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Current Research


Expertise in Geology -

Testing Penetrative Thinking (Kinnari Atit, Kristin Gagnier)

We are studying penetrative thinking as it relates to geoscience education. The ability to mentally penetrate the interior of an object is key to success in the geosciences yet it is a very difficult skill for students to master. We have several approaches aimed at improving penetrative thinking.

We have developed a measure of penetrative thinking (i.e., 3D visualization and transformation) called the Geo Block Test. This test requires students to incorporate information from multiple faces to penetrate or reason about the likely interior of the object. We are currently using this test as our measure of penetrative thinking.

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Figure 1. An example of the Geologic Block Diagram Test

Can Gesture Facilitate Penetrative Thinking? (Kinnari Atit, Kristin Gagnier)

Within the domain of geoscience, students with high visual penetrative ability use spatial gestures to solve Geologic Block Diagrams (Ales & Riggs, 2011). Given the role of gesture in problem solving, gesture might facilitate penetrative thinking. We are examining whether gesture can improve performance on the Geologic Block Diagram test.

Using Alignment to Improve Penetrative Thinking (Kinnari Atit, Kristin Gagnier)

The ability to mentally penetrate the interior of an object relies on the integration of information from multiple faces. In the field, structural geologists take the exterior information presented at multiple outcrops and use it together to infer the underlying structure. Alignment can promote learning by emphasizing common spatial relationships (Christie and Gentner, 2010; Gentner and Sagi, 2006). In this project we use progressive alignment as a tool to help students understand that in order to visualize the interior of an object, one needs to incorporate information from multiple faces.

Using 3D experience to Facilitate Penetrative Thinking (Kinnari Atit, Kristin Gagnier)

Penetrative thinking is challenging in part because the observers has to visualize a 2D object as a 3D figure. In this project we are examining whether experience with a 3D model of a geologic block diagram made of Play-doh (shown in Figure 1) will improve penetrative thinking.

 

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Figure 1. An example of a Play-doh model of a geologic block diagram.

 

Mental Transformation (Kinnari Atit)

This line of research attempts to categorize the role of mental transformation in geology, with additional goals of developing both educational strategies and assessments. Geologists self-report that they look at an outcrop and play back in their mind the sequence of transformations, mentally animating the transformations from the present spatial configurations (see fig. 1)back to horizontal sedimentary layers.

Spatial Configurations

Figure 1

An initial study examined if geologists are objectively able to make such mental transformations, and, if they are, is the skill domain specific or domain general. An objective measure was developed using words that were transformed in one of three ways, and the task was to identify the word. To make the task more demanding additional characters were added in between each letter of the word (see fig. 2). Words were broken up into pieces along diagonal lines. These pieces were translated as if faulted (see fig. 3) or were randomly displaced (see fig. 4). Additionally, a set of third items were developed to address the potential role of disembedding, with the transformations separated by space (see fig. 5).

Geologists were significantly better than two control groups, with no difference in performance within groups between the faulted and randomly displaced items, suggesting the geologists have a domain general ability to make mental transformations that is superior to matched novices. All three groups performed better on the exploded words, however Geologists still outperformed both control groups. This finding suggests that while disembedding is helpful for this task, it is not the sole explanation for the Geologist’s skill. Important to note, geologists performed at the same rates on a mental rotation task as chemists (one control group from another science that requires spatial reasoning), but significantly outperformed the chemists on this task of mental transformation.

Currently, verbal protocols are being collected from geologists and novices to help categorize the specific strategy(ies) being employed. Future studies will aim to facilitate the expert strategies with novices, examine transfer to geologic content, and inclusion in a geoscience battery.

Letter of the word

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Figure 5

Inferring the Shape of a Penetrating Object (Jack Ryan)

We are currently developing another measure of penetrative thinking in which students are asked about the shape of an object that penetrated a cylinder. Students are presented with the cylinder shown in Figure 1. They are told the white holes represent the entrance and exit of an object that penetrated the cylinder. They are then shown the array of possible objects (ranging from a circle to a teardrop shape) and asked to select the shape of the penetrating object.

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Figure 1. An example of the cylinder task. The white holes represent the holes made by a penetrating object.


Gesture - Hand gestures are a normal, ubiquitous, and telling part of spoken language. They constitute a central feature of human development, knowing, learning, and communication across cultures (Roth, 2001). Gestures are used quite fervently in fields that are characterized as dealing with abstract matters such as science and mathematics. Gesturing is prevalent in these fields because much of science and math involve spatial thinking and requires communication of abstract and spatial concepts. A portion of spatial thinking involves building, manipulating, and using mental spatial representations. Spatial thinking also involves the use of external representations, such as maps, models, and iconic gestures (Liben, Christensen, & Kastens, 2010).

 

 

PAST RESEARCH

Biological Motion - Humans are very good at detecting human motion. This project studies how humans learn to visually recognize the complex motion associated with human locomotion (e.g., walking).

Experiment 1 - We started by studying the effects of experience on perception of locomotion of animals (dogs and seals). We tested professional dog and seal trainers on recognition with displays that provided only dynamic information. These displays were created by taking movies of animals moving and converting them to a movie where only the joints were visible (e.g., white dots on a black background indicated the hips, knees, and feet - or homologous anatomical points). We found that the trainers' performance were not significantly different from naïve subjects. This lead us to conclude that human recognition of human motion is special and may be mediated by representations of our own ability to act.

Experiment 2 - Previous research has shown that it is harder for humans to correctly identify a point-light walker when it is positioned upside down. There are two possible explanations for this effect. The first is that when the point-light walker is upside down the effect of gravity upon the walker is reversed. That is, when upside down, the force of gravity is up rather than down. The alternative explanation is that we normally recognize walking based on the posture of the walker. Then we can't identify the upside down walker because it is an unfamiliar orientation. The two hypotheses were tested with a walker walking on their hands (gravity familiar and form unfamiliar), and the same display turned upside down (gravity unfamiliar and form familiar). Thus, we could pit familiar dynamics against familiar form. Subjects in this experiment were better at detecting the normal handstand walker than the upside down handstand walker. This supports accounts of biological motion perception based on dynamic (spatiotemporal) information.

Current areas of research in the lab are - studying the relationship between perception of events and verb learning, and the role of physical expertise in biological motion perception.

 Click here for motion-capture information and point-light data file archive

Sample pictures of point light displays for this research.



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