Is unguided inquiry a problem? Perspectives from productive failure

Michael Jacobson presentation at learning through inquiry workshop, 10th Dec 08.

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Gráinne Conole
9 December 2008

From complex learning to complexity

Stephen Hawkings – ‘I think the next century will be the century of complexity’
Herbert Simon ‘ Central task of a natural science is to make the wonderful commonplace to show that complexity, correctly viewed is only a mask for simplicity – to find pattern hidden in apparent chaos

Project: Learning the physics of electricity with agent-based models – paradox of productive failure

Most traditional instruction starts simple or small and builds gradually in terms of conceptual complexity knowledge and skills
Some learning theories are similar– cognitive apprenticeship of Allan Collins and Expert models activity – learners are scaffolded doing activity and gradually fade scaffolding
Good goal – minimize frustration if learners fail
But does this mean learning failure will not under the right conditions lead to learning?

Method
Secondary 4 students boys singapore
Productive failure (PF) group 16 dyads
Non productive failure (NPF) 16 dyads
4 different netlogo models

NetLogo is an agent-based modelling programme, which enables you to generate different interactive models such as ones to understand properties of electricity and Ohm’s law in action.

Qualitative findings
Both groups liked NetLogo models
Appreciated representational value of visualisation
But their conceptualisation was very different

Conclusions
Highly significant learning gains for PF
Striking interview reflections on the learning experiences from PF and non-PF students
Why? Initial failure on PF group resulted in relatively large activation of prior knowledge (including misconceptions), Subsequent scaffolded problem solving linked to activated prior knowledge helps to focus the construction of enhanced understanding, preparation for future learning through problem solving
Scaffolding focused problem solving for Non-PF failed to activate prior knowledge and led to learned helplessness

Early stages of research into learning with innovative designs of computations learning environment
Move away from linear simple to complex or structured to ill-structured or scaffolded to non scaffolded design views of learning trajectories
Also exploring new methodological designs involving computational models from complexity research to compliment quant. and qual. methods
More important may be pedagogical designs that are both use inspired and theoretically grounded

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Eckart Stoermer
11:20am 13 December 2008


What allows a failure to be productive and not daunting?

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