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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Michelle Francl and context in education

Michelle Francl from Bryn Mawr College gave an inspiring talk yesterday about the importance of context in education. She showed examples of asking physical chemistry questions within a context that students could relate to, such as determining the age of whales and ostrich eggs.

I think that relevant context is the only information really retained long after a class is over. For example, I still vividly remember learning in a visceral sense that my body is an open system in a thermodynamic sense. My statistical thermodynamics teacher asked if a human body was an open or closed system. I answered that it was closed. He then ate a piece of chalk and I understood why I was wrong. I can't help but think of that example when I try to conceptualize how I remain ordered while the universe steadily increases in entropy.

Contrast that with my Comparative Chordate Anatomy class. The main thing I remember after many years is that extinct fishes had lots and lots of oddly named bones. If the course had been taught within a relevant context, I would not remember that but rather probably something like the mind-blowing Cambrian explosion that gave rise to all the basic body designs in a thin sliver of geological time.

I would also remember if he would have eaten a fish bone.

Here is the screencast mp3 podcast Powerpoint resources

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