To really understand something you need to apply it



Were you bored in school? Most lessons emphasize knowledge, not skills. The teacher gives the students facts, concepts and rules to remember. The problem is that these items go into long-term memory as individual pieces and “if a student then wishes to do something with them - use them to solve a problem, reason with them to answer a question, or organize and analyse them to come up with a theme or hypothesis - the limitations of attention and short-term memory kick in. The student must keep all of these different, unconnected pieces in mind while working with them toward a solution.” Peak Loc 4160. 

The Nobel Prize-winning Physicist Richard Feynman died in 1988 and on his blackboard he left the quotation “What I cannot create, I do not understand.” Feynman was talking about creating solutions to Physics problems, but there is a more general truth in his statement. The best way to remember and relate things together is to try to create something with them. By applying an idea, you create context, a much richer connected network of memories and build a mental representation. It is this metal map that gives you knowledge and understanding. This insight has a profound implication for teaching and learning.

 Anders Ericsson said that “When preparing a lesson plan, determining what a student should be able to do is far more effective than determining what the student should know. It then turns out that the knowing part comes along for the ride.” Peak Loc 4172.