Leveraging Intuitive Concepts: Achieving STEM Learning in Informal Settings
Intuitive reasoning can be good, bad -or surprising. Thinking "fast" offers an immediate action plan, promoting confidence in judgments: intuitive theories, for example, allow us to make an immediate appraisal of the human mind (theory of mind) or the natural world (e.g., an intuitive biology). The downside, however, is a reliance on what may be inaccurate judgments based on cognitive biases that are at odds with "rational" thinking. For STEM topics, such cognitive biases, such as the teleological construal that there is purpose in nature, are thought to be barriers to effective learning, to be eliminated at all costs. This may be particularly relevant to informal learning, where interactions with the material may be brief or superficial. What I shall offer in this talk is an alternative perspective, that intuitive reasoning can be surprisingly beneficial, providing a foundation for STEM learning. For this to happen, though, the learning experience itself should be built on a fine-tuned diagnosis of both the "good" and the "bad" of visitors' intuitions. Research carried out in three major exhibitions on evolution, developed around children's and adults' intuitive understanding of the natural world, provide support for the argument that teleological and essentialist (each species has a unique underlying nature) biases can help (as well as hinder). What they do is provide a series of stepping stones, which, if navigated with care, may promote STEM learning of evolutionary concepts.
E. Margaret Evans, PhD., Brief Biography
Margaret Evans is an Associate Research Scientist at the Center for Human Growth and Development and a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan. Her Ph.D. in developmental psychology from the University of Michigan focused on cultural and cognitive factors that influence the emergence of scientific and religious concepts in children and adults from diverse communities; her subsequent work, funded by the Spencer Foundation, the National Academy of Education, and the National Science Foundation, built on this foundation. Most recently, she has integrated these studies into research projects and exhibit development for five different exhibits on evolution and related topics, funded by NSF and NIH. In this work, she and her colleagues have developed informal learning experiences for children and students of all ages, based on a theoretical analysis of children's and adults' intuitive concepts.