Michael E. Webber
One of our primary responsibilities as teachers is to let our students in on the secret. That secret is whatever knowledge we are trying to convey to them.
Most people I know have some awkward memory from childhood when they were excluded from a clique, an inside joke, or a family secret that was whispered from one adult to another right in front of them. That is one of the worst feelings in the world.
They usually also have a companion memory from some point in their lives when they were mature enough to be let in on the secret: they are part of the inside joke, they join the circle of friends, or they are trusted with some sensitive information about a family member. They felt good when they were finally old enough to be trusted with such confidential matters.
I teach classes about energy. Sometimes when I want to emphasize a point that I really want them to remember, I will ask them something like, “Do you want to know the secret about refineries?” or “Do you want the truth about renewables?” The students always nod eagerly. After all, who doesn’t want to know the secret truth? The same is true with students. Letting them in on the secret is a sign to the students that they are ready to receive precious information and that the information is important enough to be protected.
By prefacing the information that way, I give them a sign that they are about to receive exclusive knowledge to which only important people are privy. This technique makes them feel special, heightens their attention, sticks in their memory, and gives them a motivation to keep coming to class. After all, where else would they go to get such valuable insider insights?
“When I’m thinking about math, my mind feels spontaneously alive with pictures, ideas, connections, and more questions – things I did not learn in a class or from a book – the “secret” ways in which I really understand something. These are things I share with my students. For example, it is simple to see that dividing 1 by a huge number gives a tiny number. This simple fact takes us a long way in understanding ratios where one variable quantity is divided by another. Where textbooks give complicated methods for graphing ratios, I remind my students to just remember this: 1/HUGE = tiny! The simple, fun, secret ways of seeing things are so much easier, satisfying, and reliable than following tedious procedures designed to replace the amazing gift of thinking about the basic, simple ideas.”