Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Purposeful Ambiguity

Ambiguity serves many purposes in education and problem solving, but for many students it's a source of confusion or frustration if not discussed or modelled systematically.

When words or phrases are ambiguous, they have multiple meanings or connotations. When problem solving or designing, ambiguity can be helpful because vagueness maybe necessary for recombination or transitioning of ideas before reaching an eventual problem solution.

It's interesting to see the different brain work involved with ambiguity. For instance, reading ambiguous words in Chinese below:

Ambiguous processing can stir up other representations and associations (words, images or otherwise) compared to quick fact or word retrieval.

Purposeful ambiguity is a useful tool for every classroom, whether it takes the form of analogy, mathematical word problems, word play, problem-based learning, or prototyping. Ambiguity is something that second language learners often have to confront - but there seem to be clear benefits at the end...studies show that people who are fully bilingual have a significant cognitive advantage over age-matched monolinguals when it comes to age-related cognitive decline (here!

Semantic Ambiguity and fMRI in Chinese
Experienced Readers of Math and Ambiguity
Ambiguity in Riddles to Strengthen Reading Comprehension
Ambiguity in Design

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