Wednesday, March 14, 2012

cognitive theory, technology, and cool astronomy field trips

In this week's coursework we looked at how specific strategies align with cognitive learning theory. The strategies are from Using technology with classroom instruction that works (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007) and are discussed below in two categories: 

Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers
This section of the book (chapter 4) describes different methods for helping students learn to retrieve, use and organize information. The focus here is on providing tools to help students organize their thoughts prior to learning about a topic. At the center of this process is the essential question, which "is one that requires the student to make a decision or create a plan. It requires more than simple research and regurgitation of answers." (page 75). The book lists Joyce Valenza's article For the Best Answers, Ask Tough Questions as a resource for essential questions, and I found it both interesting and helpful. 

The strategies in this chapter utilize 1. word processing applications and spreadsheet software to create advance organizers and 2. organizing and brainstorming software and multimedia to provide cues for students. Both of these strategies align with the cognitive theories of elaboration and the network model of memory. Elaboration involves building as many connections as possible to information in order to be able to retrieve it when needed (Laureate Education Inc., 2011), which these strategies encourage students to do. I think the organizing and brainstorming software in particular encourages students to make their own connections to topics. In addition, both of these strategies present information in an organized way where the ideas are connected. This network of ideas transfers well into our network memory. 

Summarizing and Note Taking
Chapter 6 of the book describes how we can use technology to help students summarize information and organize it in a concise way. The authors suggest using word processing applications, organizing and brainstorming software, and multimedia to aid in the process of summarizing and taking notes. Some of these examples are particular representative of cognitive theory. For example, one suggested method for note taking is something called "Combination Notes". This style of note taking has students take notes in one column and draw pictures or import images into the other column. The dual coding hypothesis states that information is stored as both images and text (Laureate Education Inc., 2011), so having students make these associations while processing information will likely help them to remember it better. The organizing and brainstorming software ideas follow a similar organization style to the strategies for cues I discussed earlier, and therefore align with the network model of memory and elaboration theories for the same reasons. 

In addition to researching strategies and making connections to cognitive theory, this week we have also been working on applying these ideas through investigating virtual field trips and creating our own concept maps using brainstorming software. The virtual field trips allow students to gain a multisensory experience as they can see and hear experiences they may not otherwise have access to. This will allow them to better remember the information according to the dual coding hypothesis. The concept maps support elaboration and the network model memory theory. 

I have been busy exploring this collection of astronomy virtual fieldtrips gathered by Edutopia. One of the programs is Starry Night, which we currently use often in my district. Some of the programs were new to me (and free!) like Celestia. This one looks like it would answer so many of the questions my students are always asking about the universe, like "what will happen when our Sun dies?" Here's a screen shot from the program that shows the orbits of asteroids and major planets: 


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program five: Cognitive learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. R., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


  1. Holly,

    I also found Joyce Valenza's article interesting! The idea of asking students questions for a research topic instead of just a topical one is such a great idea. When I have had students research just topics they do not seem to learn at higher levels, but posing a critical thinking question could get students more engaged in the research process as well as "copying and pasting" less.

    Angie Murphy

  2. I liked the combination method of note-taking that you mention in your blog. Again the students are taking notes about the material, but are making their own connections by drawing a visual. i find that this method is extremely helpful when I teach the geometry unit to my fourth graders. The unit is highly visual and involves so much vocabulary. When I introduce the solid figures, I am sure to have the students handle the different solids. Additionally, to use as a resource at home, I have them draw a picture on an organizer so they can refer to it.

  3. I really like your reference to Edutopia and the virtual field trips they offer. One of my students introduced me to the application Celestia which is included on our school issued laptops. At first I was skeptical of how to include this application in the computer lab and then I just announced we would try it. The students liked the application and didn't seem to care that I (the teacher) wasn't too articulate navigating the information. They took the initiative and navigated through solar systems and didn't care that I took a back seat to their exploration. In this case I was the note taker and I learned I do not always have to be the speaker in the classroom. Sometimes it's best if I observe the students doing the computer applications themselves; I mean they are the digital natives. Cognitive learning does not always have to be polished and structured. It can and does occur informally too as long as connections are being drawn between what we already know and what we are trying to figure out.