETS has a "test" or "experimental" section on almost all of their tests.  ETS has a group of psychometricians that ONLY study these experimental questions for any form of bias and rework them or trash them if the results are not perfect bell curves.

I have used MC questions to stimulate or guide an inquiry-driven unit or lesson.  The answers are short and I like the idea where there may be a 1st best and 2nd best answer.

Check out UbD, Understanding by Design.  UbD's premise is to design the lesson/unit backwards by asking a big question or thought that you want the students to truly understand at the end and then design towards that.

Also check out the 2009 Science PSSA grade 11 tests.  Some are multiple choice, but it is not simple spitting back facts.  Instead it provides a brief story with supporting graph(s), illustration(s), chart(s), etc.  It then asks MC questions that require the testee to critically think with the presented facts.  Some might call this scientific thinking or analytical thinking, but the answer is derived/synthesized from the presented information.  So the testee is required to discover/formulate the answer and this might be inquiry based, but that might be stretching it (well according to me).  :)

 
Janet Scannell's picture

mult choice

I like Brie's rephrasing of multiple choice questions to choose the "best" answer as opposed to the "right" answer, but I'm not sure I think this fosters inquiry learning. Unless it's a pro-rated grading system, it's still probably 1 point for one of the four answers and 0 points for the other three.  By rephrasing it strikes me a lower barrier to participate, perhaps a 'friendlier' and more open way to ask the question. But if 1 is "correct" the assessment isn't that interested in the meaning ascribed by the student.

It would be interesting to consider the pro-rating or a less rigid scale to seek meaning added by the students. Not sure it's useful as an assessment tool, but giving a number of points that the answerer assigns to the choices. For example, a total of 5 points and they can give all to 1 answer or divide them up.  The grading would then need a population to compare to if you're trying to assess how one compares to some "norm". Could be a population of those deemed knowledgeable on a subject or a population of students who are at similar learning levels.

Brie Stark's picture

I would argue that.  If you

I would argue that.  If you had already gone over "truth can be truth but only in certain contexts" (basically, that there can be a 'good' answer that fits all of our current knowledge, but that we acknowledge the possibility of a better answer), then the student would read the question as asking for the best answer that the world knew at that point in time.

Deborah Hazen's picture

Chuck the tests

Why try to reformat multiple choice tests? If our goal is to get people thinking, if we want to value thinking--not a set of regurgitated "right" answers--then why not just migrate to portfolio assessment? Is is because it would be too hard for teachers to use portfolio assessment in a class of 38? Well, we all know that the class of 38 isn't a good idea either.

Edward Bujak's picture

Authentic Assessment

 

 

Deborah, you are soooo right.

ANY form of single test is not a good thing.  Authentic assessment is much better.  Grade the student on everything! Class participation, homeork, presentations, boardwork, group work, solo work, projects, portfolios and do it all the time, contemporaneoulsy, for almost instant feedback for the student and the teacher (and parent(s)/legal guardians).

Of course this makes the teachers' jobs are much tougher.

And can we stop with the Multiple Choice (MC)-type questions?  Open-ended or (context sensistive) constructed responses provide much more feedback that potentially a guess in a MC  test.  Yes, the student is forced to create an answer on a blank piece of paper.   They are forced to recall facts and decode meaning from the involved question and formulate a cohesive response.  That is when we know they know.

Inclusion in a big class is also bad.  It's tough to differentiate your lesson for 38 students especially if you want an inquiry based class.  They are not all at the same level.  It's real tough.

 
 
 
Stephen Cooney's picture

 I refer to MC as Multiple

 I refer to MC as Multiple Guess, they can be very difficult for the dyslexic and/or ADD-ADHD student (think reading issues and distractibility)

I prefer matching where the concept is reworded from its original presentation to the class and they need to do a bit of thinking to find the "best fitting" answer.  I agree, "best choice" is a better way to lead them to a choice/answer.  I create a recording of the quiz/test/assessment for those kids who need to hear rather than read or hear along with their reading.

Brie Stark's picture

Deb and Ed, I too believe

Deb and Ed, I too believe that an assigment like a portfolio is ideal.  However, teachers like Stephanie and Rachel indicated yesterday that, at times, they have up to 35 students per classroom.  Do the portfolios then become a hindrance to education?  Is it possible for teachers to assess, with inquiry in mind, so many students on the level of this open-ended project?  I would think, ideally, that this were possible, but from a reality-driven point, I can see possible problems.  In the computer science institute, a woman also had to assess up to 75 students (7th grade reading teacher) and we tried to brainstorm open-ended, inquiry-based assessments.. but we kept getting hit and driven back by the sheer number of people to assess and the short time limit.

Jill Bean's picture

testing, assessment, and inclusion

I am on board with the desire to through out tests seeking specific answers.  I find alternative forms of assessment more informative, compelling, and transformative than traditional forms.  I can also recognize the logistical problems that could arise from portfolio and other types of assessment.  These assessments can feel subjective and they are certainly more intense for teachers.

I have to argue with your message about inclusion though.  If there was one take-home message that I got from Paul and Brain and Behavior, it was the value to interacting with people who have different experiences and different ways of understanding.  That is one powerful way for us to truly determine if our stories are becoming "less wrong", by comparing them to others' stories and seeing which stories better account for the data.  Certainly 38 kids with inclusion and inquiry based instruction sounds very challenging and overwhelming to manage.  I do think that class size is one of the most pressing problems in our education system.

I have struggled during these summer institutes to balance my ideal image of education and classroom learning with the knowledge that we are all working within a system.  I wonder how productive it is to get caught up in the ideal and then feel let down when it cannot be implemented.  I think I would find it helpful to have time to think about concrete ways that inquiry and emergence can be used within our current reality (and yes I know that reality is what my brain constructs...). I certainly agree with Paul when he encourages teachers to go out and advocate and push for the changes that we believe need to happen to make our education system better learning environments for children.  On the other hand I know that these changes cannot happen all at once, rather change often occurs incrementally. 

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