Confused at a higher level

The view from Carleton College's physics department

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Procedural, analytical, relational, innovative

Posted by Arjendu on May 5, 2008

Spring pause today, and I’m enjoying reading and writing while skilfully procrastinating dealing with grading today. An article that caught my eye, and that I almost put in the comments section to my previous post on lessons learned/things to remember for my write-up on my attempt to re-vamp intro mechanics, triggered this particular post.

This is from the New York Times, and it’s about learning new habits. It’s a short article, so I won’t bother summarizing here, but a couple of interesting points:

“Researchers in the late 1960s discovered that humans are born with the capacity to approach challenges in four primary ways: analytically, procedurally, relationally (or collaboratively) and innovatively. At puberty, however, the brain shuts down half of that capacity, preserving only those modes of thought that have seemed most valuable during the first decade or so of life.

The current emphasis on standardized testing highlights analysis and procedure, meaning that few of us inherently use our innovative and collaborative modes of thought.”

Hah. No kidding. I think the students in intro physics/intro mechanics have a hard time getting from procedural to analytical in the first place. That is, they expect physics to be about a certain set of equations, and also expect that I will tell them which equations to use. When confronted by the fact that a typical physics assignment requires analytical AND procedural abilities, they get slightly shaken. But these are Carleton students, so they get over that. However, when confronted by the need for relational work (‘group’ problem-solving) and innovation (‘ask a question, and answer it’ — part of my instructions for the last lab they did) they are palpably out of their comfort zone.

The articles goes on to say that in new experiences, there are “three zones of existence: comfort, stretch and stress. Comfort is the realm of existing habit. Stress occurs when a challenge is so far beyond current experience as to be overwhelming. It’s that stretch zone in the middle — activities that feel a bit awkward and unfamiliar — where true change occurs.”

The trick, therefore, is to stretch these minds without stressing them. Sigh.


One Response to “Procedural, analytical, relational, innovative”

  1. […] and definitely more than the sum of its parts (this is perhaps a good time to refer you back to a recent note on how humans problem-solve). The bad part is, I am not sure it is always good to have to keep re-orienting myself every time I […]

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