The First Week of Class Is Always Interesting

Wednesday was the second day of Astronomy class. My instructor put us in pairs and gave us an envelope containing six slips of paper. On each little paper was a description of one cognitive skill level in Bloom’s Taxonomy. Our assigned task was to put them in order from easiest to hardest.

I have a Master’s in Adult and Higher Education and could easily put a name to each description: Knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation. I could also easily put them in order of easiest (memorization of facts and such) to the most difficult. My brain reviewed the debate about whether analysis, synthesis, or evaluation is more difficult and eventually considered the claim that each is equally difficult.

Still I played along. I was a good student and actually thought about the process of learning and critical thinking. And all of this led me to ask, carefully observe, and finally discern: What particular lesson was my instructor trying to teach when it came to learning?

When she explained Bloom’s taxonomy, she also explained her teaching philosophy–letting the students know why she wasn’t lecturing and why she was requiring us to read our books and gain the knowledge outside of class. In-class time is for confirming our comprehension and applying the knowledge–sometimes it might even be for evaluating viewpoints about that knowledge.

In short, we were being told that the instructional methods were for our own good. More importantly, we were being told that college students should take responsibility for the lowest level of learning. Knowledge, after all, is at our fingertips in in the 21st century; when we are adults, we should be responsible and capable enough to take on the hard facts for ourselves. For the rest, the cognitive skills that require increasing levels of critical thought, we must acknowledge the need for social interaction.

Later in class, we were put in groups and provided with markers and a two-meter strip of paper, which represented the cosmic timeline. The green tape sticking the paper’s left side to the wall represented the Big Bang; the orange tape on the right represented the present day. In groups, our job was to correctly mark the approximate dates for the formation of galaxies, the creation of our solar system, and the extinction of the dinosaurs.

And that’s why I like being a teacher and a student simultaneously. I love seeing how good teachers can combine learning theory with same simple tools–like strips of paper–to engage us with course content as well as to guide us to become lifelong learners.

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