EDU 510.90 – The Cognitive Science of Teaching & Learning




Here we are at the end of week 7 of EDU 510.  I honestly can’t believe it!  I have learned SO much in these past 7 weeks, it’s truly unbelievable.  I have learned to look at learning in a whole new light.  I have taken for granted the things I have been doing in my classroom and the way my students behave.  There are so many underlying concepts beneath the surface of learning and knowledge that I did not know about, or did not think about (and I really did think I tried hard to do this before!)  This course has truly opened my eyes to the way we think, acquire and store knowledge, and has also shown me how to implement certain strategies into my classroom to make it a more interactive and fun experience for my students.  I am truly blown away by the invaluable information that we have accumulated and that we can take with us into future courses and into our classrooms.  Here’s to the last week!



After eight weeks taking the course, I’m still not convinced that AI will or should  try to delve into the world of emotions and cognition.  I think some things should be left alone (like cloning… why??)  Just because we might have the scientific capability someday, what about the ethical concerns?  As it is, I’m finding my students are becoming more and more reliant on technology for everything.  Soon we will be an anti-face-to-face society, where we sit alone at home or stand right next to each other ignoring each other while we text and talk on our phones.  We’ll have computers do everything for us, so that we will lose the power to think and reason.  I have students that cannot add 8 + 4 without using their calculators.  As educators, we must know when to introduce technology and know that it should not take over our classrooms, but be an aid in our teaching purposes.  Technology will never replace an instructor (I hope!) and we need to be aware of how we can use technology and AI in our classrooms at all times.



When I was first reading the Thagard book, I thought I was reading another language!  I didn’t know what a mental representation was.  I didn’t realize we all create them and use them every day.  I thought I was going to have trouble coming up with examples, but there are so many examples I see in my classroom and real life all day every day.  Understanding these have truly opened my eyes to how we all think about the world and how we make sense of it.  We make use of these every day, and learning about them really gave me a sense of why my students are doing what they’re doing in my classroom.   It also helps me to see how I teach and why I stress the things I do in a lesson, or how I set up the lesson plan for that day.  Thagard’s book, Mind, was really a great read!



  • Emotions + Cognition –  Emotions are “specific and intense psychological and physical reactions to a particular event” (Advameg, 2014).  According to Dr. Luiz Pessoa on, it has been shown that humans remember better “emotionally arousing information” and that “…emotion and cognition conjointly and equally contribute to the control of thought and behavior” (2011).   Emotions are therefore linked to behavior (and retention of important information).  Yes, I considered that if you are happy in a classroom, you might tend to be more motivated to do work.  If you’re not happy, you might not be as inclined.  I didn’t realize there was a scientific basis behind this and I truly didn’t realize how much emotions and cognition were related.  If you make a class fun, intriguing, relateable, and allow students some autonomy, they’re typically feeling pretty good!  They want to show up and participate.  Anything we can do as instructors to make that happen, we should try to do.  This, in turn, leads them to be motivated and engaged.
  • Attention, Memory + Transferring – this section was SO important for me, since I knew that I couldn’t handle too much information at once in my head, but the Gazzaley video ( really explained the limitations on brain activity in more depth.  These are: attention, memory, and speed.  If we get too much information too quickly coming into our brains at once, it can lead to an interference, and we won’t be able to retain or encode information for later retrieval.  What does this say to teachers?  We can’t overload students with too much data at once, or they just won’t retain it.  We need to make it smaller bits, but make those bits meaningful.  We need to move forward in our lessons, but don’t forget to review things we’ve already discussed.   Use some teaching strategies to set students up for success.
  • Social Contexts of Learning – Since I often studied alone as a high school and college student, I had not considered the social aspects of learning and how important other people are to our learning.  Communities of Practice (COPs) and Professional Learning Environments (PLEs) are two examples of groups of people coming together who share the same subject, idea, mission, goal.  These represent some social contexts of learning.  Working with others and discussing ideas with others helps to get the mental juices flowing.  You may conceive of a concept or topic that you might never have done, if you were working alone.  People in your microsystem – those in your immediate environment who directly influence you – can help you reach your zone of proximal development (ZPD).  I had never heard of this before.  But it truly makes sense because it speaks about tasks right out of reach of your present abilities.  With the help of a mentor, coach, teacher, parent, or friend, to help push you to the ZPD, you can reach it, and then move further.  You can work with the knowledge you already have and gain more knowledge and skills.  Other people really do help.  Encourage students to work together, or teachers to group together into PLEs, because more than one mind is always best!



Perkins’ book, Making Learning Whole, was such a wonderful read!  I really enjoyed the way he used examples to illustrate the 7 Principles of Teaching:

1. Play the Whole Game

2. Make the Game Worth Playing

3. Work on the Hard Parts

4. Play Out of Town

5. Uncover the Hidden Game

6. Learn from the Team

7.  Learn the Game of Learning

Ideally, as teachers, we want to put students in the driver’s seat of learning.  By playing the whole game, we can help students gain a deeper understanding of material.  We can help them by modeling, coaching, and scaffolding.  Students need to take charge and use the tools we give them to be active performers in the classroom so that they can ask questions and be challenged.  This way, they can then start being proactive in their learning outside of the classroom, too!  They’re transferring what they learn into other environments.  They’ll start taking their own initiative to figure out why they don’t understand something on their own, and will determine strategies to take notes, study and manage their time, for example.  Remember, “the reality is that when we step down off the platform with degrees in hand, most of what we need to learn still lies ahead of us” (Perkins, 2009, p. 211).  Most of what we need to know is unknown.  As teachers, we can just try to help lay the foundation for students to build mental representations and good strategies so that they can take what they learn and use it wherever they may go in life.



