This first appeared on my Intended Consequences Website back in 2009.
I bet, if you thought about it for a second, that you could remember your first real kiss. I am not talking Tia Lucia pecking you on the cheek. I’m talking that girl or boy that you were so hot for back in the day. You were nervous, you were excited, you were sweating, you were worried. Even if it happened decades ago you probably remember the place, the time, the person everything about that first, real, slobber-rama of a kiss.
I bet you also can remember when you learned to drive. The first time you got behind the wheel. Or maybe even your driver’s test. You were nervous, you were excited, you were sweating, you were worried.
Think back now, to your science classes. What was the one lab or experiment you remember? Bet you a fiver that it was the frog/fetal pig/earthworm/grasshopper dissection. You were nervous, you were excited, you were sweating, you were grossed-out. Yuck!
Now, think back to the kiss you had, oh say, fifteen kisses ago. Where were you? Why did you kiss? Were you saying goodbye? Hello? Were you nervous, or excited, or sweating, or worried. Probably not. And I bet you that you had a harder time remembering kiss # 2458 than you did kiss #1.
Where did you drive Saturday evening three weeks ago? Were you nervous, or excited, or sweating, or worried. Probably not. And I bet you that you had a harder time remembering drive # 10458 than you did drive #1.
Can you remember the third to the last research paper that you wrote in college or that “thing” the boss asked you to look up for work three months ago? Probably not. Yet you still remember an old science lab that took place years BEFORE that research paper or work assignment was due.
Funny how the brain works eh? We can remember something from three decades ago, yet we can’t remember something that happened three weeks ago, or maybe even three days ago. So what is the difference between what happened all those years ago and what happened just a few days ago? Emotion. There was emotion attached to the learning process. I am not saying you were not emotionally attached to the person that you kissed fifteen kisses ago; I am saying that you probably weren’t emotionally attached to the ACT of kissing fifteen kisses ago.
I was first introduced to the idea that in order for long-term learning to take place, the “brain has to make an emotional connection” idea by a gentleman named Bill Stepien.
Bill is a slight man, white hair and white beard, who is one of those rarities in education: A researcher who actually practices what he researches. At the time, Bill, a dynamic speaker by the way, was doing some professional development for my school district on the concept of Problem Based Learning or PBL. PBL is similar, but not quite, to project based learning. While the concept of PBL was very interesting, it was his thoughts on emotional connection to learning that really made me think about how we need to teach.
Bill would say “It doesn’t mean you have to make students laugh all the time. Or cry. It just means that you have to get some type of reaction out of them. Make them make an emotional attachment to what is being taught.” Any reaction to learning I think Bill would agree, is better than no reaction at all. That was why Problem Based Learning was interesting to me, as the context of the inquiry caused students to become real-world problem solvers and, if done correctly, would allow them to make emotional attachments to the learning. They would remember the kiss or learning.
PBLs put kids into real-life situations. For instance, in one of Bill’s many examples, a first grader, in learning about habitats, might be put into the role of a wild animal expert, and have to determine of the animal hanging in grandma’s tree was a good thing to bring to school. The animal was a bat, but they were given the adult role, presented with a problem, in the form of a letter from Billy asking if he should bring the animal, which he didn’t know what it was, to school for show and tell. The kids were given minimal information and not only had to determine what the animal was, they had to come up with what questions had to be answered in order to solve the problem. PBLs always ended with some type of product, in this case, a letter back to Billy explaining their answer on why or why not Billy should bring the bat to class.
Many of the really good PBL units are taken right out of the headlines or what is happening in a city. For instance, in a class discussion about first amendment rights, the students might be asked to be executives with El Paso Media Group. They are deciding what should be the talk show line up for the new radio talk station. Who should be on the air, who should not be considered. Conservative and progressive? Only conservatives? Only progressives? Real world, real connections, real learning. They would remember the kiss.
The PBL process, where kids were given adult roles to solve real-world questions, almost automatically lends itself to creating the emotional attachment to learning scenario. That in turn, leads to long-term learning. They remembered the lesson. Just like you remembered the kiss.
So what does this all have to do with my forte; Education Technology? In 2007, The National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance reported all that ed tech software that we spend millions of dollars on and throw in front of children in schools doesn’t amount to a hill of beans with learners. The implication of course, is that technology in schools is a waste of time and money. And of course it is a waste of time, when it is used to do the same thing that you do regularly in a classroom. Why use technology simply to do exactly what has always been done? Drill and kill on a computer is no different than drill and kill on paper. (Which reminds me of how we attack the problem of kids that fail courses: We TUTOR them after school, or on weekends, in the exact same way we taught them when they didn’t get it!) I once saw a set of slides where the presenter showed a research paper assignment on a blackboard (1940 , the same assignment on an overhead projector (1975) and the same assignment on a PowerPoint slide (2000). The point was, that the teaching had not changed with the times. The message was stuck in 1940 while the kids were in the 21st century.
(That is why I think that the idea of real video games-as-a-learning-tool is taking hold; because the kids are making emotional attachments to games and we need to harness that emotional energy that kids have while playing video games. Of course, I can also see that becoming a disaster as well, if the games become drill-and-kill.)
Emotional attachment to learning. Is ed tech doing that, or are we just teaching teachers to do the same thing with more expensive equipment? How many times have you heard teachers say “The kids really got excited when I brought out the digital cameras?” When then why the hell aren’t you bringing out the digital cameras every day? Why aren’t you allowing multimedia science fair projects? Why aren’t the kids using the Smartboards? Why aren’t you saying “You know, I think a movie instead of a research paper is called for here?” PBL’s are ripe with opportunities to integrate technology into the learning. The final projects can be commercials, movies, songs, PowerPoint presentations, web pages, anything! And the technology becomes secondary to the learning process, not “instead of” the learning process.
The long-term-in-your-gut learning has to be emotional, has to be real, and has to be “authentic” as they say now-a-days. We have to present learning, and especially learning with technology, as something that will forge the long-term neuron-bonding that leads to life long understanding. The literature is full of examples of the emotion/learning connection, and now the literature is beginning to say there is a connection between proper technology use and learning. Perhaps, just maybe, the connection is there between technology and learning BECAUSE of the emotional connection the kids have to the technology.
Are we teaching for the kiss from fifteen kisses ago, or are we teaching for that first kiss?
NCEERA Report: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20074005/index.asp
A PBL Primer: http://pbln.imsa.edu/
Emotion and Learning: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m4467/is_11_54/ai_67590800