Tuesday, September 8, 2015

McMullen- Memo 2

The connection between the two papers we read for this week was much more clear than the week before. In Chi and Feltovich’s paper, “Categorization and Representation of Physics Problems by Experts and Novices”, they conducted four studies to determine differences in chunking and problem solving. At the end of all four studies, they found that there were significant differences in the way experts and novices approached problem solving. Experts appeared to know more in general about a topic in addition to understanding how to apply that knowledge, and novices appeared to lack the ability to take general applications and use them in other situations. In Chase and Simon’s paper, “Perception in Chess”, they performed a study to determine differences between novice and master chess players. In the end they determined that the master chess players are better at “chunking” than novices players.
 The two papers focused on potential differences in problem solving strategies between expert/master and novice thinkers. The big difference between master and novice thinking that I noticed and thought was highlighted was “chunking”. Experts are able to more quickly form connections and determine relationships between a set of objects, ideas, etc. This chunking is an invaluable memory tool. It allows a person to remember larger quantities of information in less time and with less room for error. Novice thinkers do not “chunk” as well as expert thinkers do. Chi and Feltovich discuss the fact that cumulative results of the expert thinkers highlighted a few specific themes/categories, but the novice thinkers had answers that were all of over the board (one specific theme/category was highlighted and all the rest were of comparable frequency).

After reading papers, I have the tendency to immediately determine the applicability of the information. With the two papers we read for class this week, I’m left with the question of why these readings are significant to me as a science educator and how I can apply them to my future classroom. How can I work to encourage effective chunking and schemas in my students? What does it look like to try to understand where my students are on the expert/novice thinking spectrum? Those are just a few of the questions I was mulling over after reading the two papers.


  1. I spent a fair bit of time looking into applicability of these papers as well and honestly I had a pretty hard time bringing it down to a level relatable to us as educators. I hadn't previously thought of trying to perceive the "expert/novice thinking spectrum" in the context of a classroom. At first glance, I would think that one Secondary Ed classroom wouldn't have as broad a spectrum as displayed in these experiments, but then again, I don't have a whole lot of data on which to base that.

    I think the best way to apply the effective 'schema' approach in a classroom is to emphasize the importance of the guiding principles--I talked a little bit about this in my blog post. Something like a 'branching out' approach, finding the central ideas and working on the details later.

    In the chess expert example, however, it seems to me that the ability to chunk effectively is just bourne from a massive amount of time and familiarity with chess playing. As they say, 10,000 hours can make you a professional at anything, we just don't have 10,000 hours in a classroom.

  2. Ray,

    Thank you for your insight! I do wonder if by approaching certain disciplines (specifically biology) from the perspective of central ideas first and details later, we add to the misconception that science is all memorization. Take for example learning the process of photosynthesis. If we teach students the central idea (the most basic formula for photosynthesis) but don't teach them the processes that occur and make this basic formula true (the details), then the students don't understand why sunlight and carbon dioxide produce oxygen, water, and sugar and simply memorize another formula. Do you think there could be another way to still establish these schemas (or a better example to outline how this strategy is beneficial) or is this the best possible way that we know of?