I’m still a little bit unclear about dynamic systems overall, but I think I can see that everyone brings their own set of memories and experiences to the table.  We have our own mindsets and they differ from everyone else’s.  We also have our own set of mental representations that we have made for ourselves to help us in the world.  When the environment changes, and it inevitably will, our senses connect with the environment, and our mindsets influence how we perceive and react to the world.  This, in turn, can affect our mental representations.  Do we now have to make a whole new set?  Or, can we just modify the ones we currently use?  That all sounds a bit exhausting, especially for students.  But, that’s how our minds grow and expand to adapt to new and interesting situations.  I honestly never thought of things in this way.  I’m always thinking in terms of static, not dynamic, even though I know things change.  (Maybe that’s because I hate change!)  I never considered the whole picture, and that is one thing this course has definitely taught me to do — consider the WHOLE PICTURE.  One thing affects another, affects another, etc.  We all see the world differently, so effective teaching should strive to be differentiated to help as many students as possible succeed.  Though, this may sound like a daunting task, it’s worth it if you really want your students to do well in the end.  You are setting the ground work for them to pass, not fail.  And they can take those skills with them to future classes.


Advameg, Inc.  (2014).  Human diseases and conditions: Emotions.  Retrieved on May 22, 2014 from

Gazzaley, A.  (2011).   Brain: Memory and multitasking [Video File].  Retrieved from

Lev Vgotsky [sic], Learning Theories, ZPD [Video File].  Retrieved from

Perkins, D.  (2009).  Making learning whole:How seven principles of teaching can transform education.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pessoa, L.  (2011).  Cognition and emotion.  Retrieved on May 19, 2014 from

Stanford University School of Education, (n.d.).  Learning from others: Learning in a social classroom.  Retrieved from

Thagard, Paul.  (1996).  Mind: Introduction to cognitive science.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.


Dan Ariely of Duke discusses visual illusions  (“illusion is a metaphor”), but discusses more about how our actions are affected by environmental changes and what we see.  AWESOME VIDEO!!


For all you teachers out there!! :):):)




21st Century Learners Wordle

These past few weeks we’ve been studying Perkins’ book: Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education (2009).  Perkins discusses Learning by Wholes with his 7 Principles of Learning (p. 8):

1.  Play the Whole Game

2.  Make the Game Worth Playing

3.  Work on the Hard Parts

4.  Play Out of Town

5.  Uncover the Hidden Game

6.  Learn From the Team … and the Other Teams

7.  Learn the Game of Learning

So far, we’ve discussed #1 through #4.   Let’s take a look at these in more detail.

#1 – Play the Whole Game — it is important as instructors to not only discuss pieces or parts of your lessons with your students, but you should always try to remember to have your students learn those pieces in the context of the whole picture (the “whole game”).  Instructors need to try and approach complexity within their lectures, but not make it TOO hard.  You should constantly ask yourself, ‘How can students use this information in every day life?’  By looking at the whole picture, it will engage students and provide them with a whole journey of learning with meaning.

#2 – Make the Game Worth Playing — playing the whole game clarifies what makes the game worth playing because the students see right away how everything fits together into a bigger picture.  The trick is to explain why you’re doing something with them in terms of the whole context.

#3 – Work on the Hard Parts — students (and teachers!) will always run across material that is difficult for them.  Real improvement can only happen when we deconstruct those hard parts by giving them special attention, practice them, and develop useful strategies to deal with them better the next time we see them.  Lastly, we must integrate them back into the whole game for effective learning.

#4 – Play Out of Town — get students to move out of their comfort zone which will challenge them to adapt and stretch their skills and insights.  Once you learn something in the new zone, bring it back “home” and integrate it into everyday practice so students are not at such a disadvantage the next time a similar situation arises.  As Perkins states, “What we learn today is not for today, but for the day after tomorrow” (p. 12).  Students should be able to take what they have learned and apply it to other, new situations that may arise down the road.  This is called transfer.

Learning by Wholes allows students to work on the “hard parts” they encounter and works best when learners construct their own meanings from their learning experiences.  Instructors can make the “Game Worth Playing” with student-centered active learning.  This can take the form of Project-Based Learning, Inquiry-Based Learning, or Discovery-Based Learning styles, for example.  The point is that students learn by DOING, not just passively sitting on the sidelines.  This speaks to #1 and #3 of Perkins’ Principles of Learning.

Here are some student-centered teaching strategies that help students work on the “hard parts”:

1.  Strategy Instruction –  This is a student-centered teaching model.

According to Luke (2006), “students learn to integrate new information with what they already know, in a way that makes sense—making it easier for them to recall the information or skill at a later time, even in a different situation or setting” (p. 1).  These allow students to develop successful strategies that good learners use.  Good learners combine cognitive strategies and metacognitive awareness.  Livingston (1997) asserts, “those with greater metacognitive abilities tend to be more successful in their cognitive endeavors”.  Cognitive strategies include taking notes, asking questions.  Metacognitive awareness is the “learner’s awareness of the learning process and what it takes to achieve good results in a specific learning task” (Luke, 2006, p. 2).  These include self-evaluation, setting goals for learning, using self-instruction, self-questioning, monitoring comprehension and progress, and rewarding themselves for success. Learners discuss and model strategies which they can then take and use on their own.

