Home » 2015 Spring » Expert and Novice Students; Writing and Active Learning

Expert and Novice Students; Writing and Active Learning

Facilitators: Daniel Collins, Patrick Lloyd, Kristin Polizzotto

Attending: Jameelah Hegazy (Nursing), Ivan Ho (Viological Sciences), Jen Roman (Biological Sciences), Thomas Greene (Physical Sciences), Martin Litwack (Math and Computer Sciences), Dmitry Brogun (Biological Sciences), Mara Gittleman (KCC Farm), Tara Scannell (Biological Sciences), Farshad Tamari (Biological Sciences), Daniel Collins (Math and Computer Science), Shoshana Bobker (Physical Sciences), Patrick Lloyd (Physical Sciences)

1. Review of First Meeting

2. Expert Students in the Clark Paper

Clark, R.E., Kirschner, P.A., & Sweller, J. 2012. Putting Students on the Path to Learning. American Educator Spring 2012:6-11

Question: Do we have any STEM classes with a preponderance of “expert” students, such that we should switch pedagogical strategies? (Clark makes a distinction between “novice” students and “expert” students and how each learns best.) We certainly have some expert students in cases; e.g., students who already hold B.A.’s (esp. among foreign students). Commonly they will be listening without needing to take notes. While we may not have classes with a majority of such students, we might leverage their expertise by group projects and team work. However, this requires careful assessment, assigning roles, and individual work with connected parts or topics. Some instructors use team work every other class. See also: the KCTL team-based learning FIG.

3. Novice Students and Course Prerequisites

On the other hand, difficulties result from having many “novice” unprepared students in a class – especially because CUNYFirst does not properly verify course prerequisites. This is an endemic problem across Math, Biology, etc. courses. Physical Sciences require both basic reading & math tests to be completed before registering courses, and an office staff member manually verifies all registrations; similar work is now done in the Math office.

Question: What is the value (if any) to the Elementary Algebra prerequisite for most science courses? The primary value may be as a proof of discipline and knowing how to study; the algebraic techniques themselves are certainly used but possibly secondary in importance. Question: Which is more critical the arithmetic (pre-algebra) or the elementary algebra? The abstract-thinking of algebra seems more important; but arithmetic also crucial (e.g., working with decimals, students who have no experience with physical measuring instruments like rulers, decimal mistakes with medication dosages can kill).

Even if prerequisites are taken, wide variation in how different instructors or other schools teach the prior courses can leave gaps or weaknesses. Courses get bogged down needing to re-teach subjects for lack of prerequisites (also changes such as Anatomy & Physiology no longer needing any BIO prerequisite). On the other hand, it’s currently hard to determine requirements for an A.A. degree for advising purposes (esp. whether a lab science course is required).

4. Writing and Active Learning

Question: What is the value of writing requirements on exams such as in Biology? One: It facilitates learning, and reinforcement on tests extends that learning. Two: It simulates and prepares for the experience of writing professional research lab reports. Ideally, students would be writing lab reports as by the middle school grades; exercising the use of math, graphs, etc. Question: Is there any risk of students exercising professional writing but not the complementary reading skills? Most instructors use presentation software (e.g., PowerPoint) in some cases, and students may not be reading them. These skills should be practiced in the earliest courses; don’t wait until later courses.

Commitment should be made to persuading students to be active learners (not just receivers of knowledge). Ideally critical-thinking activities should commence in the 6th-7th grades. In these early grades, differences are seen between specialized science teachers and general education teachers; NYS requires specialists by middle school, but some states still use general education teachers for K-12 (e.g., FLA). One problem with schools of general education is that they may not have rigorous science departments or classes.

5. Next Meeting

Next meeting is Monday, May-18, at 12:40 PM. At that time we will discuss the Alfieri paper, a meta-study on the difference between explicit instruction and discovery learning (for added depth to the Clark/Mighton papers). Minutes to this meeting, and any other articles, will be posted to the wiki as usual.

Alfieri, L., Brooks, P.J., & Aldrich, N.J. 2010. Does Discovery-Based Instruction Enhance Learning? Journal of Educational Psychology 2011, Vol. 103, No. 1, 1-18.

Minutes submitted by Daniel R. Collins

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