New math software targets ‘perceptual learning’

Research shows that when people become experts, there is a “change in the way they pick up information,” he said. “They come to see more patterns” and automatically group information in clusters.

Repeated practice helps people develop higher levels of automaticity—the fluency that allows experts to multitask. Experts can perform lower-level tasks using little thought so that they can devote more attention to higher-level tasks.

“Novice students look at superficial features, while [more experienced] students look at underlying concepts,” said Joe Wise, a physics teacher at New Roads School in California who has piloted the Insight products with his students.

As an example, Wise said a novice would look at a graph and merely see an inclined plane. An expert looking at the same graph would see the bigger picture: The plane actually represents an energy problem, with declining potential energy and increasing kinetic energy.

Wise said the Insight modules help students move away from novice-type thinking.

In the Multiple Representations Insight module, for example, students match up different forms of the same problem to demonstrate recognition that a word problem might convey the same information as a graph, and vice versa.

After spending time on the multiple representation module, students with no previous perceptual learning experience “intuited the ideas of slope and intercept,” Wise said.

In his capacity as director of the Center for Effective Learning at New Roads, Wise has overseen other teachers using the products. Throughout the last several years, he has piloted all three of the new Insight products with his students, involving about 60 students per trial.

Wise said he primarily uses the modules as a supplement for struggling students, who can log onto the online programs from their computers at home rather than losing time in the classroom.

Embedded formative assessments give students immediate feedback and help teachers identify student weaknesses or determine when a student is ready to move on.

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