2.  High school teacher Paul Anderson, in his video, Metacognition: Learning about Learning (2009) gives some great tips for students and instructors:

  • Be honest with yourself!
    • Are students truly learning the material they’re studying, or just skimming through it?
    • Do teachers deeply know the material they lecture about inside and out such that if a student asks a question, they don’t have to wait to answer it?
  • Start early
    • Students can get ahead of the teacher in reading so they can ask questions
    • Teachers can prepare their lessons ahead of time – not the day before they lecture
  • Engage
    • Teachers can engage their students, and students can pay attention in class
  • Teach
    • Students truly don’t know the material until they have to teach it to someone else
  • Study often
    • Make sure students keep exposing themselves to the material being discussed
    • Teachers should review material they’ve lectured about and review with their class
  • Self-evaluate (a big one!!)
    • Students and teachers need to look at their own progress to see where they are at.  If they’re NOT where they want to be, they need to make adjustments
    • Students can take quizzes at the end of the chapters
  • Learning style
    • Students need to find the learning style that works for them and focus on it
    • Instructors need to try and accommodate as many learning styles as possible
  • Take a break
    • Students can only absorb so much information
    • Teachers should lecture in short chunks since students can only absorb so much material at one time
  • Have fun!
    • Make the classroom an awesome place to be!
  • Never give up
    • Teachers and students need to each set goals for themselves and not let obstacles get in their way

3.  Perkins, in his book Making Learning Whole, discusses some ways on how to work on the “hard parts”.

  • deconstruct and reconstruct the hard parts so they can be executed in new and better ways (p. 80)
  • teachers can provide feedback that touches not just on matters of correctness but strengths and shortfalls of understanding (p. 84)
  • students can evaluate one another’s work or even self-evaluate with the help of rubrics (p. 84)incorporate improved understanding of the hard parts into the whole game (p. 88)
  • try and anticipate the hard parts with learning by wholes and playing “out of town” (p. 89)
  • as educators, we can ask, “what makes this hard?” and when we can answer this question (i.e. come up with a theory of difficulty), we can try and prevent those hard parts from doing their worse damage (p. 101)
  • try not to just focus on the surface characteristics, but also look at the underlying principles.  This will allow for deeper learning and enable students to gain the skills to tackle the hard parts (p. 112)
  • have students learn by DOING!  This allows for effective transfer of material and aids in students making connections (p. 123)

4.  Taking a look at one of Perkins’ specific strategies mentioned in #3 above, teachers can try and come up with some theories of difficulty for students.  These “warn teachers and learners about the potholes on the learning road and thereby tell us where we need a special spring in our educational feet” (Perkins, p. 101).   This is where instructors ask, ‘What makes this hard for students and why‘?  When we can answer these questions, we will be better prepared in our classrooms, and allow students to be better prepared for the hard parts.  The answers don’t have to be extremely elaborate.   Perkins contends, “A theory of difficulty [should try to be] specific to the content of what’s been taught, explaining what makes it hard” (p. 103).

I am definitely trying to incorporate more student-centered project-based lessons into my classroom.  I would like to work on mentioning cognitive and metacognitive strategies in the classroom, and how they work together nicely to allow students to focus their attention on material and encode it to memory so that they can retrieve that important information at a later time when a different situation arises.  That is not my specific job in the math classroom, but I feel their First-Year Experience teachers are not working with them enough to discuss these important skills that they can work on, build up, and use throughout their college academic career.

I really like Paul Anderson’s tips on his video.  I try and engage my students as often as I can, and I try and tell them to keep on top of the work, or they will get behind.  I also have them get up in front of the class at least once a semester and “teach” one problem to their class mates, to make sure they truly understand the topic.  I try to make jokes in the classroom, and never have the class be too “heavy” because I want my students to learn, but also to have FUN!  Many times I call on a student, and they don’t want to answer, but I won’t let them!  We work together and I won’t let them give up until we come up with an answer.  It helps motivate them to see that they can do it.

As Perkins mentioned, I also like to try and come up with some theories of difficulties for my students.  I’m always thinking from their point of view to see what types of “hard parts”  they may encounter, since I know what it was like to be a student in a math class.  I also give them numerous assignments and therefore plenty of feedback as to their academic performance so they know exactly how they’re doing in the class and they won’t make the same mistakes on future assignments/quizzes/tests.  As for a specific example of a theory of difficulty, the one that comes straight to mind is when students try to work on graphing systems of equations.  The textbook I use has them graph systems first, and then solve them algebraically (using substitution or elimination) second.  I know that when we reach this section in the text, the students always have trouble.  What seems to work much better for students is to algebraically solve the system of equations first, and then graphically solve the system.  They can then check their answers when they draw a graph by using substitution or elimination.  I have found this works out much better for them.  We learn about what it means to solve a system of equations (this is where two lines intersect and meet – at least 99% of the time!) and then their algebraic answer is that intersection point.  Then, they graphically show that, and check it using algebraic methods.  Just starting out drawing pictures is not advantageous to them, since they don’t really understand the meaning behind how to solve a system of equations.



Let’s talk about #2 on Perkins list — Make the Game Worth Playing…..

….how can we get our students interested in learning by wholes?  How can we make that Game Worth Playing?  We need to discuss motivation!  There are two types of motivation:  intrinsic and extrinsic.  Intrinsic motivation is the motivation one feels for a topic or activity itself, regardless of other external incentives, like good grades, rewards, or an increase in pay, for example.  Acording to Wlodkowski (2009), in extrinsic motivation systems, “teachers are perceived to motivate students through the engineering of rewards and punishments” (p. 10).

