My Learning Self- Reflection

In The Beginning

After 25 years in the classroom, it is an interesting challenge to consider which learning theories have informed my practice. At first blush it is easy to state that my first years of instruction in Physics and Physical Science were mostly about learning how to manage a classroom. In this arena, there was little time for experimentation, and I practiced what I had learned from my teachers in high school. Behaviorism works. The approach is concerned with observable stimulus-response behaviors, and states all behaviors are learned through interaction with the environment. Behaviorism emphasizes the role of environmental factors in influencing behavior, to the near exclusion of innate or inherited factors. viewpoints of this century, specifically in the works of Piaget, Bruner, and Goodman (Perkins, 1991).



Humans learn new behavior through classical or operant conditioning (Saul McCleod 2017). Behaviorism equates learning with changes in either the form or frequency of observable performance. Learning is accomplished when a proper response is demonstrated following the presentation of a specific environmental stimulus. For example, when presented with a math flashcard showing the equation “2 + 4 = ?” the learner replies with the answer of “6.” The equation is the stimulus and the proper answer is the associated response. The key elements are the stimulus, the response, and the association between the two. Of primary concern is how the association between the stimulus and response is made, strengthened, and maintained.Behaviorism focuses on the importance of the consequences of those performances and contends that responses that are followed by reinforcement are more likely to recur in the future. No attempt is made to determine the structure of a student’s knowledge nor to assess which mental processes it is necessary for them to use (Winn, 1990). The learner is characterized as being reactive to conditions in the environment as opposed to taking an active role in discovering the environment.The awarding of behaviors that I expected and approved was accompanied by a commensurate use negative reinforcement (Ertmann & Newby 2013 ).


My school district provided a progression of steps that represented the established discipline plan. I found that positive reinforcement worked best to encourage voluntary participation by students and to create a feeling of safety for them in my classroom environment. Negative reinforcement, or punishment for unwanted student behavior was limited for occasions for student behavior that got in the way of everyone's opportunity to learn. For many years, I lectured, provided prefabricated labs, and provided a host of problems to solve related to content. Students were rewarded with points for completion of assignments. Tests revealed acquired student skill to access short term memory to get the grade that they pursued.. Basically, I was embracing successful regurgitation of facts, and for many years I thought that this repetitive discipline represented excellent use of the student time an energy.


The Way Forward


The change came suddenly. I attended a two week summer seminar on Modeling in Physics at Bowling Green State University. I learned that the pedagogy that I had embraced was not teaching my students to think about physics. I was introduced to the research by Dr. David Hestenes at Arizona concerning Modeling Theory and Modeling Instruction in Physics  Modeling Theory is based in part of Cognitive Theory. Cognitive theories stress the acquisition of knowledge and internal mental structures and, as such, are closer to the rationalist end of the epistemology continuum (Bower & Hilgard, 1981). Learning is equated with discrete changes between states of knowledge rather than with changes in the probability of response. Cognitive theories focus on the conceptualization of students’ learning processes and address the issues of how information is received, organized, stored, and retrieved by the mind. Learning is concerned not so much with what learners do but with what they know and how they come to acquire it (Jonassen,1991b). Knowledge acquisition is described as a mental activity that entails internal coding and structuring by the learner. The learner is viewed as a very active participant in the learning process. (Ertmann & Newby 2013).


Modeling Instruction’s foundation comes from Dr. Hestenes; he created a theory known as the Modeling Theory of Cognition. This theory posits that humans construct “mental models,” which we are constantly creating, refining, and applying. When humans share the models to predict or explain a part of the world, mental are elevated to “conceptual models.” We then test the “conceptual models” for agreement or disagreement with data from experiments, then reject, refine, or accept the “conceptual model”—until further experiments provide more data about the “conceptual model.”

The Modeling Theory of Cognition uses the ideas of Constructivism.The philosophical assumptions underlying both the behavioral and cognitive theories are primarily objectivistic; that is: the world is real, external to the learner. The goal of instruction is to map the structure of the world onto the learner (Jonassen,1991b). A number of contemporary cognitive theorists have begun to question this basic objectivistic assumption and are starting to adopt a more constructivist approach to learning and understanding: knowledge “is a function of how the individual creates meaning from his or her own experiences” (p.10). Constructivism is not a totally new approach to learning. Like most other learning theories, constructivism has multiple roots in the philosophical and psychological viewpoints of this century, specifically in the works of Piaget, Bruner, and Goodman (Perkins, 1991).


Modeling Theory focuses the construction of information into models, leading to the learning cycle in Modeling Instruction. Students collect or are given data for a particular topic; from there, students organize the information into their initial mental model. Through discussion and application, students refine their mental model to account for new information. If the information cannot be adequately explained by the refined model, students begin the process again.

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