Across my facebook feed yet again came the discussion about taking notes by hand versus on a laptop. Like clockwork, every couple of months, one of my facebook friends shares an article that champions note-taking on paper over note-taking on an electronic device. This time, it was from the Washington Post: Why Smart Kids Shouldn’t Use Laptops in Class
But that’s a lot like saying, “If you have to hand-crank your car before your trip, it’s best to wear gloves, set the emergency brake and hold the choke out.”
Fifty minutes of lecture with your students taking notes may be the absolute worst way to teach anything. Yes, I’ve attended plenty of classes that were exactly that. I survived. I have a degree or two. If it was good enough for me back in 1982, it’s good enough for students today, right? Uh, no.
To paraphrase Maya Angelou:
When you know better, you do better.
Just as clear as the research concerning handwriting notes versus laptop notes is the evidence of more effective teaching techniques. Specifically, engaging students in active learning.
My personal science hero is Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman. Not just because he won a Nobel prize, and not just because he took the million dollars from that prize and created PhET. Both of those things are really, really cool by any measure. He’s my hero because he genuinely cares about science education.
If you’ve not heard him speak about education, this is a good place to start: A Nobel Laureate’s Plea: Revolutionize Teaching
His techniques are grounded in data, and evaluations of active learning methods — published in several peer-reviewed journals and science publications — show that students get a deeper understanding of the material and retain more knowledge. In some cases, the failure rate fell by 12 percent. Test performance went up by half compared with pure lecturing.
Am I advocating for the end of all lecture? No.
They can save themselves some time if they remember that the force you apply to an object to move it (ignoring friction) is its weight and weight is mass x gravity…
…but there are still units of measure to use and convert, and math operations including taking square roots…
…and through all of this, we are ignoring heat, friction, efficiency, etc…
Note: I absolutely adore physics. I’m not a rocket scientist by any stretch of the imagination, but I love problem-solving like this. And as simplified as I made this problem, and as much as I have committed to long-term memory, it still took me 10 minutes to come up with this example. And I’m a grown-up. Who teaches physics. I’m in a quiet room, motivated to publish this blog post today.
So, let’s stop talking about how students retain more information by taking hand-written notes and start talking about how 50-minute lectures are antiquated and irrelevant in the age of google and the internet. Instead, let’s get our students wrestling with real problems that lead to critical thinking and deep learning. With apologies to Toby Keith, let’s have a LOT less talk so we can have MUCH more action.*direct instruction = eduspeak for “lecture”