Children and adults approach motivation differently when it comes to learning.  According to Houde (2006), adult learners’ most potent motivators are internal pressures like the “desire for increased job satisfaction, self-esteem, quality of life, and the like” (p. 91).  When you’re a child, you tend to not have to worry about jobs or quality of life.  Adults like challenging topics in school, and appreciate positive feedback in the absence of external rewards or controls.  They especially appreciate autonomy (independence/freedom to make decisions).  Adults really appreciate and get engaged by being involved in choosing a topic to study or discuss.  Children usually don’t have that luxury in school (the curriculum is mandated), but adults really want a say in what they learn.  This really can motivate an adult learner.  Houde goes on to say, “an adult learner will be brought from no motivation (amotivation) to motivation in regard to learning something by making clear to her that the learning is connected to goals she values and making clear her ability to learn the material” (2006, p. 92).  Adults also have more life experiences than children, and this can add to the classroom experience and motivate them to interact in discussions and with their classmates.   Adults like to know why they are learning what they’re learning and how the learning can help them in their jobs and lives.  They want the learning to be meaningful and practical.  Adults are therefore “life-, problem-, or task-focused” in their learning approach as opposed to “content-focused” like children are.  Children can’t necessarily relate learning to the real world in the ways or to the extent that adults can.

I teach the lowest level of math at a university (it is remedial algebra).  I try my best to get students motivated and engaged.  Many of the students I see are still in the “high-school” mentality, whereby they are used to just showing up to math class, entering calculations into their calculators, not participating routinely in class discussions, and have little- to-no study skills or habits.  They are just entering college and have little concept about learning for learning’s sake, or taking this class to find out how mathematics matters in the real world.  It can be quite a struggle for me and them sometimes, since they are used to doing little work, but getting rewarded with decent grades for that little work.  I have seen countless examples of students being passed along in high school (or from the community colleges) with A’s or B’s but they truly have little concept of the content itself, and they cannot apply the knowledge they have learned (just one semester ago!) to future or different concepts.  They have little to no desire to get better and better at their math skills or even try to be engaged in the material.  They want to do the least amount of work, but get the most rewards (grades, extra credit, get on the good side of the teacher).  They feel that since this method has worked for them so far in high school or community college, it will work in my class.  Unfortunately, extrinsic motivation for college students doesn’t work!  Perkins (2009) writes, “extrinsic motivation, specifically the desire for easy work and aiming to please teachers, turned out to be negatively related to achievement” (p. 55).  

 In my class, I try to work with them to start teaching them that learning can be FUN and math is everywhere in the world.  We not only discuss definitions and formulas, but we talk about WHY we’re learning these things.  We discuss how these things can be useful in the real world.  They become engaged and start to ask me questions related to the material.  They want to know why we’re doing a problem this way or that way, and can it be used if *this* situation were changed, etc.  That’s engagement!  Math shouldn’t be about setting up just one clear set of rules for every situation so you can get one single solution all the time.  We, as instructors, should set up different kinds of rules for students (given a basic definition or strategy) and see how many different solutions students can come up.  It’s as if I’m saying that there is only ONE way to solve a problem or simplify an expression.  This isn’t true!  Different minds think in different ways.  Students should try to open their minds to different ways of seeing and doing things, and when that happens, motivation and engagement occur. 

This semester, I also allowed them a bit of autonomy in the sense that I had them do a project, but I let them choose any math topic they wanted to discuss, as long as it was math-related.  That way, it gave them a sense of autonomy, and it also helped them relate mathematical material and modeling to the real world.  All of their classmates heard and listened to each other, and they all learned something new.  It gave that math meaning and purpose.  It helped them see that mathematics is everywhere around them, and what they were learning in my classroom is important and they should continue to use the skills they learned here in other courses.  I saw such a turnaround from the beginning to the end of the semester, it was unbelievable.  I had people saying they hated math, to people telling me that my class was their favorite class, and they loved interacting with each other and teaching each other material.  Math wasn’t so “scary” for them.  They started doing the work because they wanted to learn it, not for the grades or extra credit.  This was a big thing.  Though, I had to break the course down into little pieces, I do think that near the end they were putting the elements of the course together into a whole, which made the “game worth playing”  (Perkins, p. 10). 



Along with intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, what about emotions?  Can emotions affect motivation and what do they have to do with cognition and learning?

What are emotions?  Emotions are “specific and intense psychological and physical reactions to a particular event” (Advameg, 2014).  We experience some sort of stimulation through our senses, we react to that stimulus, and we exhibit some sort of behavior.  Various brain structures are associated with emotions (especially the amygdala and the hypothalamus).  These areas are considered the “primitive” parts of our brain since they are evolutionarily conserved (i.e. really old and therefore must be important!).   According to Dr. Luiz Pessoa on, it has been shown that humans remember better “emotionally arousing information” and that “…emotion and cognition conjointly and equally contribute to the control of thought and behavior” (2011).   Emotions are therefore linked to behavior (and retention of important information).  One type of behavior discussed is motivation – especially in a classroom setting.  Wlodkowski (1999) claims, “Engagement in learning is the visible outcome of motivation. Our emotions are a part of and significantly influence our motivation” (p. 9).  Ahmad and Rana (2012) assert, “Cognition and emotions interact and influence human behavior…A person who is in [a] good mood is generally productive and vice versa. Anxiety as an emotion bears on educational performance in affecting students’ attention and memory processes hampering the cognitive functioning and consequently academic output. This suggests that understanding and regulating emotions can help in promoting efficient intellectual functioning” (p. 109).  From pre-schoolers to adults, emotions affect a student’s motivation to do well and therefore their academic performance.

