Cognitive Science is the interdisciplinary study of cognition which includes mental states and processes such as thinking, reasoning, remembering, language studying, visual and auditory perception, learning, consciousness, and emotions. (Rapaport, 1986, p. 1) Cognitive science also deals with the processes of the mind which is best explained by “mental representation” (Thagard, 2012, para. 11) which can be compared to the computer data structure. The mind processes information through formal logic, concepts, analogies, images and rules.
Concept is an idea, plan or intention one conceives in the human mind. Great inventions like the production of the electric bulb or the operation of electricity was as a result of the conception of an idea. In the classroom, children demonstrate the ideas they have through the creation of structures they build with blocks and Lego and their creative paintings during art projects.
Formal logic seeks to find out how the mind reasons. It deals with the thought processes of the mind. There are two kinds of reasoning; inductive and deductive reasoning. (Barbey & Barsalou, 2009, p. 1) Inductive reasoning takes place when there is insufficient evidence to support a conclusion drawn. For instance, in a classroom full of two year olds, Child A is seen playing with Lego blocks. Child B goes over to Child A and takes the Lego blocks. Child A gets very upset and goes over to his teacher who retrieves the toy. The next time Child A sees Child B approaching when he is playing he assumes Child B will automatically take his toys. Child A arrives at this conclusion based on his previous experience not taking into consideration that the intentions of Child B in this second scenario may be totally different. On the other hand, deductive reasoning occurs when one has sufficient evidence that supports their reasoning. For instance a child sees dark clouds and rain pouring outside and says that there will not be any recess time today. Based on his previous experience of not going outside to play when it rained, he knows that there will not be any recess time.
Rules are based on the probability that a certain result will be achieved when a particular action is taken. The “If… Then…” rule is used to make this assumption. (Thagard, 2012, para. 15) For example, if you use your walking feet then you will not fall and hurt yourself. Children are encouraged to walk when they are inside the classroom. Rules ensure there is order in a community. They give guidelines to how an activity should be handled and how each participant should be treated. The children in the block area are informed that they need to build with their wooden blocks. If they throw the blocks at their friends then they will have to leave the block area. Rules are usually associated with incentives and rewards. Students are sometimes rewarded with stickers when they help to clean the classroom.
Images are the mental picture the mind paints when it processes information. This painting is based on prior experience or information acquired. For instance, in the classroom an educator presents materials for activities through images. Flashcards and posters of items under discussion are displayed for the children to have a mental picture of what the educator is teaching. Children are asked to think about objects, describe them by stating their shapes and colors. They perform these functions by using their imagination.
Analogies involve solving problems and making decisions by comparing two events or things. Problem solving refers broadly to the inferential steps that lead from a given state of affairs to a desired goal state. (Barbey & Barsalou, 2009, p. 1) It involves the process of planning, execution, motivation and reasoning. Different sides of the brain are utilized during the problem solving process. If the tasks are well structured … the left prefrontal cortex … (Barbey & Barsalou, 2009, p. 5) is utilized. When the tasks are ill structured the … right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex…” utilized. (Barbey & Barsalou, 2009, p. 5-6). One of the ways students are motivated to solve problems is through project-based assignments. They are made to work in groups and brainstorm to find solution to the problem given.
Another aspect of cognitive science deals with the different learning styles; active, reflective, intuitive, global, sensing, sequential, verbal and visual. (Felder & Solomon, 2003). Active learners need to be included in discussions to fully comprehend what they are studying. On the other hand reflective learners need some time to process the information they are receiving in order for them to fully understand their course work. Sensing learners need information they are receiving connected to daily occurrences in the world. Intuitive learners should be encouraged to read over their assignments and tests to avoid making mistakes since they get bored with repetition. Visual learners have a better chance of retaining information in the classroom when they have a visual of what they are studying. Information should be presented in images, graphs and chart for better comprehension. Verbal learners need to be encouraged to verbalize whatever they are studying in their own words. This will enable them to recall information better for later use. Sequential learners need materials presented in a logical format and global learners need to be encouraged to take their time to grasp the information being presented since they learn in leaps and bounds.
Educators play a major role in motivating their students to study. Students are either motivated or not motivated to study due to the atmosphere created by the educator in the classroom. On the commencement of a new course, the educator needs to capture the attention of his students by establishing “a tone of enticement” (Perkins, 2009 p. 63). This can be accomplished by getting the students involved right from the onset; allowing them to give their opinion about what they think about the course and what kind of expectations they have. The educator can arouse the interest of the students when he assures them that he the educator will be gaining a lot from their input. In other words the educator does not have all the answers to the questions. The collaboration from the educator and the students will determine the success of the learning process. Educators who do not acknowledge new students into their classroom create the impression that the students are not welcome. It will take such students a longer period to adjust to the new teacher and classmates. On the contrary, students who feel welcome settle down easily and faster.
The modern day educator is taught seven principles in David Perkins’ book “Making Learning Whole”. These principles are “play the whole game”, “make the game worth playing”, “play out of town”, “work on the hard parts”, “uncover the hidden game”, “learn from the team” and “learn the learning game”. (Perkins, 2009) Educators are encouraged to step away from the traditional way of teaching and motivate their students to connect with their world through what they are studying. Students should also be presented with opportunities to work on areas in their student lives that are challenging. If students make mistakes in a particular course they should be given the chance to work on their mistakes as specific instructions are given to them to help them correct their mistakes. Educators can adopt methods of teaching in which small and large group discussions are held to help students assess each other’s work as well as develop their problem solving skills.
The educator who understands cognitive science stands a better chance of producing successful students.
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Thagard P. (2012). Cognitive Science. The Stanford encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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