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.

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