Evaluating the implementation of Mathematica Demonstrations … next semester, deliberate practice

Before the spring semester started, I promised to try Mathematica demonstrations with my applied statistics class with the intention of helping them better understand the concepts of statistics. You can access that blog at this link: https://statisticalsage.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=256&action=edit.

Well, I did what I had intended, but not in the manner in which I had hoped. You see, we ended up with my students missing almost a week and half of the semester due to school being closed. So, I had my students “explore” the Mathematica Demonstrations that I outlined in my prior blog. I felt pretty good, as I thought my students wouldn’t fall too far behind in their course work, and their exploration could be even more beneficial than being in class … right? Wrong …

Students logged on and looked at the demonstration. Most reported (cut this in half?) working with each demonstration for less then 6 minutes (ouch). They all said favorable things about Mathematica, but I saw no carry over to questions in class or on exams.

I suppose as I look at the practice of using technology in teaching applied statistics, simply providing students with the tools does not assure cognitive development — and yes, I knew that, and was planning on integrating it during class time, but snow days got in the way. In a few days, I have asked a guest blogger, Livie Carducci, who is experienced in using Mathematic demonstrations in teaching statistics to talk about some techniques to maximize student engagement.

Not surprising, what I noticed this semester is that some students will naturally explore, but others will put forth the minumum effort. I became motivated to figure out a way to assure students will be intellectually engaged in thi assignment. I thought of the new pedagogical practice of Deliberate Practice. Thus, for this summer, I plan on working on developing assignments around each of the Mathematica Demonstrations that increases the likelihood of students engaging in deliberate practice through the application of Deliberate Practice.

So, let me review this for you … first of all, as a pedagogical tool, Deliberate Practice is in its infancy. It is based off of the cognitive developmental research of Ericcson on expertise. http://projects.ict.usc.edu/itw/gel/EricssonDeliberatePracticePR93.pdf Briefly, in the early 1990’s Ericcson and others noticed that people who truly became experts in an area, often devoted a tremendous amount of time and effort over the course of at least a decade before they hit a level of expertise. Ericcson hypothesized that we were born to excel, but through deliberate practice could become experts in areas of music, thinking, physical activity and the like.

Not all practice is deliberate. For practice to be considered deliberate it seems that it requires the following.

(1) We must first not only establish our desired outcome, but establish a means of reaching that outcome, thus we must specify the process.

So, I have a goal: I want to master the pedagogical practice of increasing my students participate in Deliberate Practice when interacting with the Mathematca Demonstrations, but in order to do that I must (a) study about deliberate practice, which will mean reading about it and talking to others who have tried it (b) specify the components of deliberate practice that I need to have my students accomplish (c) look at each Mathematica Demonstration I have selected for my students, and come up with an activity that will increase students’ deliberate practice (d) as I am going to have to assess my students implementation of Deliberate Practice, I should design a quick survey. (e) Immediately, my mind ponders about whether or not I should set this up as a research study … and I say, if I will, I’ll make that a new goal. (f) After looking at the students’ responses to the survey in the fall semester, see about making revisions to improve these assignments.

(2) The established goal must take us to a higher level of attainment.

Let’s face it, we can’t just stay right were we all … deliberate practice is all about hitting a higher level of expertise.  In my example, I’m clearly going outside of my prior experiences, but not too far to make this an unattainable goal.

(3) Now, as you implement your plan, you have to be formally and informally evaluating your progress.

Often this will require the use of an expert to provide you with feedback. Of course, you also have to have a keen sense of your own metacognition and progress. Though I haven’t read this in the literature, yet, I would suspect that individuals with weakened self esteems might have a tough time implementing Deliberate Practice, as you must have clear (and honest) insight into what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how you can do it better. We simply have to be cautious of our own bias to see everything as great. In hypothesis testing, this is called validation testing … where you look for signs that you are right! Instead, people who make strides in increasing their expertise through Deliberate Practice should make use of a practice more akin to “falsification hypothesis testing” where you look for how  you are wrong, and what you must do to get better.

My plan for preparing to implement deliberate practice as a way of maximizing the use of the Mathematica demonstrations will involve a self designed survey, specifically geared to look for how my practice is weak and what I can do to make it better. Of course, I’m also putting my efforts out in this blog, where I invite other statistics professors to comment.

(4) Then, you must … practice, practice, practice … but notice, that practice, alone isn’t enough … you must have a detailed and well thought out plan that takes you to a higher level, and  be critically evaluated by both yourself and an expert.

I would love to say … provide students with the Mathematica Demonstrations and the students will naturally enter into Deliberate Practice, but my experience this semester has been that most will not. So, I will establish an assignment that puts students on the right path. As I work on that over this summer, I will update my prior Mathematica Blog with a new one including the activities that go along with the demonstrations.

As always, I welcome your expertise on this topic! I also encourge you to look at Livie’s post on how she uses Mathematica to get students to master concepts of statistics.



Filed under Engaging students, Homework/ Assignments, Maximizing Cognitive Development, Pedagogy

2 responses to “Evaluating the implementation of Mathematica Demonstrations … next semester, deliberate practice

  1. Pingback: Statistics Professor’s New Years Resolution — a Review from 2011 | Statistical Sage Blog

  2. Pingback: A Statistics Professor’s New Year’s Resolution – 2012 | Statistical Sage Blog

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