why don’t students like school

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Why Dont Students Like School?An exploration of Daniel Willinghams bookPeople are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers.Unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.

According to Willingham, The implication of this principle is that teachers should reconsider how they encourage their students to think, in order to maximize the likelihood that students will get the pleasurable rush that comes from successful thought. (page 3)

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sbraines/3218866473/2Our brains try and AVOID thoughtSure, when we compare ourselves to other animals we do better at reasoning. But a cognitive scientist would point out that our brain are actually DESIGNED for the avoidance of thought. Thus, thinking actually takes a good bit of effort!

What is your brain designed for? A good chunk of it is devoted to the senses and then coordinating your actions based on those senses. Seeing is actually more difficult that solving calculus (thus more room in the brain is given to seeing). Dont believe me? Take computers as an example. Weve yet to create a robot capable of navigating through our worldbut weve created many that can solve calculus problems.

Picture Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sbraines/3218866473/ 3For Example: Try ThisIn an empty room are a candle, some matches, and a box of tacks. The goal is to have the lit candle about five feet off the ground. Youve tried melting some of the wax on the bottom of the candle and sticking it to the wall, but it wasnt effective. How can you get the lit candle five feet off the ground without having to hold it there?20 Minutes is the usual maximum amount of time allowed for this problem and even then many folks dont figure it out.

The problem does a good job of demonstrating a few things about thinking:

Its slow. Because I didnt use images, youre associating words with images, retrieving the images and then working with themThinking takes effortThinking is uncertain

Answer to the question: Dump the tacks out of the box, tack the box to the wall, and place the candle in the box.

Text source: Page 5 of Why Dont Students like School?4If were so bad at thinking, How do we get through the day?The short answer, when we can get away from thinking, we do.

Instead, we rely on memory.

For example, if someone were to ask you the Candle Problem again, you wouldnt necessarily think the problem out. Instead, youd access your working memory. Your memory system might not be the best, but its more reliable than your thinking system.

Picture Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jef_safi/1461787281/sizes/o/5And yet, we ENJOY thinkingEven though we (as humans) arent very good at thinking, we actually like to think. We are naturally curious, and we look for opportunities to engage in CERTAIN TYPES of thought.

Picture Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/somemixedstuff/2403249501/6Why are many people fascinated by the problem on the left, but very few will work on the one of the right?Fill the 9 X 9 Grid so each column and row contain the digits 1-9

Prove that the midpoint of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equidistant from the vertices of the triangle

Were curious about some stuff but not other stuff. What makes us curious about some things over the other?One of the big reasons is the creation of the problem. If a problem is a challenge, but not TOO MUCH of a challenge, then were more likely to be curious.

Picture Sources: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mag3737/218149352/sizes/o/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk/426622486/sizes/o/

7How Thinking WorksEnvironmentWORKING MEMORY(site of awareness and thinking)LONG TERM MEMORY(factual knowledge and procedural knowledge?The environment is the current system your in what youre hearing, seeing etc. Working memory is your consciousness what youre currently thinking, etc. Long term memory is the big storehouse where you keep your facts as well as procedures.

Thinking occurs when you combine information (from the environment and long term memory) in NEW WAYS. (Page 11)8For Example: 18 x 7EnvironmentWORKING MEMORY(rules, board with current position, etc)LONG TERM MEMORYMultiply 8 and 7Retrieve the fact that 8x7=56 from long term memoryRemember that 6 is part of the solution, then carry 5Multiply 7 and 1Retrieve fact: 7x1=7Add carried 5 to 7Retrieve 5+7=12Put 12 down, append the 6Answer: 126Using the steps in order is a good example of procedural knowledge.9Successful thinking relies on:Information from the environmentFacts in the long-term memoryProcedures in long-term memoryAnd the amount of space in the working memory.

If any of these factors is inadequate, thinking will likely fail.Page 14 of Why dont students like school.10Classroom implications

Be sure that there are problems that can be solvedKey thing is moderate challenge- you want problems to not be so easy that they can solve them immediately, but take long enough to be rewarding.12Clarify the Problems to be SolvedWhen you plan a lesson, you start with the information you want students to know by its end. As a next step, consider what the key question for that lesson might be and how you can frame that question so it will have the right level of difficulty to engage your students and so you will respect your students cognitive limitations. (Page 16)

Picture Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuartpilbrow/3557485546/sizes/l/13Reconsider when to puzzle studentsAs established, people like puzzles. However, sometimes puzzles are that effective until after giving some background information.

Picture Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thejerk/510625746/14Change the PaceKids Minds wander. We all mentally check out. Change grabs attention. So plan shifts and changes in your lesson.

Picture Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lexnger/377734314/sizes/l/15

Background Information

Daniel Willingham is a cognitive scientist who explores some key questions about education.

This presentation deals with the question Why dont students like school? Chapter 1 in the book.

All images are part of the creative commons and used accordingly.

Other questions answered in this book

How can I teach students the skills they need when standardized tests require only facts?Why do students remember everything on TV but forget everything I say?Why is it so hard for students to understand abstract ideas?Is drilling worth it?Whats the secret to getting students to think like real scientists, mathematicians, and historians?How should I adjust my teaching for different type of learnersHow can I help slow learners?What about my mind?16