Sunday, November 25, 2012

Metacognition and Knowing Where You Are

In my post yesterday I wrote about metacognition and connectedness. I addressed the importance of having a contextual framework for understanding, and how perceiving connections adds to that framework. I want to add something related to those thoughts.

When I teach my undergraduates I encourage them to construct a map of what we've learned over the semester. This is a bit different than an outline and much different than the flash cards they love, in that a map implies movement over connected terrain, not a hierarchy (like an outline) nor definitions ( flash cards). When you have a map you stand a good chance of knowing where you are and where you're going.

We can solve problems all kinds of ways, but knowing where we are at a given juncture helps. This isn't easy. When Renato suggests that I work more on an abstract sculpture I usually have no idea where I am or where I want to go with the work. Personally I have struggled with developing a metacognitive model for what I'm doing there. His class has been so helpful to me because I have begun to find that roadmap. It helps to have a nudge from someone who sees the situation from a different perspective, and who has experience with this kind of problem solving. Renato came to sculpture from a background as a theater director. I came from Planet Biology.

This gets me to think... when we are working on a scientific problem we can find ourselves in a thicket of observations that tend to confuse us about how we want to go forward. Of course you can see there are analogies here to all kinds of problem solving.

I've often considered that I teach my students not facts about biology but how to think critically about abstractions. I realize now how close to the truth that is. It seems to me that the more abstract the concepts we are working with, the more it helps to have a metacognitive roadmap.





21 comments:

  1. Ugh. I think the interwebs just ate my comment. To reiterate (I can use the practice), I was saying how helpful it can be to step back, check something out, and -group fave- ask questions. Learning this process for me has helped me ingest more information and to consider a problem or concept from various angles. I do wonder though if it is necessary to have a metacognitive model when it comes to art. While some artists inevitably have or eventually form a plan or an idea of what they want the outcome to be, isn't some art free-flowing?

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  2. This is a crucial skill that I need to develop. Especially when it comes to writing. I usually approach a writing project trying to write an outline, but the process deteriorates into writing the paper! I then abandon my attempt to plan, and have at it haphazardly, writing, rewriting, and figuring out what I am doing and what I am trying to say along the way. It ends up ok in the end - I eventually zero in on a good composition, but it's impossible to know how I ended up there or where I came from.

    I love this concept of a map rather than an outline and I think approaching a planning process with this concept will be really helpful for me. As you point out an outline is hierarchical, but a map demonstrates transitive connectivity which is a much more useful way of conceptualizing.

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  3. I really like the concept of the map as a source from outlining and visually seeing one's stance. I like the idea that a map means movement. For me, as a writer before I sit down to write about any given topic I first have to develop not an outline necessarily in its organized, proper format, but a general kind of web that captures the concepts/problems that I want to address and what subcategories fall within those problems/concepts. Using maps in educational contexts are very useful and functional in that it allows one to be creative and not just jot down points/facts..

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  4. You guys know me and mapping…love this! In undergrad, I took a mapping course where we sited and mapped everything. The point was to find relationships and connects to solve problems. For example, we mapped all the parks and the bike racks. When looking at the map, we noticed all the bike racks were around the parks, making it hard for people to bike into town and park it/chain it up. Taking mapping to a contextual form is pretty awesome. I really like your comparison of the 3: outline – hierarchy, flash cards – definitions, and maps – progress.

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  5. Steve Jobs once said, "Creativity is just connecting things".

    Thinking about the approach of writing a paper the same way as diagraming a comprehensive site plan is a very interesting concept. When a site or building has required elements, they usually mean nothing until bubble diagrams are placed on paper which can then be interpreted into a comprehensive plan. Honestly, I am excited to try out this system for various tasks such as observing and writing. :-)

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  6. I definitely agree with the idea of a metacognitive road map. It really is so easy to get lost and stuck in something little that we miss the bigger picture. A roadmap or a plan would allow us to know our intended destination, keep us from forgetting the ultimate goal, but also allow us to see the path it will take or has taken us to get there. For example: coming up with an outline for a research paper. I've always struggled with this because I find it easier to just dive in, but I do know that if I had an outline I wouldn't leave out any of my original thoughts. Not only that but an outline would allow me to jump to a different section of the paper if I were to hit a writer's block. An outline or a roadmap is something in particular that I personally have to work on.

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  7. Writing a research paper is a challenge for me too, especially I've a way from school. My writing skills are a bit rusty, my problem is how to convert this road map into an outline, I've been focusing lately on illustrating my design ideas rather than putting them down in words. I need to develop that skill to divide the bigger picture into well developed context. I believe using these research methods tools and working on the process will bring back those buried skills

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  8. The idea of a map can help a student or even as a teacher understand where you are going, but really important, where you have been. As Britta mentions, sometimes you go with the flow and start creating.. but then you realize (taking a step back) how far you've come, where you started, and HOW it led you to the final outcome. Understanding that is very valuable I believe because as Sam mentioned "how each of us learns best we were exploring our own subjective way of approaching the process of learning" and I think that would be an excellent way of learning how each person evolves into the final work.

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  9. I am intrigued by the idea of a map as a tool to work your way through a problem. A map is much more personal then an outline. It forces you to put yourself into your work more prominently Setting up for the final day of the intensive and displaying all the work that came out of it was inspiring and created a clarity about how we all got to that place.

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  10. This post reminds me of our group field trip to the MFA. Having Aliza take the reins really helped a lot of us think about the art, and our project, in a different way. I felt like I tried a different angle of the thought process, and realized the importance of the sense of belonging in a community.