As an instructor myself, I feel for my students coming in as freshman.  They struggle with basic study and note-taking skills and I try and be empathetic towards this.  Many, if not all, also have to work full-time jobs in addition to taking classes at the university.  Being considerate and trying to see things from their point of view, at times, can help them relate to you, as an instructor, and this can help motivate them to come to class, and try to perform better on their assignments and tests.  Listening to them, letting them open up about themselves, and being there for them when they ask questions, can go a long way, in their eyes, and can engage them in the subject material.  Recognizing that your classroom should be a safe and fun place to be will put your students at ease, so they are not as stressed and they can focus their attention on the material being discussed.   You can also try and make the lessons engaging, so that this material will stick with them and they will enjoy being in class and want to return the next day.  They will retain that material better, and be able to retrieve that material from memory at a later date.

Emotions and cognition go hand in hand.  As Piaget said, “There is no cognition without emotion” (Emotion and Cognition).  Anytime someone learns something, emotions and cognition are working together.



Last but not least, let’s revisit #4 — Play Out of Town — for a minute.  As stated before, it relates to a transfer of learning.  Can a student learning something in one context, use or apply it in a different context?  This is difficult for many students.  If students don’t learn the information correctly or deeply enough the first time, they will either transfer over incorrect information, or none at all in a new context.  We have to try and get students to truly understand material the first time we teach it, as the whole point of education is to “properly prepare people with skills and knowledge and understanding for use elsewhere” (Perkins, p. 114).  How can instructors facilitate this transfer?  We can work on having our students pay full attention to what we discuss and encode that information into memory for later retrieval when needed in a different situation.  

Miller (2011), declares, “little information is encoded in the absence of focused attention”.  Simply stated, without attention, there is no memory.  The human mind can take in a lot of information, and can store that information into short-term and then potentially long-term memory.  However, when our brains our inundated with too much information, it does not appear to work as well at attention or memory tasks.  According to Dr. Adam Gazzaley, in his YouTube video – Brain:Memory and Multitasking (2011),  attention is one limitation on our brains.  We cannot possibly focus on everything at once.  Unfortunately, our attention suffers from multitasking.  What we can do is selectively focus our attention on either a single difficult task, or a few somewhat difficult tasks (“the hard parts”!), and then we will be much more productive in accomplishing the tasks, and putting that information we have learned into memory.  Another limitation we have is something called working memory (or short-term memory).  This is immediate information you can hold and manipulate in your brain.  It is the memory used to guide your actions.  Again, here the capacity limits on the working memory decrease as the information becomes more complex.  So, again, focusing on one or a few things in depth works much better than trying to loosely focus on many things at once where you aren’t really absorbing much.

As teachers, it’s not enough to just split material into smaller pieces, however.  Miller (2011) contends, “Simply presenting fewer than five “chunks” of information at a time is not enough to promote better learning and memory; instead, instructors should focus their efforts on gaining and maintaining students’ attention, as well as on how they structure material being presented” (p. 121).  In addition to structuring material, teachers can make material personally relevant and try to engage students frequently with the same material to aid them in focusing their attention on the hard parts, and committing study strategies to memory and retrieving material from memory.

So, as educators, we can make an effort to help with transferring.  We can have students learn by doing (as mentioned before).  Try and have classes go back and forth between theory and examples.  Let students make some choices on projects they can design for reinforcing the topics discussed.  Give extensive feedback at all stages of the project the students work on.  While students work on projects, the students make connections and gain ideas that can be transferred to real world situations.  They are focused on one thing, and they can put all of this relevant content into memory for later usage.  As instructors, don’t forget #1 — to play the whole game, and review the individual projects in terms of the whole context.


Inquiry and Problem Based Learning in your Classroom!!  🙂


Dr. Derek Cabrera discusses DSRP Theory and how Thinking Works

See Dr. Cabrera’s Research site here.


Advameg, Inc.  (2014).  Human diseases and conditions: Emotions.  Retrieved on May 22, 2014 from

Ahmad, I., & Rana, S.  (2012).  Affectivity, achievement motivation, and academic performance in college students.  Pakistan Journal of Psychological Research, 27(1), 107-120.

Anderson, P.  (2009).  Metacognition:  Learning about learning [Video File].  Retrieved from

Emotion and Cognition (2012).  [Video File] Retrieved June 1, 2014, from

Gazzaley, A.  (2011).   Brain: Memory and multitasking [Video File].  Retrieved from

Houde, J.  (2006).  Andragogy and motivation: An examination of the principles of andragogy through two motivation theories.  Retrieved on May 19, 2014 from

Livingston, J. A. (1997).  Metacognition: An overview.  Retrieved from

Luke, S. D. (2006).  The power of strategy instruction.  Evidence for Education1(1), 1-12.

Miller, M.  (2011).  What college teachers should know about memory: A perspective from cognitive psychology.  College Teaching, 59, 117-122.

Perkins, D.  (2009).  Making learning whole:How seven principles of teaching can transform education.  San    Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pessoa, L.  (2011).  Cognition and emotion.  Retrieved on May 19, 2014 from

Wlodkowski, R. J.  (2009).  Motivation and diversity: A framework for teaching.  New Directions for Teaching and Learning.  78, 7-16.




neural pathways in brain


You might be asking yourself, “What exactly is that a picture of, above?”  That is a picture of some neural pathways (white matter tracts) in your brain, using MRI technology.  Relatively recently in the medical science field, scientists have begun tracing the pathways to find the connectome – or the map of all the neural connections within the human brain – in the Human Connectome Project.   Why? Besides the clear medical applications where patients with physical and mental disorders could benefit, if scientists can figure out how neurons are connected to each other and how they interact with each other, could they not some day possibly provide answers to how humans think, make decisions, and learn? Loaded with this information, educators and administrators could work wonders with their students!  Students themselves could focus on how to better prepare themselves for that big test coming up or teachers could think about what lessons to plan based on the different learning styles their students have in the classroom.  The possibilities are endless!

