Get it Wrong to Learn it Right

Photo:  Trackers NW

Photo: Trackers NW

Yesterday I spent the day mucking about in the wetlands with fourth graders.  After we shoveled in the mud (really “digging deep”, their brilliant science teacher led a spirited discussion about whether organic material decomposes more quickly closer to the surface or deeper down in the soils.  After asking the kids to share their hunches, she encouraged them to do some web based research that night.  Her methodology seemed to be

  1. Experience:  Engage with the materials
  2. Discuss:  Posit hypotheses; consider each others ideas
  3. Read:  See what others have to say about this issue

Today, I came upon a piece in Scientific American discussing recent research about learning.  The finding?

In a series of experiments, they [Nate Kornell, Matthew Hays and Robert Bjork at U.C.L.A.] showed that if students make an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve information before receiving an answer, they remember the information better than in a control condition in which they simply study the information. Trying and failing to retrieve the answer is actually helpful to learning.

It looks like the approach is confirmed:  If learning is the goal, make some first stabs into the unknown before you Google.

h/t:  Boing Boing

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