foundation of factual knowledge, (b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and (c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.

  1. A “metacognitive”3 approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.

One chapter of How People Learn describes how experts differ from novices. For example, it compares the different approaches to problem solving typically seen in a physicist and an undergraduate studying introductory physics. When asked to sort a pile of index cards containing questions, the physicists organized the cards based on concepts (such as Newton’s second law) that would be used to determine the solution to the problem. The beginning student more often sorted the cards based on the objects involved in the problem (such as a spring or an inclined plane) (NRC, 1999a).

These insights in turn have become the basis for widespread efforts to reform the way that science in particular is taught, from elementary school through college. For the undergraduate level, in 1977 the NRC published a useful and practical handbook on teaching undergraduate science, Science Teaching Reconsidered (NRC, 1997b). It explains how student misconceptions can interfere with learning, how to evaluate teaching (assessment) and learning (exams), and how to choose instructional material. Numerous other resources are available to guide faculty in their teaching. One example, Gordon Uno’s Handbook on Teaching Undergraduate Science Courses: A Survival Training Manual, discusses topics ranging from lecturing to organizing and assessing, and is especially helpful for new faculty (Uno, 1997). Several journals also publish information on science education. The Journal of College Science Teaching is published by the National Science Teachers Association and The American Biology Teacher is published by the National Association of Biology Teachers. More general information on teaching and education can be found in The Chronicle of Higher Education and the book Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis. Books are also available to assist faculty in changing their teaching approach. Student-Active Science: Models of Innovation in College Science Teaching (McNeal and D’Avanzo,


Metacognition is the process of thinking about thoughts, for example being aware of how people think and learn. It can be thought of as a three-step process: developing a plan of action, monitoring the plan, and evaluating the plan. A concise explanation of one way to do this can be found at

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