Small Teaching Chapter 2: Prediction

EDIT: WordPress now requires the publish button to be pushed twice- that is why this seemed to have disappeared. It may appear now- if I remember to push publish twice.

In Chapter 2 Small Teaching discusses the power of having students make predictions about upcoming material. Interestingly when I started reading I predicted that the reason this might work is just that students are engaged with the material. I am a fairly good student when I want to learn something and I used the skill naturally.

An important element of having students make predictions is quickly correcting misconceptions. When that is done, incorrect predictions do no harm. Two things that might explain improved learning when using predictions are that it primes certain connections in the brain to receive and connect to the answer when received, and it helps students recognize gaps in their knowledge. I use the first of these in Math 131 when I have students predict the answer to a pre-lesson question (What percent sunlight is left 50 meters underwater?). I use the latter when I ask students to simplify 8 – 3 + 4 to check for a common misconception in order of operations.

One challenge for using this in mathematics is that it relies on activating prior knowledge. Students need a hook upon which to hang the answer. When working abstractly in mathematics this might be a challenge for the novice learner. On the other hand this could be a signal that it is very important to do math in context with novices.

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