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Transfer via Category Construction

The ultimate goal of education is for students to be able to take what they have learned in class and be able to apply it spontaneously outside of the classroom. Unfortunately, evidence shows that students in our classrooms often do not reach a satisfactory level of conceptual mastery. Moreover, psychological research suggests that even when the knowledge is in place, it is often inert, i.e., spontaneous transfer of relevant abstract knowledge to novel settings is rare. This phenomena is especially strong with the central theory to biological sciences -Evolution by Natural Selection. The Enhancing Learning and Transfer of Science Principles via Category Construction project seeks to: (1) develop and evaluate a novel, theoretically-motivated sorting task; (2) find the best way to integrate the intervention within existing classroom instruction; and (3) identify the best supports to optimize the core sorting task in an authentic educational setting. Toward these goals between 450-500 grade-seven students in life sciences classrooms in upstate New York have participated in the development, feasibility, or pilot study of the category construction task in which students are asked to sort six surface-dissimilar examples (text passages describing scenarios) into two categories based on a common underlying principle related to evolution by natural selection.