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Finding Evidence of Transfer with Invention Activities: Teaching the Concept of Weighted Average Documents

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Finding Evidence of Transfer with Invention Activities: Teaching the Concept of Weighted Average 

written by James Day, Natasha G. Holmes, Ido Roll, and Doug A. Bonn

Coming to grips with the nature of measurement and uncertainty is often a common but implicit learning goal for many undergraduate physics labs. As educators, our intent is to have students be able to transfer their knowledge to novel situations: we aim to transform novices into experts. In the first-year physics laboratory at UBC, our approach to teaching weighted averages-among other concepts-involves the use of invention activities. These invention activities actively engage the students, are intended to stimulate creative thinking, are particular in their brevity and high level of structure, and are designed to precede both explicit instruction and reinforcing practice. The merit of having students inspect the fundamental makeup of a problem before being taught to solve it has been shown as useful support for the formation of an initial orderly schema (i.e., preparation for future learning). The transfer of knowledge can be rather difficult to detect in a sequestered problem solving environment, but we claim to have found some evidence of its occurrence. In a situation for which a weighted average is required, we observe significantly more students paying attention to the uncertainty associated with the problem. Given the well-documented challenges associated with teaching the nature of measurement and uncertainty--and while many students still fall short of remembering or applying the correct formula of a weighted average--we interpret this transfer of a concept as a small victory.

Published February 1, 2014
Last Modified January 30, 2014

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