Modeling Mathematical Reasoning as Trained Perception-Action Procedures

Goldstone, R. L., Weitnauer, E., Ottmar, E., Marghetis, T., & Landy, D. H. (2016).   Modeling Mathematical Reasoning as Trained Perception-Action ProceduresIn R. Sottilare, A. Graesser, X. Hu, A. Olney, B. Nye, and A. Sinatra (Eds.) Design Recommendations for Intelligent Tutoring Systems: Volume 4 – Domain Modeling. Orlando, FL: U.S. Army Research Laboratory. (pp. 213-223).

We have observed that when people engage in algebraic reasoning, they often perceptually and spatially transform algebraic notations directly rather than first converting the notation to an internal, non spatial representation. We describe empirical evidence for spatial transformations, such as spatially compact grouping, transposition, spatially overlaid intermediate results, cancelling out, swapping, and splitting. This research has led us to understand domain models in mathematics as the deployment of trained and strategically crafted perceptual-motor processes working on grounded and strategically crafted notations. This approach to domain modeling has also motivated us to develop and assess an algebra tutoring system focused on helping students train their perception and action systems to coordinate with each other and formal mathematics. Overall, our laboratory and classroom investigations emphasize the interplay between explicit mathematical understandings and implicit perception action training as having a high potential payoff for making learning more efficient, robust, and broadly applicable.

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Comparison versus reminding

Tullis, J. G. & Goldstone, R. L. (2016).  Comparison versus reminding.  Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 1, 1-20, DOI 10.1186/s41235-016-0028-1.

Comparison and reminding have both been shown to support learning and transfer. Comparison is thought to support transfer because it allows learners to disregard non-matching features of superficially different episodes in order to abstract the essential structure of concepts. Remindings promote memory for the individual episodes and generalization because they prompt learners to retrieve earlier episodes during the encoding of later related episodes and to compare across episodes. Across three experiments, we compared the consequences of comparison and reminding on memory and transfer. Participants studied a sequence of related, but superficially different, proverb pairs. In the comparison condition, participants saw proverb pairs presented together and compared their meaning. In the reminding condition, participants viewed proverbs one at a time and retrieved any prior studied proverb that shared the same deep meaning as the current proverb. Experiment 1 revealed that participants in the reminding condition recalled more proverbs than those in the comparison condition. Experiment 2 showed that the mnemonic benefits of reminding persisted over a one-week retention interval. Finally, in Experiment 3, we examined the ability of participants to generalize their remembered information to new items in a task that required participants to identify unstudied proverbs that shared the samemeaning as studied proverbs. Comparison led to worse discrimination between proverbs related to studied proverbs and proverbs unrelated to studied proverbs than reminding. Reminding supported better memory for individual instances and transfer to new situations than comparison.

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Mastering algebra retrains the visual system to perceive hierarchical structure in equations

Marghetis, T., Landy, D., & Goldstone, R. L. (2016).  Mastering algebra retrains the visual system to perceive hierarchical structure in equations.  Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 1(25), 1-10, DOI 10.1186/s41235-016-0020-9.

Formal mathematics is a paragon of abstractness. It thus seems natural to assume that the mathematical expert should rely more on symbolic or conceptual processes, and less on perception and action. We argue instead that mathematical proficiency relies on perceptual systems that have been retrained to implement mathematical skills. Specifically, we investigated whether the visual systemin particular, object-based attentionis retrained so that parsing algebraic expressions and evaluating algebraic validity are accomplished by visual processing. Object-based attention occurs when the visual system organizes the world into discrete objects, which then guide the deployment of attention. One classic signature of object-based attention is better perceptual discrimination within, rather than between, visual objects. The current study reports that object-based attention occurs not only for simple shapes but also for symbolic mathematical elements within algebraic expressionsbut only among individuals who have mastered the hierarchical syntax of algebra. Moreover, among these individuals, increased object-based attention within algebraic expressions is associated with a better ability to evaluate algebraic validity. These results suggest that, in mastering the rules of algebra, people retrain their visual system to represent and evaluate abstract mathematical structure. We thus argue that algebraic expertise involves the regimentation and reuse of evolutionarily ancient perceptual processes. Our findings implicate the visual system as central to learning and reasoning in mathematics, leading us to favor educational approaches to mathematics and related STEM fields that encourage students to adapt, not abandon, their use of perception.

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An in vivo study of self-regulated study sequencing in introductory psychology courses

Carvalho, P.F., Braithwaite, D.W., de Leeuw, J.R., Motz, B.A., & Goldstone, R.L. (2016). An in vivo study of self-regulated study sequencing in introductory psychology courses. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0152115.

Study sequence can have a profound influence on learning. In this study we investigated how students decide to sequence their study in a naturalistic context and whether their choices result in improved learning. In the study reported here, 2061 undergraduate students enrolled in an Introductory Psychology course completed an online homework tutorial on measures of central tendency, a topic relevant to an exam that counted towards their grades. One group of students was enabled to choose their own study sequence during the tutorial (Self-Regulated group), while the other group of students studied the same materials in sequences chosen by other students (Yoked group). Students who chose their sequence of study showed a clear tendency to block their study by concept, and this tendency was positively associated with subsequent exam performance. In the Yoked group, study sequence had no effect on exam performance. These results suggest that despite findings that blocked study is maladaptive when assigned by an experimenter, it may actually be adaptive when chosen by the learner in a naturalistic context.

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