The Power of Doing Before Knowing

I find all 5 of the common pitfalls noted by Elizabeth St. Germain worrisome. I feel like I could read this list every day for a month and still inadvertently back into any one of these traps.

Of particular interest to me today, however, is the idea that students should create their own knowledge rather than simply consuming it. On the surface, it sounds a bit preposterous. Having taught finance to well over a thousand undergraduate students in the last couple years, I know how mixed up students can get about the subject. There are so many new concepts, so much new language, so many new tools with which to become familiar. It’s a huge effort for many students just to pass the class. Don’t they need foundational knowledge before they can possibly create their own knowledge? Is it fair to expect them to scamper up to the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy of cognition before they are ready?

But of course that’s thinking of it too rigidly. I recall the biography Rocket Boys, by Homer Hickam, on which the movie October Sky is based. The essence of the story is that Homer and his friends fell in love with the idea of rockets, which led them to start making and launching model rockets. Their failures acquainted them with what they didn’t know, like calculus and physics. Those boys created their own informal knowledge which became the foundation for formal knowledge. The narrative makes it clear that the process never would have worked in reverse; Requiring calculus as a prerequisite to building their first rocket would have meant no rockets at all.

So how can I encourage my students to get their hands dirty, so to speak? What’s the equivalent of making model rockets before learning physics or calculus? What can I do to acquaint them with the importance of what they don’t yet know?

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2 Responses to The Power of Doing Before Knowing

  1. divilovk says:

    What if you have students play a simulated stock market game? Maybe have a prize(s) at the end for the winner? My econ teacher did that in high school, and it is a big portion of what I remember from that class. Granted I have no idea what you usually teach in the class, so my suggestion might be inappropriate.

    On a higher level, I do not see anything wrong with consumption of knowledge. If learning involves a change in how a student defines an experience, why can’t consuming knowledge do that? I’m sure we’ve all read a book that we’ve learned from. Of course, creating something is much more challenging than just reading something, which forces students to reflect on assumptions of the topic at hand. However, I do not think everything you want to teach students needs to be done in a create-ive manner.

  2. Dennis Adams says:

    I would love to find a simulation that is really engaging and appropriate. Stock market investing is not quite targeted enough toward the course learning outcomes. But I should do some research about what else I might do.

    I agree the students must consume knowledge at some point. 🙂 Finance is a discipline which requires the understanding of specific methods, vocabulary and norms. What I would like to achieve is to “prime the pump”, so to speak, by encouraging action that stimulates the desire to consume the appropriate knowledge.

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