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Dyed All Hues

Thinker and Experimenter,


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Does Education teach us to memorize information, instead of understanding it, or is memorizing important for future use?

I belive that knowing and understanding are completely two different concepts. Understanding something is far better than knowing something, but does the education system teach us to memorize everything? Wouldn't memorizing everything be a bad thing or does small things not matter as long as you knew it was supposed to happen (even if you somehow forgot). Like in the case of Atul Gawande's Talk about doctors should use checklists and cowboys already using checklists.

Should education not dually educate their students to know something for the first half of their educational life, then understand it for the second half? Would that system not be more efficient that way?

What can we change about, or what is the use of, memorizing so much information in a course at school, as opposed to understanding?

Update: check out this video introduced by Edwin Nazarian:
I elaborated about it in a seperate post, just a bit though.
Mini Update: Edwin's video has bad sound quality, but try to bear with it and hear it through. Amazing information.

Watch this! =)
Thanks Mary for sharing this amazing video with us. =)


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    Apr 17 2012: Memorising a fact is easy to quantify, easy to write on a report, easy to evidence. Schools and governments like this, because it 'proves' that education is happening.... 'look, see... It's here on this paper'

    Understanding something is difficult to quantify, difficult to put down on a spreadsheet.
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      Apr 17 2012: Why is demonstrating application difficult?
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        Apr 18 2012: I'm not sure understanding necessarily needs application to be called 'understanding' . Perhaps there are concepts that are understood but have no way of being physically applied.
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      Apr 18 2012: Why try to quantify understanding to begin with?

      The desire to quantify is the driving factor behind the poor results in today's classroom.
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        Apr 18 2012: I'm not sure I totally agree with this...........I think that the poor results in today's classroom is a cooperative "lack" of effort on the part of teachers, parents, and students. I don't think it is the driving factor...........of course I am speaking in elementary schools in my area....I don't like to generalize too much.

        Many times teachers leave their teaching on the knowledge level, getting kids to say back something they memorize.....without caring if the student understood the concept...



        This simple problem, is knowledge. Answer is 7. If the kid knows what 3 is he can draw 3 sticks.
        then 4 sticks, then if he knows the cross means to put together he will put the sticks together and arrive at 7 sticks.

        But look how some teachers test for understanding:

        Mary got three stickers for getting good grades. She already had four stickers in her collection.
        To find out how many stickers Mary has now which of the following will you do?

        (a) 3 + 4 = ___ (b) 4 - 3 = ___ (c) 3 x 4 = ___ (d) 4 - ___ = 3

        This is how the FCAT test is composed in the state of Florida. I personally think the FCAT is a wonderful tool to test higher order thinking in children.

        Trouble is.............and it is trouble with a capital T, is that teachers, like all humans, want to take the path of least resistance...........they teach to the test..........instead of going about teaching normally and helping ignite a passion for learning and higher order thinking. If you teach with the goal to ignite a love of learning, and use a variety of exciting techniques, the technology that is out there, the smart boards, the videos, the websites, oh my goodness, you would not be teaching to the test..........and still kids would pass it.....some of my fellow teachers don't see it that way............because teaching, like many other professions, is a job to many...........A job.....not a passion.

        Dr. Seuss' Hooray for Difendoofer Day addresses this issue of testing.
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          Apr 19 2012: Your example of testing understanding proves my point. How does a multiple choice problem prove understanding?

          "Here's a question. Here's list which contains the answer. Let's see if you can pick the one which is correct."

          Quantifying drives tests, and as a result, it drives the "teach them to pass the test" mentality due to the test results being used to measure the success of a teacher and/or institution. The lack of effort you speak of is best illustrated by multiple choice tests, the laziest of all testing formats. I don't want students who can perform well when the answer is in front of them, an environment where process of elimination can play a significant role. I want students who see a question, work to find the solution and have the confidence to state "I know this is correct!"

          Removing the desire to quantify a student's ability, we are allowed to test a student's understanding by pass/fail grading. If the student understands then the student moves on to the next level; if not, then the student continues working on the current material. Of course, this would require us to recognize the nonsensical idea that all students learn at the same rate - the linear approach to education.
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        Apr 19 2012: Shallow, you are an adult, of course it appears to be easy.

        This example I gave is for 7 year olds.......Trust me, alot of 7 year olds fail to answer this question correctly.

        First, they have to be able to read. Second, they have to be able to understand what they read,
        third, they have to be able to understand the concept of when you accumulate items you have to add. And finally they have to know the the + sign is for adding and that the answer has to appear on the right side of the = sign.

        Me personally, I wait until I see they understand to administer the test....but that's me.

        Multiple choice tests can be made to exhibit higher order thinking, in Math these problems are called "Problem Solving" activities.. They can even have extraneous information such as:

        Mary got 3 heart shaped stickers, 5 lollipop stickers, 2 flower stickers, a pencil and an eraser for her good grades. Last week she also received a pencil and 1 heart shaped sticker. To figure out how many more lollilop stickers than flower and heart shaped stickers Mary has, what do you need to do?

        This requires several steps......knowledge, understanding....thinking in logical sequences....gathering information, and throwing out what they don't need.

        Seven year olds can be taught to handle problems of this type. Putting the multiple choices is a way to grade quickly.......especially in standardized testing.

        Here in FL these tests (FCAT) also have questions where the students have to explain their thinking and how they arrived at the answer, which in my opinion is a good thing.

        And you bring out a very good point in your last paragraph. That of students not learning at the same rate. We have to trust nature. Children's growth, their intellect, maturity and so forth is not always visible to us........because it's inside......then one day.......AHA!!! they bloom......the light in the attic turns on!! It's wonderful to see these moments as a teacher...it's very rewarding

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