Speaking about thinking, making decisions, and learning, EDU 510, the course I am currently taking, discusses the cognitive science of teaching and learning.  What is Cognitive Science?  Cognitive Science (CS) can be defined in many different ways.  MIT’s Brain and Cognitive Science website (n.d.) defines CS as, “the scientific study of the human mind…combining ideas and methods from psychology, computer science, linguistics, philosophy, and neuroscience”.  Author Paul Thagard (1996), in his book entitled, MIND, writes, “The main aim of cognitive science is to explain how people accomplish … various kinds of thinking.  We want not only to describe different kinds of problem solving and learning, but also to explain how the mind carries out these operations”  (p. 3).  So, scientists working on this Connectome Project are teaming up with cognitive scientists to discover quite a bit of how the brain works the way it does and will put that information to good use when the project is finished.



Thagard also mentions in his book that most cognitive scientists agree that knowledge in our minds consist of what are called mental representations.  These are presentations to the mind in the form of ideas or images.  The mental representations studied in EDU 510 are:  logic, rules, concepts, analogies (or cases), and images.

LOGIC  can be defined as a mental process where one can infer or assume some sort of conclusion when provided with certain information.  When certain pieces of information are presented and purported to be true, one can deduce a conclusion from that information (Thagard calls this deductive reasoning).  Or, sometimes the conclusion or outcome to a situation or series of situations is already made, and one can infer the basic principles or ideas upon which the conclusion or outcome was made (Thagard calls this inductive reasoning).   Logic is a higher order thinking skill.

I find that many of my students use the first type of logic – deductive reasoning.  If I provide them with pre-established “premises”, then they can come up with their own conclusions relatively well (especially if I have given them a similar example of how to get from A—>B).  They have issues going the other way, however.   When I provide them with a conclusion or overall outcome to a mathematical problem or situation (for example a solution to a system {more than one} of equations, they have a difficult time coming up with an idea about what the equations themselves would be, or perhaps what the slope of those lines are (working backwards in other words)).  They see A —>B, but it is harder for them to go from B—>A, especially if I skip a step in between.  I constantly work to try and help them have “flexible” brains.  Lots of times they are taught to just memorize definitions or ways of doing things, but this doesn’t mean they truly understand why they are doing what they’re doing, or how to apply the knowledge of that problem when shown a completely different example.

RULES –  When one encounters a certain varying condition in their environment, the brain decides how we should react to that condition.  We take an action based on that condition to help suit our needs or satisfy a situation.  The condition paired with the action is a procedure or rule.

As a person who works in higher education, I see students making up rules in their heads all the time.  They frequently will ask me, “What is my grade at the midpoint?”  I calculate their midpoint grades, and if it’s lower than they would like, they change their current condition, and work harder (the action) to improve their grade.   They look at their schedules and decide if this or that class fulfils their certain skill/study area, and decide which class to take to fill it.  They have a question about a class, so they make a decision to go see their professor (or not!)  We use rules every day.

CONCEPTS are basic units of thought or knowledge that are representations of typical/constant/permanent entities or situations.  They are usually organized into a hierarchy, where the higher level elements depend upon the lower level (more basic) elements.   A concept should be defined in terms of a context as this provides a meaningful interpretation of the concept itself.  Concepts can be combined with other existing concepts.

I teach concepts every day to my math students.  These can be definitions, formulas, ways of solving an equation, and many more things I could mention.  They are arranged such that I teach them simple ideas first, and the more complex ideas build on the lower level (simpler) ideas.  You cannot understand how to use the zero product property, without knowing how to solve a basic equation.  You cannot solve an equation without knowing how to simplify an expression.  And you can’t simplify an expression unless you know how to combine like terms, and so forth.  I always like start out explaining an idea or topic discussing a definition(s).  This gives the students some context with which we are working.  I also like to provide real-world examples as to how this idea/concept is presently being used, or how it was used in the past, so they can relate what we’re doing in class to real life situations (this allows for deeper learning, not just surface learning).

ANALOGIES are relational patterns whereby they describe the relationship between a source analog (an old situation) and a target analog (a new situation).

Source Analog    ———–Analogy————>    Target Analog

The Source Analog can be retrieved in memory and applied to the new situation using higher-order relations. According to Thargard (1996), retrieval is governed by three things:  similarity, structure, and purpose.  “Two analogs are similar to each other at a superficial level if they involve similar concepts” (p. 81).  Analogies do not involve just superficial similarities, however.  They must also have deeper structural relations.  To satisfy the structure constraint, “two analogs must align exactly” (Thagard, p. 81).  Lastly, you want to remember situations that have meaning to you and will help you solve your current problem.  Retrieving only those analogs that pertain to the new situation will be of value to you.  Going through all of the possible analogs your brain stores would be a waste of precious time.