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  11. Maps seem to make a lot more sense to me than outlines. Outlines can be extremely linear where maps can have connections all over the place. Using maps and the help of someone with an alternate perspective can really help shape an idea. It was clear during our work at the Intensive that we needed lots of different kinds of maps and lots of different kinds of new and intuitive ideas to progress forward.

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  12. Last week, we did a similar exercise where we tracked our thought process and steps from the first time we visited the site, to our final site map. For me, it is so helpful to visualize how much work we had completed and the issues we resolved to finish the project. Although we didn't design an actual map, this process helped me to understand our process as a group and how my ideas played a role in this.

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  13. I have taken a recent interest in maps, having just read Map Thief and about to read Map Head. One of the most important ideas I know hold about maps is how much they are social and cultural constructions of their times. It has been fascinating to look at maps of the “new world” done in the same time period by French cartographers and British cartographers. They give different names to places, draw territorial boundaries in different places, etc. The idea that a map can tell us where we are is only “true” within a particular cultural and social context. I would argue that this statement holds both for place maps and of concept maps.

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  14. I wrote an insightful comment but the website keeps not publishing it

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  15. At work we have a roadmap to complete projects. recently we discovered we have to change the road map to keep up with demand.
    Our team is expanding and my principal can't micromanage every design. We are relying more on individuals to use their knowledge and process to get things done without her direct supervision. I feel as though as soon as you find a road map you will inevitably have to take a new path as the traffic always changes causing you to take a new direction.

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  16. For me the one thing I found most useful and instructive during the Intensive was to personally step back, tell my self to shut up and listen, and pay attention to the ideas and processes of my team mates. I felt there was a design for NorthPoint staring at us from day one, why couldn't everyone else see it? Pretty simple, each of us had a valuable contribution from our own experiences and a way of approaching problems and challenges. I am coming from a pretty aggressive aeronautical , engineering, science, and business background and it became very clear to me that I needed to slow down, step back, listen, and learn.

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  17. I think learning to continually weave in the 'process' elements of documenting, reflecting, discussing, and projecting are really helpful ways of figuring out where we are and where we're going. Setting goals in the beginning is key, and checking in throughout a project is essential, to see if we are staying on track, or if/how/why things need adjustments.
    Ive used goal setting for years, and it's always interesting to go back and see if I have achieved those things...but mapping out a plan, really solidifies one's objective and clarifies how to get from a-b-c....

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  18. I just wrote a comment, that was critical and witty and then it deleted it when I tried to preview it and when I tried to sign in it took me away from the site so now I highly disapprove of Blogger. Angry Summer Vendetta. Im also worried that my other comments don't exist at all now because this one was destroyed so quickly.
    I wanted to ask in what context would you have to know where you are? I suppose in a class you'd want to know what you know and what you don't by finding subjects and then going back in to fill out the details like one would with drawing or writing (depending on ones process). And I was curious how you do tests if you're trying to teach your kids critical thinking skills instead of biology, You must teach them some biology. I pictured tests where you give the kids something they've never seen before and they have to pull it apart based on all the critical thinking skills they've been practicing. Am I getting warmer?

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  19. In one of the lectures this last intensive someone mentioned that it is useful to know a little about a lot. I’ve also heard it said that “Architecture is a T- shaped career” meaning once you have the training of an Architect many jobs fall under the outstretched arms of your education. It seems that in map terms, this means, it’s okay to visit many places for short periods of time, as long as you acquire a general sense of them. Many of us develop a “native knowledge” of our home base and I imagine this is where work experience really pays off.

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  20. When I took my first Evolutionary biology course at Ball State, we were introduced to phylogenetic trees and were given a series of evolutionary 'traits' that were found in a number of organisms, but were lacking in others. From that, we were told to assemble a tree with roughly 10 organisms, and label the evolutionary progression based on how certain traits could 'build upon each other'...

    I was lost immediately. Jaw open. Sitting there feeling helpless. I had no idea where to begin, really. As I sat there in a course of roughly 80 other clueless and struggling students, I had no idea how I would pass this class... it seemed like a random set of words, theories and concepts. However once I took a deep breath, and dedicated myself to learn how this mess was logically arranged, I made the connections between those definitions and concepts, and it all made sense. I think when we're placed before a design issue that is in need of resolution, we need to realize that we're not supposed to know everything about the project yet, and we should not to be discouraged; we have the ability to learn and applying what we can learn to 'make sense' of the issue before us

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  21. Abstract art is often seen as a fluid non-thought process in which whatever happens spontaneously will become the piece. I don't want to be categorical for this might be the case sometimes, but in most cases this a very well thought process. Abstraction is challenging in the sense that it must convey complex ideas utilizing a simple language, with pure and organic forms. The final product might seem effortless but is indeed a careful process of editing and placing things in the right place. A good art piece will evoke sensations, feelings and ideas. The artist could be using only the minimal amount of media and still create this effect on the observer. It doesn't have to be intricate or overelaborate to be beautiful and meaningful. With just a few strokes of color this is possible, but its not as easy as it sounds. The strokes must be placed in the right place, with the exact presicion and the right color palette. This requires a trained eye and deep knowledge about design, composition and color theory.

    Metacognition is an important tool in this process. Acknowledging what goes into the creative process and understanding where we stand every step of the way, keep us on track. The value of stoping and observing our own process will help us to edit and dismiss all the excess content we put in the making, only to stay with the essential parts that deliver the message we want to convey.

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