Talks at the University of Oregon (Cognitive Science & Science Communication)

by Stephanie Chasteen on May 3, 2012

I just came back from the University of Oregon, in beautiful Eugene, where I did a series of workshops and talks.  Here are the materials and slides from those talks, for anyone interested in these materials.

What every teacher should know about cognitive research.

This talk looks at some of the findings from cognitive psychology that have been of particular interest to us here in Colorado (or, perhaps more specifically, to me):

  • Dan Schwartz’s work on creating a “time for telling” in lecture using contrasts to orient students to key features
  • Various researchers’ work on the importance of context and prior knowledge, and how it can help or hinder learning
  • Kornell, Bjork, and others’ work on the importance of testing and retrieval for memorization

There are a few other threads in the slide presentation that I didn’t get a chance to cover (though did discuss with some interested graduate students after the talk).

Here are the handouts:  Handouts.pdf

A few discussion points came up during the talk, and here are some literature references related to those discussions:

  1. A nice review of the different kinds and causes of student motivation.  See particularly the summary table (I think it’s Table 2).  This table would make an excellent group discussion jumping-off-point.  Pintrich-motivation-review.pdf
  2. Are simulations better than real equipment, when, and should they be used before or after a hands-on lab?    A discussion of research in this area is on the research area of the PhET website.    A particularly often-cited publication is When learning about the real world is better done virtually: a study of substituting computer simulations for laboratory equipment .
  3. There is no evidence for learning styles (e.g., visual vs auditory learners).  Rather , the bulk of evidence seems to suggest that presenting material in multiple modes, or in a mode that suits the particular content at hand, is best.  The review suggesting this is here:  Pashler et al. review of learning styles.  One of the few studies that directly looks at learning styles (and finds no effect) is this study by Massa and Mayer, And I have also produced a short podcast on this research on my Learning About Teaching Physics podcast.

Below are the slides.

Speaking of Science:  The Art of Science Communication

I also gave a talk about some of the major themes in effective science communication.  This led to a particularly good discussion on how some of these ideas still apply in academic writing and talks — one needs to weave a story, use clear transitions between paragraphs, and make ones’ motivation for the study clear.  Narrative structure IS how we understand content?  Unfortunately you can’t hear the great pieces of audio that I played to make my point, but I’m always happy to share them.

Here are the handouts:  Speaking of Science-handout

We mentioned some useful resources:

  1.  Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
  2. Don’t Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style
  3. And for communicating about controversial issues:  The Psychology of Climate Change Communication (pdf download)

Here are the slides:

The nonlinear dynamics of a career in science education

Lastly, I gave a talk for the University of Oregon Women in Science group about my rather unusual career, careening from physics research to science journalism, museum work, education research, and now consulting services.

Here is a previous blog post that I wrote about my career.

We discussed a bit the way that working for grades, rather than for intrinsic rewards, can be a real hindrance in a career.  An “A” can be a validation of self-worth, whereas a “C” is taken as a sign of personal failure.  This was contrasted to an approach where a “C” just means that you need to work harder next time.  There’s quite a bit of research showing that the second approach is much more productive.  This is based on research by Dweck, and is called “fixed vs. growth mindset”.  A really useful Scientific American article about this research, and how you can avoid this in your kids, is here:  Dweck_SciAm11-07_The_Secret_to_Raising_Smart_Kids.pdf

The slide show is here:

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