In my classroom, I couldn’t live without using analogies!  Oftentimes, my students do not understand a definition or theorem that I write on the board.  For example, when I introduce the concept of adding positive and negative numbers, sometimes my students get a little flustered.  When you add a negative number to a positive number, sometimes they do not know whether the answer should have a negative sign or positive sign attached.  I give them the analogy of using money.  “Let’s say I have 5 dollars.  I owe you 10 dollars.  I give you 5 dollars now, and then I am in the whole 5 dollars.  What would you say about how much money I owe you?”  (That would be negative 5 dollars, for all you out there!).  The students understand the concept of money, since they use it every day.  They know what it’s like to NOT have money, and owe money to their friends and family.  If you relate a topic they know and understand (money — the source analog) to a concept that is new (positive/negative numbers — the target analogy)  they can use the concept of an analogy to help them come up with the answer to their mathematical problem.   Once they understand this, they have formed an analog that they can refer back to and retrieve when they see a problem similar to this in future lectures or homework assignments.

Lastly, IMAGES  are pictoral representations in our mind of actual objects.  They provide “powerful ways of representing how things look and how they are spatially arranged” (Thagard, p. 97).  Images are especially helpful in problem solving, since they aid students in figuring out the path to get from A —>B, when words are not enough.

I use images in my classroom ALL the time.  I am a verbal and visual person, and I truly believe that people learn best when they are using a combination of the two.  When I introduce a topic, I like to draw a picture (if I can) to help illustrate it.  Students can refer back to the visual image better than the words, when we talk about the same topic again.  In math, one of the basic problem-solving steps is to DRAW A PICTURE.  This is essential!  If you can use a picture to help illustrate your situation, it can help you come up with an expression or equation.  Many times students, just by drawing a simple diagram, have been able to come up with an equation, where they normally would not have been able to do so before.  Once students come up with the equation, they can solve and finish the problem.  Visual images help students to associate a picture with a topic, and allow for deeper learning of that concept.

In a similar vein, PROBLEM SOLVING is a mental process and type of reasoning whereby the person has a certain goal state in mind and constructs a path to get from point A (a given state) to point B (the goal state).  The conditions can vary in every situation such that they can affect the path to get from A –> B.  The numerous conditions can also affect how people will act/think to perform actions to get to the goal.   Regardless of the conditions, planning is required to get from A —>B.   The process of moving from A –>B depends on pre-frontal systems in the brain.   Problem solving uses the three mental representations: logic, rules, and concepts as a base.



There are three main theories associated with teaching and learning:

  1. The first is Behaviorist Theory.  This is a teacher-centered theory, where learning has been shown to have taken place if a change in behavior is evident.  Teachers here would have very structured lessons, with pre-determined outcomes.  They would split up lessons into small units and teach little bits at a time, so that students learn small bits at once.  Correct answers would be rewarded.
  2. Second is Cognitivist Theory.  This is a student-centered theory, where learning has been shown to have taken place if there is some change in mental processes and/or associations between what existed and what was added to the knowledge set.  Teachers here might use guided discovery teaching methods, whereby students take a more active role in their learning by answering questions or solving problems to help them make connections between what they knew and what they know now.  They may also try to use mind mapping or metacognitive strategy instruction which both involve student-centered approaches to learning and allow connections between prior and new learning.
  3. The last is Constructivist Theory.  This a student-centered theory, but allows for collaboration.  Learning has been shown to have taken place if the person has created their own meaning through experiences.  Since each student has their own set of prior knowledge, they will need to construct new knowledge provided to them in ways that are unique to them.  This allows for deeper learning because it is connected through experience.  Teachers here might use inquiry-based, or problem-based learning methods.  Teachers might not give an actual lecture, but allow students to come up with their own questions and problems, and solve them using their own knowledge and skills, with the aid of the instructor.

Personally, I typically stick to Behaviorist Theory in my classroom, since the level of students (remedial) dictates that I keep the lesson units cut into small chunks and are pre-determined (the department tells me what I have to cover for material, but I can lecture in any format I want to).  I have tried to teach using inquiry-based or problem-solving methods, but the students ended up not having the background knowledge to answer basic questions asked of them, or they did not have the presentation skills to help their fellow students out when solving a problem.  I wasted too much time in helping them get over their fears of speaking, and not getting through the material.  If I was teaching a class where the amount of content I had to cover did not matter, then I think I would try to use inquiry-based and problem-solving based learning more frequently.  It only benefits the students in the long run.  Because of these limitations, I do try and incorporate bits and pieces of #2 and #3 into my classroom, since I do want the classroom to be more student-centered and not so much instructor-centered.  I feel that it makes the experience more meaningful for my students.  I do constantly ask all of my students questions, and they never know who will get called on or when.  I sometimes ask them to come to the board and present a problem after working on the problem in a group format.  I also allow them to present a project together in a group and they give a 2-minute oral presentation to their classmates and I sit in the back of the classroom and allow them to answer questions from their classmates — I remain silent.

Dr. Jean Piaget, a Swiss developmental psychologist and philoshpher, studied cognitive development, especially in young children.  Throughout his work, he developed stages of cognitive development.  A few key ideas are assimilation and accommodation.

Both children and adults use assimilation and accommodation.  Assimilation consists of using an existing plan (schema) to deal with a new object or situation presented to them.  One would use accommodation when the existing plan (schema) does not work in that situation, and therefore needs to be changed to deal with a new object or situation.  According to Piaget, “assimilation and accommodation require an active learner, not a passive one, because problem-solving skills cannot be taught, they must be discovered” (Simply Psychology, 2012).  We need active learners in our classrooms, not passive ones.  Active learning correlates with a student-centered classroom, not a teacher-centered one.



