Engage student learning by dropping the textbook!
Although it’s been over three decades since taking high school chemistry, I, together with my high school classmates, remember — and, even more importantly, will always remember — a core concept governing chemistry: high energy to low energy. And we learned this the very first day of class! How? I’ll let you know in a minute, but first I need to provide a brief introduction of Mary Alta Dowd, our high school chemistry teacher.
Picture a southern belle: impeccably dressed, perfect hair, and enough natural charm to effortlessly command respect among restless high school students. Using an old-fashioned key, she promptly locked the classroom door when class commenced and, after that, deliberately returned to her desk to place the key in her desk drawer. In the event a student arrived late, which occurred only sporadically, she apologized for the interruption, retrieved the key from her desk, and unlocked the door. The only sounds we heard during that time were her heels clacking on the hard tile floor and the metallic clicking of the key as it unlocked the door to welcome the tardy student.
But the first day of class, we heard a very distinct sound that echoes in our minds even today. Shortly after class started, Mrs. Dowd, while welcoming us to the course, held the chemistry textbook in one of her hands. Then, without warning, she dropped the textbook. The sound of the dense textbook striking the floor jolted us to attention even more. When the ringing in our ears stopped, she announced, while looking each of us in the eye: “Remember the day I dropped the textbook: high energy to low energy, which is the key to learning chemistry.” From that point forward, anytime we encountered difficulty balancing chemistry equations, Mrs. Dowd probingly asked, “Do you remember the day I dropped the textbook?”
Truth be told, we learned little from the content of the textbook itself; however, we learned much as a result of what Mrs. Dowd did with the textbook. Call it a trick, a gimmick, or what Chip and Dan Heath refer to as “sticky learning.” Whatever one calls it, “the day Mrs. Dowd dropped the textbook” had a positive impact on us, which solidifies a critical component of learning: student engagement.
Whether you are an educator or learner, what is your “dropped the textbook” moment? Please take a minute to leave a comment sharing your most memorable learning experience.