Why Don’T Students Like School

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  • Unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.According to Willingham, “The implication of this principle is that teachers should reconsider how they encourage their students to think, in order to maximize the likelihood that students will get the pleasurable rush that comes from successful thought.” (page 3)Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sbraines/3218866473/
  • Sure, when we compare ourselves to other animals we do better at reasoning. But a cognitive scientist would point out that our brain are actually DESIGNED for the avoidance of thought. Thus, thinking actually takes a good bit of effort!What is your brain designed for? A good chunk of it is devoted to the senses and then coordinating your actions based on those senses. Seeing is actually more difficult that solving calculus (thus more room in the brain is given to seeing). Don’t believe me? Take computers as an example. We’ve yet to create a “robot” capable of navigating through our world…but we’ve created many that can solve calculus problems.Picture Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sbraines/3218866473/
  • 20 Minutes is the usual maximum amount of time allowed for this problem and even then many folks don’t figure it out.The problem does a good job of demonstrating a few things about thinking:It’s slow. Because I didn’t use images, you’re associating words with images, retrieving the images and then working with themThinking takes effortThinking is uncertainAnswer to the question: Dump the tacks out of the box, tack the box to the wall, and place the candle in the box.Text source: Page 5 of Why Don’t Students like School?
  • The short answer, when we can get away from thinking, we do. Instead, we rely on memory.For example, if someone were to ask you the Candle Problem again, you wouldn’t necessarily think the problem out. Instead, you’d access your working memory. Your memory system might not be the best, but it’s more reliable than your thinking system.Picture Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jef_safi/1461787281/sizes/o/
  • Even though we (as humans) aren’t very good at thinking, we actually like to think. “We are naturally curious, and we look for opportunities to engage in CERTAIN TYPES of thought.Picture Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/somemixedstuff/2403249501/
  • We’re curious about some stuff but not other stuff. What makes us curious about some things over the other?One of the big reasons is the creation of the problem. If a problem is a challenge, but not TOO MUCH of a challenge, then we’re more likely to be curious.Picture Sources: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mag3737/218149352/sizes/o/http://www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk/426622486/sizes/o/
  • The environment is the current system your in – what you’re hearing, seeing etc. Working memory is your consciousness – what you’re currently thinking, etc. Long term memory is the big storehouse where you keep your facts as well as procedures.“Thinking occurs when you combine information (from the environment and long term memory) in NEW WAYS.” (Page 11)
  • Using the steps in order is a good example of procedural knowledge.
  • Page 14 of Why don’t students like school.
  • Key thing is “moderate challenge”- you want problems to not be so easy that they can solve them immediately, but take long enough to be rewarding.
  • “When you plan a lesson, you start with the information you want students to know by its end. As a next step, consider what the key question for that lesson might be and how you can frame that question so it will have the right level of difficulty to engage your students and so you will respect your student’s cognitive limitations.” (Page 16)Picture Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuartpilbrow/3557485546/sizes/l/
  • As established, people like puzzles. However, sometimes puzzles are that effective until after giving some background information.Picture Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thejerk/510625746/
  • Kid’s Minds wander. We all mentally check out. Change grabs attention. So plan shifts and changes in your lesson.Picture Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lexnger/377734314/sizes/l/
  • Other questions answered in this bookHow can I teach students the skills they need when standardized tests require only facts?Why do students remember everything on TV but forget everything I say?Why is it so hard for students to understand abstract ideas?Is drilling worth it?What’s the secret to getting students to think like real scientists, mathematicians, and historians?How should I adjust my teaching for different type of learnersHow can I help slow learners?What about my mind?


  • 1. Why Don’t Students Like School?
    An exploration of Daniel Willingham’s book
  • 2. People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers.
  • 3. Our brains try and AVOID thought
  • 4. For Example: Try This
    In an empty room are a candle, some matches, and a box of tacks. The goal is to have the lit candle about five feet off the ground. You’ve tried melting some of the wax on the bottom of the candle and sticking it to the wall, but it wasn’t effective. How can you get the lit candle five feet off the ground without having to hold it there?
  • 5. If we’re so bad at thinking,
    How do we get through the day?
  • 6. And yet, we ENJOY thinking
  • 7. Why are many people fascinated by the problem on the left, but very few will work on the one of the right?
    Fill the 9 X 9 Grid so each column and row contain the digits 1-9
    Prove that the midpoint of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equidistant from the vertices of the triangle
  • 8. How Thinking Works
    (site of awareness and thinking)
    (factual knowledge and procedural knowledge?
  • 9. For Example: 18 x 7
    (rules, board with current position, etc)
    Multiply 8 and 7
    Retrieve the fact that 8x7=56 from long term memory
    Remember that 6 is part of the solution, then carry 5
    Multiply 7 and 1
    Retrieve fact: 7x1=7
    Add carried 5 to 7
    Retrieve 5+7=12
    Put 12 down, append the 6
    Answer: 126
  • 10. Successful thinking relies on:
    Information from the environment
    Facts in the long-term memory
    Procedures in long-term memory
    And the amount of space in the working memory.
    If any of these factors is inadequate, thinking will likely fail.
  • 11. Classroom implications
  • 12. Be sure that
    there are problems
    that can be solved
  • 13. Clarify the Problems to be Solved
  • 14. Reconsider when to puzzle students
  • 15. Change the Pace
  • 16. Background Information
    Daniel Willingham is a cognitive scientist who explores some key questions about education.
    This presentation deals with the question “Why don’t students like school?” – Chapter 1 in the book.
    All images are part of the creative commons and used accordingly.