More and more, I not only try to teach Physics, but I try to teach my students something about learning as well. I want them to know that when they struggle, their experiences are normal. They’re in the 9th grade. They are just learning to think.
Learning to think necessarily drags one through…
And you know what? This is a good thing.
All of the sudden, their brains are in conflict with their guts. Hooray! Believe me, some folks never get there. Recent studies by Eric Mazur (an elder statesperson in Physics Education research) and also by Derek Muller (a recent Phd sparking a lot of conversations) have shown that clear, precise explanations without introducing a conflict can actually make students perform worse; we humans tend to view the world through our own personal lenses, and seek reinforcement of our views. We see a news-story, and we become more firmly entrenched in our previously held beliefs. We see a carefully explained physics demonstration, and our preconceptions, our misconceptions, take further hold. Dan MacIssac writes in The Physics Teacher:
Muller’s Veritasium videos are powerful reminders of the need for genuine student struggle, engagement, and discourse to achieve growth in conceptual understanding of physics, of the remarkable lack of effectiveness of clear exposition and memorization (a.k.a. pseudoteaching) in promoting sophisticated conceptual change, whether in person or via multimedia, and the inability of most people to critically monitor and assess their own learning.
And so, it is the end of summer, and I am welcoming a new group of students to the struggle this year. Some will lean in. Some will muck around and find footing. Some will get frustrated and hurt, and I’ll be working furiously to try and maintain their trust so that they can find their way to understanding. Which they can do. I hope we all have an inspiring and fulfilling year together.
As I was writing this, I remembered a poem by Robert Graves.
In Broken Images
He is quick, thinking in clear images;
I am slow, thinking in broken images.
He becomes dull, trusting to his clear images;
I become sharp, mistrusting my broken images.
Trusting his images, he assumes their relevance;
Mistrusting my images, I question their relevance.
Assuming their relevance, he assumes the fact;
Questioning their relevance, I question their fact.
When the fact fails him, he questions his senses;
when the fact fails me, I approve my senses.
He continues quick and dull in his clear images;
I continue slow and sharp in my broken images.
He in a new confusion of his understanding;
I in a new understanding of my confusion.
- Khan Academy and the Effectiveness of Science Videos, Derek Muller @Veritasium
- Eric Mazur’s Keynote at ICER 2011: Observing demos hurts learning, and confusion is a sign of understanding, Mark Guzdial @Computing Education Blog