I once caught an 11th-grader who snuck a cheat sheet into the final exam.
At first, he tried to shuffle it under some scratch paper. When I cornered him, he shifted tactics. “It’s my page of equations,” he told me. “Aren’t we allowed a formula sheet? The physics teacher lets us.” Nice try, but no dice. The principal and I rejected his alibi and hung a fat zero on his final exam. That dropped his precalculus grade down from a B+ to a D+. It lingered like a purple bruise on his college applications.
Looking back, I have to ask myself: Why didn’t I allow a formula sheet? Cheat sheets aim to substitute for memorization, and I hate it when my students memorize things.
"What’s the sine of π/2?" I asked my first-ever trigonometry class.
"One!" they replied in unison. "We learned that last year."
So I skipped ahead, later to realize that they didn’t really know what “sine” even meant. They’d simply memorized that fact. To them, math wasn’t a process of logical discovery and thoughtful exploration. It was a call-and-response game. Trigonometry was just a collection of non-rhyming lyrics to the lamest sing-along ever.
Read more. [Image: Amy Loves Yah/Flickr]
And this is why our school system is broken.
They’re more concerned about spitting out parrots than intelligent human beings. Learning is not about memorization. It’s about actually understanding what you’re being taught, and applying it in real-world situations.
In all my time in private, public school AND college, there was only ONE teacher that understood this. Dr. J went over tests and quizzes orally in class, and explained WHY each answer was what it was.
I learned more from that Botany class than I have from any other Gen-ed class. And as everyone knows, college is supposed to be stressful and crazy. But I actually enjoyed that class, because it didn’t come with the overwhelming fear and stress that most classes do.
I didn’t have to worry about performing and remembering lengthy scientific definitions and terms. Instead, I actually learned how things worked, in terms I could understand and remember.
And every time I was forced to memorize a bunch of definitions or formulas for other classes, I only memorized them for a test. They were stored in short-term memory then quickly forgotten once I no longer needed it in my head.
When people figure out that humans NATURALLY like learning and working, the school system will change. (hopefully)
Make it fun.
It shouldn’t be stressful to learn.
I’ve already forgotten the majority of what I learned in public school and college. I found myself forgetting basic math problems the other day.
Imagine my embarrassment when CANADIANS knew Benjamin Franklin was never president, but I had already forgotten that little tidbit.
On the flipside, the school I’m at now has this amazing history professor who is also troubled that kids aren’t LEARNING, they’re MEMORIZING, and then forgetting before a test.
We never had a test in our history class, yet I remember more from that class than any other history class I took because he always found a way to bring it back to the beginning and have it relate to our desired career field.
Not to mention, he told it as a story. History isn’t about: “in 19XX Person A invented this thing and then in 19XX Person B did this thing.” The way we were taught was more: A leads to B which leads to C, and then C cause D to happen. So we were taught the STORY of animation history, and we learned more from it.
Aw, jeez. This was a longer response than I meant it to be.
My math teacher is great about this. He doesn’t want is to memorize facts, he wants us to understand how it works so we can apply it to other things and not regurgitate in on a test and then forget it when we don’t need it anymore. Also, he is fucking hilarious(he told us a story today about how he peed his pants when he was 8 which let to shouting the quadratic formula at the top of our lungs)
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