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There are a number of terms that we regularly use that derive from the cognitive sciences. Below is a brief guide to some of those terms. If you see something else that you think we should add to the list, please let us know at

Bar Model: an instructional technique using bars to make quantitative information easier to grasp. Ben Rogers is one of the main teachers promoting the bar model and you can read about it here.

Cognitive Load: the burden placed on working memory by a given task. The reading at the top of the page has more information about this.

Domain General Skills: general thinking skills like creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, analysis and “working scientifically.” A lot of CS is about where these skills come from and to what extent they are dependent on domain knowledge. See here for an explainer.

Domain knowledge: a person’s knowledge of a particular domain e.g. mechanics, molecular biology, inorganic chemistry.

Dual Coding: the instructional technique of using visuals to support verbal explanations. See Pritesh’s work on this here.

Encoding: the process of embedding new information in long term memory

Epistemology: the study of knowledge. Within CS this refers to the rules which govern how knowledge is added to a particular domain. See cognitive scientist Paul Kirschner’s take on it here as applied to inquiry learning or Adam’s summary here. Note that in curriculum discourse this is often called “disciplinary” knowledge.

Explicit Instruction: an approach to teaching that gives students all the information they need and does not rely on inquiry or discovery based approaches. See Greg Ashman’s explainer here.

Novices and experts: the idea that the cognitive architecture of a novice learner is fundamentally different to that of an expert learner. See also surface/deep structure and epistemology.

Retrieval Practice: an incredibly powerful tool for improving long term memory, RP is simply the act of quizzing someone. See here for a brief introduction or here for our retrieval practice module.

Schema: a complex interconnected web of information which exists inside the mind. There is a good explanation here and applied to science by Ruth here.

Sequencing: this is how you design instruction to make sure that one concept leads effortlessly onto the next concept without confusing the student. See Pritesh’s big picture thinking here.

SLOP: Shed Loads of Practice. This is a code phrase for any time we have decided to make our own textbooks/worksheets which feature loads and loads of practice work for students to complete. See here for our module on writing SLOP.

Surface/deep structure: any problem has surface structure and deep structure. The surface are the particular details involved in the problem and the deep structure is the conceptual information required to solve it. The seminal reading on the topic is here

Threshold Concepts: a concept that must be grasped before another concept can be understood. Niki is the real expert on this and you can find all her material here.

Transfer: this is “application” in old money. It’s the ability to transfer your knowledge to new situations. This is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve, and actually some psychologists believe it is borderline impossible. See here for some more reading.

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