Monday, September 7, 2015

This week’s readings dealt with the differences in problem processing between novices and experts.

The first paper, by Chase and Simon, studied how expert chess players were able to reconstruct chess positions from memory with greater accuracy and speed than novice players. It was known already that expert and novice chess players performed similarly if given randomly positioned chess pieces as template, showing that the difference could be in the way information is processed and internalized, rather than sheer recollection from memory. In this study, the authors used two tasks, perception and memory, and found that that information about the chess positions was stored into distinct units, called “chunks,” and that these chunks were governed by a set of internal rules based the relationship between one piece to another. Thus, expert players were better at recognizing the configurations of the chess pieces and putting them into larger chunks than novice players.

The second paper, by Chi et al., similarly looked at how experts (graduate students professors) and novices (undergraduates) differed in approaching physics problems. One major theme was “problem representation,” the way by which a person structures his approach to solving the problem. The authors found that novices tended to rely on surface structures, such as objects and physical terms presented by the problem. Experts differed in that they tended to classify problems into major physics principles, showing a deeper understanding of the tasks at hand. Like the chunks identified in the chess paper, the term “schemata” was coined by the authors to explain how experts and novices approached problems differently. The authors found that experts had schemata that were heavy in knowledge and explicit solution procedures, while the novices’ were lacking in abstract understanding. In general, experts demonstrated that they perceived more in problem statements than did novices.

Even though the two papers focused on two different subjects, chess and physics, they arrived at similar conclusions. Experts are more knowledgeable in the first place, and they are able to use this knowledge to perceive the question with innate understanding: the recognition of piece relations in chess and the categorization of problems based on physics principles. In a similar vein, experts are better than novices in recognizing and focusing on correct and useful options. For example, expert chess players are able to weed out bad moves early instead of weighing them all equally, just the same as how physics experts, when asked to categorize problems by keyword, chose words that were only a subset of those chosen by novices.

The articles made it fairly clear the difference between experts and novices, but as a teacher-in-training, I’d like to know how to help them make the transition.


  1. I think you raise an interesting point at the end by wondering how, as a teacher, we can help students make the transition from novice to expert thinking. The articles clearly illuminated the differences in problem categorization and information acquisition, but what they lacked was more detail on HOW the expert thinkers got to their level. I would also be interested in learning more about what skills/concepts/problem-solving techniques I could employ as a teacher to help my students think more deeply about the material.

  2. It's interesting that no matter what subject a master still employs the same reasoning of not only their knowledge of their topic but are able to form deeper linkages with the outside world . Also I believe that the data in both studies are presented well and should be definitely highlighted because of their relevance and thoroughness

  3. It is very interesting as previously pointed out that these differences between masters and novices are consistent across subjects. I suppose that these differences would be consistent across all science/math problem solving types of areas, but (and I'm not sure how relevant this is in a SCED class) I'm curious how this difference in thinking applies to history and English classes.