Polishing Your Crystal Ball

karenA new year always brings a flurry of predictions about what the upcoming twelve months will bring. However, we don’t always look back to see which of last year’s prognostications were accurate. (Joel Stein of Time magazine is a notable and hilarious exception.) Perhaps that’s why many news outlets were intrigued by the predictions made by the late sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. If you somehow managed to miss this story, here’s an example:

Why do we find predictions so interesting? And, since we seem to take pleasure in reading and hearing about prophecies, can predictions be used to enhance learning? A December issue of Annie Murphy Paul’s The Brilliant Report says “yes!” Citing a study by Michigan researchers, she observes that

“the act of venturing predictions prompted them to understand the material more deeply as they engaged in reasoning and sense-making about math instead of mere memorization….Making predictions, Kasmer and Kim explain, helps prime the learning process in several ways. In the act of venturing a guess, we discover what we know and don’t yet know about the subject. We activate our prior knowledge on the topic, readying ourselves to make connections to new knowledge. We create a hypothesis that can then be tested, generating curiosity and motivation to find out the answer.”

How might I employ this strategy in my anatomy & physiology classes?  I currently open each class meeting with a question about a weird fact related to the topic of the day: “How much urine does an elephant produce each day?” or ” What is the world record for assisted bench press?” But I wonder, could I come up with questions that would invite a deeper understanding  of the material I’m about to introduce?crystalball

For example, I use a newspaper article about a young girl with a hypothalamic-pituitary tumor for a lab exercise after teaching about the endocrine system. Perhaps I should ask students to predict the challenges that the girl faces before we explore the myriad of hormones involved in the system. Any predictions about the effect on my students’ learning?

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