Learning Styles  (my emphasis ) is an umbrella term that covers a highly diverse and controversial body of educational theories and practices. The term represents a generally accepted belief among the majority of educators that students differ widely in their ways of learning, demonstrating preferences in the way they process classroom experiences, and that pedagogical practices should be designed with an awareness of marked differences among students in how they learn” (Weinstein, p. 1).

Some students are visual learners; others are verbal.  Some learn best by working with their hands and in a group, and others like to purely listen and take notes and work alone.  Working to strengthen students’ individual learning styles can help them in the classroom.  Not only that, but instructors should try help students be flexible in their learning styles, since different learning styles may be needed for different tasks in different situations.

Speaking about learning styles, we should go back to our first picture of neural networks where we discussed the connectome.  All of those neural connections can be microscopically inspected and scientists can look at the individual neurons themselves – or more specifically the spaces in between the ends of neurons – called the synapses.  The synapse is the place where one neuron essentially “talks” to another neuron.  Changes in the synapses have been found to be associated with learning.


A study done by scientists at Brown University in 2000 looked at changes in the brain during learning processes.  The researchers did studies on rats and found “learning engages a brain process called long-term potentiation (LTP), which in turn strengthens synapses in the cerebral cortex” (Turner, 2000).   Learning, therefore, produces physical changes in the synapses between neurons.  Children and students, once they find that learning style that best fits them, can hone in on that learning style, and just by repeatedly using their sensory system, can increase the sensitivity of their neural networks in the brain, and therefore begin to process data more efficiently and make more skilled responses to questions asked of them.  In other words, neuronal connections change and grow in that part of the brain that you use the most.  If you are a visual thinker, and start making charts and tables to help yourself remember concepts and ideas, you start reworking the neuronal connections in the occipital lobes at the back of the brain and that sense becomes heightened and more sensitive.

In addition to the traditional lectures I present (verbal/visual), I show math videos from YouTube and  This allows aural and visual people to absorb material from the screen.  I allow them to work in groups in a “lab” setting for those social people out there.  This is where students work on math problems that they have been struggling with all week.  Some people really like helping others out and showing them how to work on a homework problem.  They like working with their friends and feel comfortable asking questions amongst each other, instead of being embarrassed when asking questions out loud.  They do have to take notes on their own and hand in their own homework every class period (solitary) meaning they have to use proficient self-study habits to get their work done.  I try to acknowledge that every student has different needs and each student learns differently, so I use different methods of instruction in my classroom every day.  If those methods still do not work for them, I try to meet with them one-on-one and we work more in-depth to focus on what their learning style is, and discuss how they can>try to strengthen that learning skill set and by doing that, in essence build stronger neural networks.

Recognizing that we, as instructors, have a unique learning style makeup, and so do our students, we can use this information to our advantage to help us design our lessons to accommodate as many different learning styles as possible in our classroom.

NC State University Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire



Here we combine the fields of cognitive science and computer science to aid researchers and scientists in testing how our minds acquire and process information.  Those tests and information can be used by others – like educators – with their students to help them acquire and retain knowledge more easily and efficiently.  This I definitely agree with. Anything that can help our students in this way, is a good thing.  Will AI ever get to the point where it can develop feelings, emotions, or conciousness?  Scientists are working vigilantly on just these themes, as we speak.  I’m not sure I agree with this, though.  I don’t believe that a computer can ever truly feel or have the same emotions like a human, but perhaps we shouldn’t try to assess AI on the same scale or in the same way as humans in this regard.  Regardless, AI technology will continue into the future.

Types of AI that I have used in my classroom include:  graphing calculators, YouTube videos, LearnZillion videos, and BlackBoard Learn assessments.  I find that students use their calculators as a crutch, and input any and all data into them – even when performing simple calculations.  They aren’t using their brains at all, and won’t challenge themselves to find the simplest of answers.  The BB Learn assessments are all multiple choice, and aim to try to help them brush up on their weak math skills.  They are given an unlimited number of attempts to complete these “quizzes”, but wait until the last minute to complete them, and therefore typically do not gain very much from this type of potential reinforcement assessment.  I show videos in class to supplement lecture material.  They struggle with paying attention to the YouTube and LearnZillion videos, but I quiz them on the material, and this has appeared to increase their attention skills.  I also assign videos for them to watch at home, and give them handouts with questions that relate to the videos to hand in for homework.  They seem to like those quite a bit.  AI, for me, can be beneficial, if used in conjunction with traditional teaching methods.  It should not be used to replace these.

 TAKE A LOOK AT SOME INTERESTING VIDEOS BELOW THAT                                                                                  CONNECT SOME THEMES THAT WE HAVE DISCUSSED IN EDU 510 SO FAR…….

Dr. Sebastian Seung, of MIT, talks how, “I am my connectome”

See Dr. Seung’s personal webpage here: 


Teaching Strategies to Accommodate Different Learning Styles:



MIT Brain and Cognitive Sciences : Research : Cognitive Sciences.  (n.d.).  Retrieved May 18, 2014 from

Simply Psychology.  (2012).  Jean Piaget.  Retrieved from

Thagard, P.  (1996).  Mind: Introduction to cognitive science.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Turner, S.  (2000).  Study describes brain changes during learning.  Retrieved May 12, 2014, from

Weinstein, N. (2014).  Learning styles.  EBSCO Research Starter Education, p. 1-6.

  1. Amazing post, Cheryl! I’m glad you followed the Connectome project through to Dr. Seung’s video. I enjoyed his talk, too.

    Dr. Parker

  2. Thanks, Dr. Parker! I love his video! I was a biology major in undergrad, so this is so interesting to me how it all connects!

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