Going Beyond Formalisms: A Grounded and Embodied Learning Approach to the Design of Pedagogical Statistics Simulations

Gok, S., & Goldstone, R. L., (2022). Going Beyond Formalisms: A Grounded and Embodied Learning Approach to the Design of Pedagogical Statistics Simulations.  Journal of Applied Instructional Design, 11:4, 1-16. https://dx.doi.org/10.51869/114/sgrg.

Computer-based interactive simulations that model the processes of sampling from a population are increasingly being used in data literacy education. However, these simulations are often summarized by graphs designed from the point of view of experts which makes them difficult for novices to grasp. In our ongoing design-based research project, we build and test alternative sampling simulations to the standard ones. Based on a grounded and embodied learning perspective, the core to our design position is that difficult and abstract sampling concepts and processes should: be grounded in familiar objects that are intuitive to interpret, incorporate concrete animations that spontaneously activate learners‚Äô gestures, and be accompanied by verbal instruction for a deeply integrated learning. Here, we report the results from the initial two phases of our project. In the first iteration, through an online experiment (N=126), we show that superficial perceptual elements in a standard simulation can lead to misinterpretation of concepts. In the second iteration, we pilot test a new grounded simulation with think-aloud interviews (N=9). We reflect on the complementary affordances of visual models, verbal instruction, and learners‚Äô gestures in fostering integrated and deep understanding of concepts. 

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Visual flexibility in arithmetic expressions

Yu, J., Landy, D., & Goldstone, R. L. (2018). Visual flexibility in arithmetic expressions.  Proceedings of the 40th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. (pp. 2750-2755). Madison, Wisconsin: Cognitive Science Society.

 We investigated whether, and in what, ways people use visual structures to evaluate mathematical expressions. We also explored the relationship between strategy use and other common measures in mathematics education. Participants organized long sum/products when visual structure was available in algebraic expressions. Two experiments showed a similar pattern: One group of participants primarily calculated from left to right, or combined identical numbers together. A second group calculated adjacent pairs. A third group tended to group terms which either produced easy sums (e.g., 6+4), or participated in a global structure. These different strategies were associated with different levels of success on the task, and, in Experiment 2, with differential math anxiety and mathematical skill. Specifically, problem solvers with lower math anxiety and higher math ability tend to group by chunks and easy calculation. These results identify an important role for the perception of coherent structure and pattern identification in mathematical reasoning. 

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Experientially grounded learning about the roles of variability, sample size, and difference between means in statistical reasoning

Yu, J., Goldstone, R. L., & Landy, D. (2018). Experientially grounded learning about the roles of variability, sample size, and difference between means in statistical reasoning.  Proceedings of the 40th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. (pp. 2744-2749). Madison, Wisconsin: Cognitive Science Society.

 Despite its omnipresence in this information-laden society, statistics is hard. The present study explored the applicability of a grounded cognition approach to learning basic statistical concepts. Participants in 2 experiments interacted with perceptually rich computer simulations designed to foster understanding of the relations between fundamental statistical concepts and to promote the ability to reason with statistics. During training, participants were asked to estimate the probability of two samples coming from the same population, with sample size, variability, and difference between means independently manipulated. The amount of learning during training was measured by the difference between participants’ confidence judgments and those of an Ideal Observer. The amount of transfer was assessed by the increase in accuracy from a pretest to a posttest. Learning and transfer were observed when tailored guidance was given along with the perceptually salient properties. Implications of our quantitative measures of human sensitivity to statistical concepts were discussed.

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Promoting Spontaneous Analogical Transfer by Idealizing Target Representations

Trench, M., Tavernini, L. M., & Goldstone, R. L. (2017).  Promoting spontaneous analogical transfer by idealizing target representations.  Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. (pp. 1206-1211).  London, England: Cognitive Science Society. 

Recent results demonstrate that inducing an abstract representation of target analogs at retrieval time aids access to analogous situations with mismatching surface features (i.e., the late abstraction principle). A limitation of current implementations of this principle is that they either require the external provision of target-specific information or demand very high intellectual engagement. Experiment 1 demonstrated that constructing an idealized situation model of a target problem increases the rate of correct solutions compared to constructing either concrete simulations or no simulations. Experiment 2 confirmed that these results were based on an advantage for accessing the base analog, and not merely on an advantage of idealized simulations for understanding the target problem in its own terms. This target idealization strategy has broader applicability than prior interventions based on the late abstraction principle, because it can be achieved by a greater proportion of participants and without the need to receive target-specific information.

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Even when people are manipulating algebraic equations, they still associate numerical magnitude with space

Marghetis, T., Goldstone, R. L., & Landy, D. (2017).  Even when people are manipulating algebraic equations, they still associate numerical magnitude with space.  Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. (pp. 2675-2680). London, England: Cognitive Science Society.

The development of symbolic algebra transformed civilization. Since algebra is a recent cultural invention, however, algebraic reasoning must build on a foundation of more basic capacities. Past work suggests that spatial representations of number may be part of that foundation, but recent studies have failed to find relations between spatial-numerical associations and higher mathematical skills. One possible explanation of this failure is that spatial representations of number are not activated during complex mathematics. We tested this possibility by collecting dense behavioral recordings while participants manipulated equations. When interacting with an equation’s greatest [/least] number, participants’ movements were deflected upward [/downward] and rightward [/leftward]. This occurred even when the task was purely algebraic and could thus be solved without attending to magnitude (although the deflection was reduced). This is the first evidence that spatial representations of number are activated during algebra. Algebraic reasoning may require coordinating a variety of spatial processes.

