Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Joy of Learning -OK Google: What is an Arrhenius acid?

This past Friday (3/20/15) I started my G-Chem class by getting out my cellphone and asking it: What is an Arrhenius acid? ....The phone replied: "According to an Arrhenius acid is a substance that when added to water ..." and continued with the whole definition including the definition of that of a base. So I asked my students: Am I here to tell you what an Arrhenius acid is? They moved their heads in the negative! Then I replied: "you are right I am here to tell you why you want and need to know about Arrhenius acids and bases and to help you make a connection between acid base chemistry with your whole life. This is one underlying principle of 'liberal arts' education. To see the context and to understand the relationships and connections of particular concepts within and without the topic on study.

Today's technology allows us to have instantaneous access to information, so information should not be the outcome of a lecture. It has been said that information is not knowledge, so class time should not be use to transmit information, it should be used to develop knowledge and to develop the skills necessary for oneself to create relevant knowledge. The teaching professor is there to guide inquiry and to set limits of time during the exercise of exploration. Learning science is complicated, I guess as learning anything that has many facets, but one can always try to stop the fragmentation of ideas through a holistic approach. Meaning that on can not separate individual steps of the solution of a problem with the overall context of the question being addressed. One can look at the solution of the problem as a simplified model or metaphor but one has to be conscientious of the fact that things are more complicated than that. Any particular and individualized solution of a problem has to be framed within a context and other consequences like secondary effects have to be at least noted, if not explored. This makes teaching science a difficult but enjoyable task, as challenges like puzzles are inherently attractive to the inquisitive mind. This is one important role of the science teacher: make challenging concepts appear like games in the journey that life is.

In my previous post, I mentioned the importance of 'joy' in learning, even to the point of saying: "If you are not having fun,... you are not learning!"
 It seems simplistic in the light of many that believe that things that matter have to be hard to learn, difficult to understand, and that should take a long time to comprehend. I agree but have some reservations about the attitude that one must have while going through the process of learning. And I am including the activities of teaching as part of the learning process. The teacher must be having fun as s/he teaches or s/he will not be able to have and create the energy to deliver a well intended lesson. It might be said that this happens all the time with everything we do in our lives, that no one person that is successful has been doing the things that leaded to the success with an attitude contrary to his/her joy and satisfaction. A recent blog at "Class Teaching" use a perfect metaphor with playing a computer game called Manic Miner. In this post Shaun Allison @shaun_allison takes a step by step approach to make a parallel between playing a game with several levels of difficulty and learning. It sure is a great pedagogical insight.