Making it "Stick" in the Classroom

I have recently been bothered by an old memory. A lesson from high-school that has time and time again come back to haunt me and recently it has bothered me so much that whenever something repeatedly makes itself known, there must be a reason. I had to start asking the why!

As a trainer, I am intrigued by the challenge of making things stick, or should I say, looking for unique ways to help students remember. I like to keep a couple of tricks in my pocket - just in case something requires that little bit extra to get the point across. Analogies are my favorite way to make things stick and it's always nice to spring the unexpected tricks to make things stick - especially when they can last a lifetime.

The scenario: Eight grade Science class. It was unfortunately extremely b..o..r..i..n..g. We would sit in the science lab trying to listen to the teacher whose first language was not English and therefore already required some effort of "translation". I remember everybody got an "A" in Science that year and I also don't remember turning many pages in order to do it. Probably the biggest reason was that the teacher would let us self-grade our tests and then ask us to provide the final score. Of course she wouldn't collect the tests either :). A very nice gesture of trust but I don't think I'll use that tip in my classroom.

It was the one, single and only experiment that we did in Science class that whole year that is what has tormented me to this day. It's what keeps coming back almost every other day in one form or another and especially when I'm in the classroom because I use *these* all the time! Yet, it stands-out, makes sense and it has survived through time... a long time. The experiment: Friction. The explanation: moreover a 3-second demo which involved rolling a *non-permanent marker* on a table and watching it slowly come to a halt. That's it: a 3-second lesson in a long year of many Science class hours where I cannot remember much else!

For a long time I laughed it off as a ridiculous lesson and between friends we would sometimes joke about it. Now, however, I question the reasons behind its brilliant success! Was it:

  • The visual impact? Possibly - using something we see every day can certainly make a good prop.
  • The fact that we did only one experiment for the whole year? That can certainly raise the emphasis! The impact of boredom is something I'll talk about in a future post :).
  • The speed of the lesson: it took only 3-seconds to complete the experiment! Yes, also effective - get everybody's attention, make sure they're listening, and then tell them the BIG secret.

That 3-second flash of genius has helped me immensely to not only remember the concept of friction, but whenever I pickup that non-permanent marker, I am inspired to search for that moment of brilliance where I can also portray a similar concept in my own classroom.

Finally, a quick Japanese lesson to help you remember the word "nori" is presented to you in the "sticky” picture above. Enjoy and thank you warmly for reading.

Gabriele Ciminelli