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NYT: Brain calisthenics for improving perception

June 8, 2011

Once again, the NYT puts out a great article on teaching, that you should definitely sacrifice one of your 20 articles a month to read:

Brain Calisthenics Help Break Down Abstract Ideas, Researchers Say.

Huge kudos to the article for including links to two of the original research papers, here and here.

This article starts with the fairly well known idea that novices and experts in a field not differ in their knowledge and skills, they differ in how the perceive problems. What makes this work most interesting however, is that the study authors have developed a set online of tools designed to improve student intuition and perception.

Take a moment to check out the too check out a demo of one of these applications. In this demo, an object oscillates back and forth, and you have to get it to come to rest by clicking on a simulated fan to blow air onto the ball. With a bit of practice, students come to realize that in order to slow the ball down, the fan must be on when the ball is moving toward the fan, and with practice, students are building their intuition about dynamics.

The lab responsible for this research has a fairly comprehensive website with more demos and descriptions of their work.

So I find this research absolutely fascinating, especially on the back of yesterday’s Twitter conversation, and Mylene’s great post today, Reading a screencast, reading a circuit board, where she builds on her previous excellent series about teaching reading comprehension, and realizes the skills she’s emphasizing with her students in reading are the same skills necessary to distill understanding from a lecture or a circuit schematic. And my addition is that most of these skills revolve about how students perceive the text, lecture, schematic and their own understanding and ability.

So how do we develop a coherent series of activities to enhance student perception? Does it first require helping them to see the flaws in their own perception abilities first? Or is this detrimental?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2011 2:29 am

    I had a somewhat different reaction to the same NY Times article:
    http://gasstationwithoutpumps.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/perceptual-learning/

    • June 8, 2011 9:31 am

      Thanks—I didn’t dig into the papers to see how limited the studies were. Still, I found the actual simulations to be rather useful, and wonder if they could be incorporated into a larger effort to change students’ perception abilities in physics.

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