The next generation of the human race is currently enrolled in a 7-hours-per-day, 5-days-a-week program: school. In a single year, students spend about 1,200 hours in school alone. Since students spend much of their time in this educational program, schools need to make sure they are teaching most effectively during this period of time. The normal schooling methods used since 1837, way back when traditional schooling was first thought of, has always favored the use of memorization over application, but this has led to systematic harm of many futures for nearly 180 years. The methods of teaching need to take a turn towards application and understanding if the futures of young minds is in our best interest.
To truly understand this change, you must understand what the starting point, memorization, truly is. Memorization is the process that one follows to preserve knowledge to later on recall it. Memorization plays a large role in modern and past techniques of learning. The use of memorization in classes ranges from memorizing formulas to memorizing the parts of a cell. Although it’s sometimes easy to remember small bits, it’s also very common to forget them. According to an article related to memory, medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD, one reason humans forget is motivated forgetting. This means if a student isn’t given a true reason to know something besides “It will be on the test,” they won’t see why they need to remember something for the future. For example, if one P.E. teacher tells their student to remember the bicep muscles in the arms because they are important, the student won’t know why it’s important. That “Why” component is their motivation to remember.
As there are two sides to this change, we also need to understand application. Application/Understanding is split into multiple parts: Explain, Interpret, Apply, and Have Perspective. Explain means students should be able to explain each step in their solutions and why that step was there. Interpret means students should be able to interpret others’ solutions as well. Apply means students not only memorize the formulas and figurative language techniques, but they can use them in their solutions and writings. Lastly, Have Perspective means students can weigh in or give their opinion on a topic or problem related to the lesson. This explanation of application/understanding is hefty, but in simple terms, it means students have that “Why?” factor they were missing in memorization. They have that motivation to learn with application/understanding.
Although both skills, memorization and application, are important in student development, which of the two is truly more important in the future? When students grow up, their jobs won’t be to label the parts of a cell (memorization); their jobs will be to explore and innovate for the future using the knowledge they already know (application). For many adults, while in school, they weren’t given the opportunity to be creative with their knowledge. If children are able to start applying themselves at an early age, the change to adulthood will be a smoother transition. In addition to this, application allows students to make connections to the real world. Memorization will allow students to know the theme of a story, but application takes it one step further; instead of only identifying the theme, the student will be able to use the theme in their own lives to better themselves. The future needs those who can create and enhance over those who can identify and label.
For a while now, I have been talking about many hypothetical futures, so this time, let’s see where exactly application is necessary over memorization. The first and most explicit example is driving. There are two portions to earning your license: a written and actual driving test. The written portion is the memorization side. For the written test, you have to memorize signs, distances, rules, etc. For the actual driving test, the proctor grades the driver on how well they follow the rules and drive in general. Now I have a question for you: Would you feel more safe driving next to someone who knows the rules but hasn’t actually driven, or would you feel more safe driving next to someone who knows the rules and can follow them safely? Drivers who can apply their knowledge and skills are better off on the road than those who only know the rules. This is why there is an application side to earning a license.
Application is already being used in public schools as higher-level thinking technique, but they haven’t highlighted this section enough. Many class assessments and standardized tests choose word problems as higher-level thinking questions. From an article written by John Marsh, an education counselor,
Solving math word problem[s] [are] challenging task[s]: it teaches students to use logic and creative thinking which is combined in executing the task.
Students are able to understand much more by using logic and creativity in real-world scenarios than they ever could by simply memorizing knowledge. This is because word problems force students to use creativity, accept challenges, use logical analysis, and prepare them for the upcoming years. School Districts need to minimize the role of memorization and vastly increase the roles of understanding and applying while testing their students. Alternating assessments is the first step into a much deeper and meaningful future.
The adaptation to applicative learning is a step-by-step process which will take some time and effort from both students and educators. The change necessary is not only on assessments, but the ways of teaching as well. Teachers need to start explaining and providing reasons for each lesson so students begin to slowly replicate these actions. This is important because if students can start understanding what they are doing and why they are doing it from a young age, their minds will be more open to learning. The second technical change would be from the students’ perspective. Students will be asked to explain why each step is there so they understand and do not just memorize. The third change is obviously how assessments are graded and what the students are tested on. Currently, memorization plays a large role in assessments. With applicative learning, students will be tested on real-life situations that relate to the lesson. For levels one and two, the students will be asked to explain and interpret. For levels three and four, however, the students will be asked to apply their knowledge to word problems. The whole test will be modified for realistic situations. For example, instead of asking the students to find the area of a square, the student will be asked to find the area of a garden. These minuscule adaptations will leave their positive mark on each student.
A few schools have already begun the transformation to applicative learning, but one stands way ahead. Elon Musk — yes, that Elon Musk — has built a school, Ad Astra, for highly gifted children. This school is much different than any school you have ever seen. Ad Astra has taken application over memorization to a whole new level. At this school, there are no grades; this may seem bizarre, but Elon’s focus is on the students’ development. According to Business Insider, Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation, toured the school and was approving of its ethos.
One element that is persistent in that small school of 31 kids is the conversation about ethics and morals, a conversation manifested by debating real-world scenarios that our kids may one day face,
said Peter. Ad Astra zeroes in on real-world scenarios every day. Elon himself explained the main struggle with current education: students are being asked to memorize information without knowing why those pieces are important. Elon and Ad Astra have reached new heights in applicative learning, but if public schools take it step-by-step, their students will benefit immensely.
Change is a word that brings fear to those who do not have an open mind. The methods of teaching for the past 180 years have gone on far too long; change is a necessity. The young minds are our future, and our future is our interest. Thus, students need to be taught in a way that encourages creativity, logical analysis, and accepting challenges. The young minds of today will soon be the minds of tomorrow, but right now they need applicative learning much more than memorization.