What is understanding? And how do you teach it?
For the past several years, I’ve had students complete this activity for the second day:
I love this activity for a number of reasons. One, it’s a great way to get to know students without having them fill out another “get to know you” form. Two, it is a great introduction to metacognition. Today, I had four great volunteers bring describe the ideas they thought they understood well, Football blocking, soccer, Making Waffles, and then two that I usually don’t hear: the structure of the atom, and the equation .
In each case, I ask the students to describe how they learned the idea asking questions along the way—if I memorized the rule book to soccer, would you say I understood this idea? What is the coach doing to help you learn? How do you know that you’ve really masted soccer?
As always, the more than 80% of students choose to say they understand something well that they did not learn in the traditional 8-3 school day. And this always generates an interesting conversation. This year, the conversation was made even better by this video:
Students noticed so much in the video—how happy the person is learning everything, how he’s always getting coaching from experts, but he’s also always doing things, they also notice how few mistakes he makes and we talk about how much footage must have been left on the cutting room floor. Then when I push them a bit, they also see that not once is he doing anything in a school. One student even said “that’s because he know’s he’ll learn more outside of school.”
And as always this conversation gives me hope and leaves me sad at the same time. I think students are starting to see that the key to learning is developing a love for what you are doing, jumping in and getting actively engaged, always wanting to know why you are doing any particular thing and seeking out a great coach. But at the same time, I think some students see little hope of achieving this in their day to day lives because of an 8-3 world places countless demands on their time, calls on them to switch activities rapidly, rarely cares about their interests, and doesn’t always invite active engagement. So they withdraw, and settle for letting themselves be motivated by the grade, and saving their true, deeply interested selves for their afternoon sport or hobby.
This year, I want to make physics a feel more like a 3-5 joyous endeavor, and less of an 8-3 required drudgery.