another old lesson come back to haunt me

Years and years ago now, when I was a relatively new lecturer, I attended a course of teaching large lectures.  As a mathematics lecturer, I teach many large lectures and so I attended, and there is one thing I remember from that course.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember who taught the session and that is something about which I feel sad.

The person giving the session started with a simple exercise.  As quick as you can, he asked us, list the months of the year, and though I don’t remember, we as a group most likely then mumbled January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December under our breaths and a low murmur filled the room.  Probably.  I just timed myself, and it took me just under 5 seconds.

Next, he said, list the months of the year, but in alphabetical order.  This takes longer.  And I still tend to forget August, which is now second instead of eighth, even though I’ve done this more than once.

The point he was making is that just because we know something, in this case the months of the year, we aren’t necessarily able to use that thing we know, in any way we want to use it.  There are constraints and restrictions on the things we know, on the knowledge we hold in our heads, and we are not able to use that knowledge in any way we wish.

When I’m teaching, I tell this story, and I tell it because I think this basic lesson is an important and useful and incredibly helpful lesson.  Just because we have a piece of knowledge, a collection of fact in our head, doesn’t mean that we have control over that knowledge, over those facts.

And so I would ask, give it a try.  I don’t think you need to time yourself listing the months of the year in their usual chronological order.  The 5 seconds I give above is probably not out of line.  But time yourself listing them in alphabetical order, and see how things go. And then I invite you to think about this basic lesson, and as you go through your days, to see just how often this basic lesson turns out to be useful.  Because I think it’s rather nifty.

~ by Jim Anderson on 2 June 2017.

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