LA Seminar: Plan for Reading on Mental Models

Today, we shift gears from talking about “facilitating discourse” to “building on student thinking”

Before class, students will have read Joe Redish’s, “Implications for Cognitive Studies for Physics Teaching

After a brief warm-up where students interview their neighbor about talk moves they tried this week, we will start the day by watching Derek Muller’s “Khan Academy and Effectiveness of Science Videos“, and discussing how this video relates to four principles outlined in the reading. Roughly, those principles are

Principle 1: People tend to organize their experiences and observations into mental models. Students’ minds are not blank slates.

Principle 2: It is reasonably easy to learn something that matches or simply extends an existing mental model. It is difficult to learn something you do not almost already know.

Principle 3: It is very difficult to substantially change an established mental model.

Principle 4: Individual students can have different mental models. There may be not one best way to teach all of them.

Really watching the video is meant to review main points of reading, but with a shared context for talking about them. In general, I have more success providing a context for students to talk about a paper then I do just talking about the paper.

I think I then want to link this video and the paper to our discussion last week about photosynthesis and respiration/metabolism: how we each had some mental models of about how we lose weight / how trees grow, which were in many ways different than the scientific model that emphasizes carbon exchange. I’m thinking we might spend some time gathering some our ideas that influenced our thinking weight loss / tree growth, and reflect on where different ideas came from, why they make sense, etc.

  • There was the idea that roots digging into the ground get mass from the soil.
  • Others thought the the mass could come from sunlight.
  • Nathan added to that the idea that sun light powering the tree to use its roots like a pump… the sunlight powers the operation, but the mass comes from the soil.
  • Sarah had the idea that as we work out, we lose energy in the form of heat–as the heat radiates away we loss some weight.
  • Claire had the idea that we probably lose weight later (like in the bathroom), but others felt the weight you lose by going to bathroom isn’t from your fat… it’s merely the unusable food you ate. Or in the case of liquid, that weight comes and goes from hydration levels.

I’d like to emphasize how my facilitation of the conversation was guided not just by talk moves, but by an ongoing attempt to make sense of what students’ mental models were, and how they compared to each other. I took time to ask Josh to explain his idea again to the class. I compared and contrasted two ideas I heard (e.g., Sarah and Jason both think it’s about your body taking in something and putting out something. Sarah thinks it’s food energy that gets radiated as heat energy. Jason thinks it’s carbon you take in (with foods) that gets breathed as carbon dioxide.

I don’t know how much I will actually talk about this, because right now I don’t have a good plan for students talking about it. It seems like the kind of thing I want to talk about. The thing I see as “good” about it, is it’s my attempt to try to build continuity between last week and this week, and link the idea of mental models to ones they had, and link mental models to the role of the teacher— as someone who finds out about students’ mental models. I’d like to somehow motivate this next part…

The real activity for students is I want them to practice finding out about students’ mental models. I thought about watching another periscope video, but the website seems to not be working.

So, student group will get a choice to watch one of three Derek Muller Videos:

Misconceptions about Temperature

Which hits the Ground First?

What causes the seasons?

Students will be tasked with watching the video to answer the following questions:

  1. What common mental model(s) did you hear in the video? Explain what those people were thinking and why their ideas made sense to them?
  2. What experiences or observations might they have made that contribute to their mental model?
  3. How are these mental models different than the scientific one?
  4. How might knowing about students’ mental models change the way a teacher approaches helping students learn the topic?

I’d like to end the day, talking about what this has to do with being an LA. How can knowing about students’ thinking and ideas change the choices you make in helping them? Within the constraints of your classroom, how can you find out about students’ mental models?

Still a bit of vagueness in this plan, but that’s where I’m at.

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