Cognitivism in Practice
The Cognitivist theory deals with how a person learns, or more specifically, how the brain stores and retains information. Recent studies have shown that the brain takes chunks of information and moves them into working memory, and eventually into long term memory. The chunks of information that reach long term memory are connected with other chunks of information, and can be pulled backed into working memory as needed. In fact, “All incoming information is organized and processed in the working memory by interaction with knowledge in long-term memory (Novak & Canas, 2006)”. The way a person learns and how the information is presented, heavily contributes to how these chunks of information enter the portion of the brain that controls long term memory. Many of today’s students are visual and auditory learners. Advanced organizers, summarizing and note taking, virtual field trips, and concept mapping are some tools that help them learn information.
Advance organizers are a great way to organize information as the students move through a lesson or unit. These organizers can include pictures and symbols, vocabulary, and figures that show how the pieces of information on the organizer are linked and related. We often call these thinking maps. There are many different thinking maps that can be used as advanced organizers. One of the key pieces to creating an advanced organizer is to have the information presented linked back to an “essential question (Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. R., & Kuhn, M., 2012, p. 95)”. This allows the students to understand why the information is important, from what point of view is the information being presented, and where did the information come from? I often use Mimio software and SmartBook software to create advanced organizers for my students. Many times they are only skeletons, and they students have to fill in all of the necessary information. There are other times when I do fill in some of the information, especially with difficult concepts, to help guide students through the organizer. I do this often with my collaborative class.
According to Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. R., & Kuhn, M., “summarizing and note taking focuses on enhancing students’ ability to synthesize information and distill it into a concise new form (p.147)”. There are many technologies available that can do so. One that I have used quite frequently is Wordle. This technology allows students to type in words or phrases, and creates a digital collage of these words and terms. Students like using this software because it makes each Wordle unique, regardless of whether or not some of them use the same information. Teachers can also quickly glance at a Wordle, and get a feel on whether or not the students’ have mastered a concept.
Virtual field trips are a powerful tool because it allows students to go where they physically cannot, and it creates “a rich experience (Laureate, 2011)” for the learner that can create episodes of learning. These field trips are usually free and easy to access, which removes two of the major barriers for many students and educators in today’s educational system. It also gives students a visual representation of the information being presented, which is a very powerful tool in the learning process. These field trips can be used as culminating activities, or as an opening activity that can be used to draw information and experiences from throughout the unit.
Concept mapping is another tool that gives students a visual representation of information. They are tools that help organize information, and show links and relationships to different concepts. These maps usually highlight the most important information and concepts in a unit, which in itself is a summarizing mechanism for students. Concept maps also help students and teachers understand the learning objectives for units, and spotlight important vocabulary in the unit or chapter. Today, technology allows to summarizing in different ways. Blogs, wikis, Google Docs, and other programs allow people to summarize information, but are much more interactive. These programs not only support the cognitive theory, but also the constructivist and social constructivist theories of learning.
Laureate Education, Inc. (2011). Spotlight on technology: Virtual field trips. .
Novak, J. D., & Canas, A. J. (2006-01 Rev 01-2008). The theory underlying concept maps and
how to construct them, Technical Report IHMC Cmap Tools. Retrieved from
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. R., & Kuhn, M. (2012). Using technology with classroom instruction that
works (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.