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Learning Theories

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1. a MIND for NUMBERS: How to excel at math and science
Barbara Oakley, Ph.D.
This book is for anyone interested in understanding how learning happens and how to get better at learning difficult subjects like math and science. It is written in a really accessible way and addresses physically how learning happens in the brain, strategies to improve learning, how to deal with procrastination, how to enhance memory, and how to actually apply all these concepts to learning/studying. I have really enjoyed reading this book from a personal (selfish) perspective but also from the perspective of how to go about providing guidance to students for their out of classroom strategies and learning.

2. Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology
John Dunlosky, Katherine A. Rawson, Elizabeth J. Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan, and Daniel T. Willingham
Psychological Science in the Public Interest 2013 14(1) 4-58
This article focuses on learning techniques used by students outside the classroom. The article explains a range of learning techniques, discusses their implementation (how often students use them), and then ranks them by effectiveness. I use the results of this study as a small group activity the first day of class. Students indicate which techniques they use and then rank how effective they believe each technique to be. Invariably, students rank as effective (and report using) the techniques which are most ineffective and students typically have very little knowledge of the alternative and most effective techniques.

3. Why Not Try a Scientific Approach to Science Education?
Carl Wieman, Ph.D.
I read this a long time ago but several points stuck with me.
(1) Regardless of how distinguished and accomplished the lecturer is, students retain very little information following a traditional lecture. For most of us in this program this is obvious. However, I still encounter colleagues who suggest that the main issue is the “quality” of the lecturer. I find these quality comments in some cases to be a backhanded way of saying that if you are “good” then you can just lecture and you don’t need to engage in other teaching strategies.
(2) Students need to be taught how to think like an expert. I think when I was a student I believed that if I just kept learning the facts and forging ahead that someday it would all start to click. I like the idea that thinking like an “expert” can be taught even in introductory courses. And, that this expert like thinking is then going to make all subsequent learning opportunities more meaningful.
(3) Effort needs to be refocused on the out of classroom activities and experiences of the student. This concept has become a big part of what I hope to address in this residency program. The idea is that most professors spend the majority of the their time designing and controlling their classroom environment while putting very little effort into designing and controlling what their students are doing outside the classroom. I remember being a bit hard-nosed about this at first, thinking that students need to be mature enough to manage their own time and learning outside of class, but I have really changed position on this issue the longer I teach.

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