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Adapting perception, action, and technology for mathematical reasoning

Goldstone, R. L., Marghetis, T., Weitnauer, E., Ottmar, E. R., & Landy, D. (2017).  Adapting perception, action, and technology for mathematical reasoning.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 1-8. DOI: d1o0i.1or1g7/170/.01197673/70926134712717410747808488

Formal mathematical reasoning provides an illuminating test case for understanding how humans can think about things that they did not evolve to comprehend. People engage in algebraic reasoning by 1) creating new assemblies of perception and action routines that evolved originally for other purposes (reuse), 2) adapting those routines to better fit the formal requirements of mathematics (adaptation), and 3) designing cultural tools that mesh well with our perception-action routines to create cognitive systems capable of mathematical reasoning (invention). We describe evidence that a major component of proficiency at algebraic reasoning is Rigged Up Perception-Action Systems (RUPAS), via which originally demanding, strategically-controlled cognitive tasks are converted into learned, automatically executed perception and action routines. Informed by RUPAS, we have designed, implemented, and partially assessed a computer-based algebra tutoring system called Graspable Math with an aim toward training learners to develop perception-action routines that are intuitive, efficient, and mathematically valid.

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Modeling Mathematical Reasoning as Trained Perception-Action Procedures

Goldstone, R. L., Weitnauer, E., Ottmar, E., Marghetis, T., & Landy, D. H. (2016).   Modeling Mathematical Reasoning as Trained Perception-Action Procedures.  In R. Sottilare, A. Graesser, X. Hu, A. Olney, B. Nye, and A. Sinatra (Eds.) Design Recommendations for Intelligent Tutoring Systems: Volume 4 РDomain Modeling. Orlando, FL: U.S. Army Research Laboratory. (pp. 213-223).

We have observed that when people engage in algebraic reasoning, they often perceptually and spatially transform algebraic notations directly rather than first converting the notation to an internal, non spatial representation. We describe empirical evidence for spatial transformations, such as spatially compact grouping, transposition, spatially overlaid intermediate results, cancelling out, swapping, and splitting. This research has led us to understand domain models in mathematics as the deployment of trained and strategically crafted perceptual-motor processes working on grounded and strategically crafted notations. This approach to domain modeling has also motivated us to develop and assess an algebra tutoring system focused on helping students train their perception and action systems to coordinate with each other and formal mathematics. Overall, our laboratory and classroom investigations emphasize the interplay between explicit mathematical understandings and implicit perception action training as having a high potential payoff for making learning more efficient, robust, and broadly applicable.

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Informal mechanisms in mathematical cognitive development: The case of arithmetic

Braithwaite, D. W., Goldstone, R. L., van der Maas, H. L . J., & Landy, D. H. (2016).  Informal mechanisms in mathematical cognitive development: The case of arithmetic.  Cognition, 149, 40-55.

The idea that cognitive development involves a shift towards abstraction has a long history in psychology.¬†One incarnation of this idea holds that development in the domain of mathematics involves a shift¬†from non-formal mechanisms to formal rules and axioms. Contrary to this view, the present study provides¬†evidence that reliance on non-formal mechanisms may actually increase with age. Participants ‚ÄstDutch primary school children ‚Äď evaluated three-term arithmetic expressions in which violation of formally¬†correct order of evaluation led to errors, termed foil errors. Participants solved the problems as part¬†of their regular mathematics practice through an online study platform, and data were collected from¬†over 50,000 children representing approximately 10% of all primary schools in the Netherlands, suggesting¬†that the results have high external validity. Foil errors were more common for problems in which formally¬†lower-priority sub-expressions were spaced close together, and also for problems in which such¬†sub-expressions were relatively easy to calculate. We interpret these effects as resulting from reliance¬†on two non-formal mechanisms, perceptual grouping and opportunistic selection, to determine order¬†of evaluation. Critically, these effects reliably increased with participants‚Äô grade level, suggesting that¬†these mechanisms are not phased out but actually become more important over development, even when¬†they cause systematic violations of formal rules. This conclusion presents a challenge for the shift¬†towards abstraction view as a description of cognitive development in arithmetic. Implications of this¬†result for educational practice are discussed.

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Getting from here to there: Testing the effectiveness of an interactive mathematics intervention embedding perceptual learning

Ottmar, E. R., Landy, D., Goldstone, R. L., & Weitnauer, E. (2015).  Getting from here to there: Testing the effectiveness of an interactive mathematics intervention embedding perceptual learning. Proceedings of the Thirty-Seventh Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.  (pp. 1793-1798).  Pasadena, CA: Cognitive Science Society.


We describe an interactive mathematics technology intervention From Here to There! (FH2T) that was developed by our research team. This dynamic program allows users to manipulate and transform mathematical expressions. In this paper, we present initial findings from a classroom study that investigates whether using FH2T improves learning. We compare learning gains from two different instantiations of FH2T (retrieval practice and fluid visualizations), as well as a control group, and investigate the role of prior knowledge and content exposure in FH2T as possible moderators of learning. Findings, as well as implications for research and practice are discussed.

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