Destin had a couple of welder friends who like to play tricks on him, an engineer, and rigged up a bike that was the same in everyway to any other bike except for one thing - the steering was reversed. When he turned the handlebars left, the front wheel would turn right, and when he turned the handlebars to the right, the wheel would turn left. They then asked him to ride the bike and Destin thought this would be no challenge and quickly agreed, but found out very early on that this was not so easy. This was not because he didnt know how to ride a bike... he had been riding bikes since he was a kid. It wasn't that he lacked any knowledge either. As he states, he knew that the bike was reversed before he tried to ride it and nothing else was changed. What was different was his understanding of riding a bicyle. His brain had already made neural pathways that had been carved deep into his brain over the years. So, when he got on with the small modification of changing your directional movement of the handlebars - he just could not do it. He eventually got it down, then tried teaching his much younger son. His son was able to master as much as Destin did in 8 months... but it only took his son 2 weeks to get to the same point. This demonstates neuroplasticity in the brain of a child and how the older you get, the more "set in your ways" you become, either figuritively, or psychologically. After learning, unlerning, and relearning, he then tried riding a normal bike again, and he couldn't at first, but eventually his brain clicked back into those old neural pathways and he could suddenly ride a normal bike again.
This got me thinking about how I learn and how, as a teacher, I teach. I am a kinesthetic learner, meaning I learn best when I am experiencing it (also called tactile, or "trial-and-error"). The best way for me to learn how to do something is to actually try doing it over and over again until I get it. I know not all students learn in this way (while some do), but for me it has less to do with their learning styles and more to do with their understanding (not that learning styles are not important... they are, but I am just focusing on this for now). Just as Destin pointed out, knowledge is nothing without understanding. He could spend 5 years talking about how that bike worked backwards and how difficult it is to ride, but without actually getting on the bike and gaining an understanding of it, he would never have been able to learn to ride it. In History and the Social Sciences, we call this application of the material. Everything tht is taught to the student needs to have real-world application if in nothing else but its principles. If there is no application, there is no connection; if there is no connection, there is no understanding; and if there is no understanding, all the knowledge in the world means NOTHING (unless you want to win at Jeopardy).
Teaching to understanding is not brand new, but it is on the newer side of the learning scales. Before, it was teach, and they learn, and if they are doing their part, they will understand. But we realize now that people, let alone students, don't learn like that. Instead, we need to teach to understanding, not to knowing the curriculum. Knowing the curriculum just prepares you to maybe one day teach the same thing to another classroom. What we need to do is not focus AS MUCH on the content (though some content is important... especially in History), but rather focus more on the understanding and application. The whole reason we learn history is to learn from it; to not repeat our mistakes, but to repeat our advances. Without an UNDERSTANDING of WHY the Revolutionary War was fought, who cares THAT it was fought in the first place?
Finally, modern technology has put alomst the entire collective of human knowledge literally at our fingertips. We type what we want to know into google and the tech genie grants your wish! But one thing that google will never be able to do is THINK CRITICALLY and UNDERSTAND history. It can compute, recall, and export the information, but it can't take it to a deeper understanding - only people can do that. And that is why we need to teach students through understanding, not through just knowledge... because knowledge is cheap these days; UNDERSTANDING is POWER!
Destin. [SmaterEveryDay]. (2015, April 24). The Backwards Brain Bicycle - Smarter Every Day 133. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFzDaBzBlL0&index=2&list=PLbRLdW37G3oMquOaC-HeUIt6CWk-FzaGp
Richard Sable is from Vista, CA and graduated from Azusa Pacific University in 2014 with a B.A. in Social Science and is currently working on his single subject teaching credential in the field of Social Science at CSU, San Marcos.