Monday, August 17, 2015


Enduring Understandings can be interpreted as knowledge which is important for students to acquire. Such knowledge should stay meaningful to them long after they have stepped out of school. Be careful with what you select, for it can turn knowledge meant to be retained for 40 years to that which is retained for 40 minutes.

Let me illustrate using the example on plate tectonics.
Subject: Plate Tectonics (Volcanoes)
Here are 2 possible Key Learning that can be obtained from the subject description stated above;
‘Volcanoes change the plankton population in the Atlantic.’
‘Volcanoes change climates.’
Which Key Learning will you retain longer? Odds on, you’ll remember that volcanoes change climates for much longer, because the climate matters to more you than the Atlantic plankton population, unless you are a blue whale, of course.

From this illustration, you will realize that that which is most meaningful to you, you will commit to the longest phase of your memory. The manner of knowledge is immaterial. The same piece of information, because it means different things to different people, will be retained in different phases of memory.

Take for example phone numbers. The same phone number, let’s say Bob the grocer from 2 towns away, will hold different meaning for his wife, his children, his customers who rely on him for their supply of daily necessities and you, who haven’t heard of him till now. No prizes for guessing who will be the first to forget.

In like manner, the same knowledge, when presented to students in different ways, will either encourage them to commit it to longer term memory, or not to pay any attention to it at all.

This means that when crafting learning experiences, we need to make sure that we present, not just the information, but the importance of the information to our students. And we can only do this effectively if we pay attention to Subject, Level and Duration.

Let us now see how being specific when defining the desired subject can us help craft even more meaningful Key Learning.
Subject: Plate Tectonics
(Impact of Volcanoes on man)
By explicitly focusing on the impacts of volcanoes on man, the crafting of the Key Learning becomes even more direct. So for the students living far away from volcanoes, our Key Learning could be;
‘Volcanic eruptions have regional and international implications.’
With this, we could then look at the 2010 Icelandic eruption that brought travel in and around Europe to a standstill and have the students discover what happened, why it happened and how it happened. Better yet, if you have a friend who had his bicycle delivery date delayed by 4 weeks due to that volcanic eruption, using that personal anecdote may help to draw students into the intended learning even more.

By crafting Key Learning that is meaningful to the students, not only is knowledge about tectonic processes being acquired, when the students find interest in what they are learning, they are more likely to keep the knowledge in their long term memory.

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