Abstract Ideas in the Classroom

How do we get them to 'get it'?

Remembering disguised as understanding.

Whenever I teach my 9th and 10th graders about Linnaeus's seven systems of classification, I teach them the following sentence: King Philip Comes Over For Good Spaghetti. Every first letter of every word stands for the seven levels of classification: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. They remember this silly saying about King Philip in order to understand how the levels follow in order from largest and most inclusive, to smallest and least inclusive. "...They understand new ideas (things they don't know) by relating them to old ideas (things they do know)" (Willingham, page 88). Especially when I teach new vocabulary (which is weekly in biology), I use a real-life, outside example to get abstract, hard-to-pronounce words and definitions across. Another example would be teaching animal behaviors. They are either learned or innate; innate is instinct - what come's natural. A puppy displays innate behavior by drinking its mothers milk - no one has to tell the puppy to do so, it comes naturally! (Now only if turning in homework was an innate behavior, ha!).

My favorite way to teach a new & abstract concept is disguising the concept behind things relatable to students. THEY'RE LEARNING WITHOUT EVEN REALIZING IT!

Insight Learning: Applying something previously learned to a new situation.

As the semester (or year) progresses, we are constantly building upon already learned and applied background knowledge. The key I've found through the course of the semester in TED 669 is to link those established concepts to new, foreign ones that have not been heard before by the majority and are abstract. The link is where the learning gap can be minimized; reiterating the importance of the background knowledge to abstract ideas is a great example of another animal behavior I teach: Insight Learning. This is the application of something already learned to a new situation, and we humans do this all the time.

"So, understanding new ideas is mostly a matter of getting the right old ideas into working memory and then rearranging them - making comparisons we hadn't made before, or thinking about a feature we had previously ignored" (Willingham, page 91).