Phrase of the Week: “Gold-star methadone”

Time magazine’s October 29th issue featured  a special report on  “Reinventing College,” including an article by Amanda Ripley entitled “College Is Dead. Long Live College.”  Her piece focused on MOOCs and described some of the strategies employed by Andy Brown, a 25-year-old wunderkind who teaches physics for Udacity.  One of his students explained that Professor Brown’s technique of pausing to ask questions and then affirming correct responses was “gold-star methadone.”

Ms. Ripley goes on to explain:

“Humans like immediate feedback, which is one reason we like games. Researchers know a lot about how the brain learns, and it’s shocking how rarely that knowledge influences our education system. Studies of physics classes in particular have shown that after completing a traditional class, students can recite Newton’s laws and maybe even do some calculations, but they cannot apply the laws to problems they haven’t seen before. They’ve memorized the information, but they haven’t learned it—much to their teachers’ surprise.”

OK, so maybe some of us aren’t all that surprised.

The entire article is a gold mine for those ready and willing to make their teaching more effective.  You can view it here.

From rats pressing levers for food rewards to vacationers pulling the handles of slot machines to compulsive checkers of email….instant rewards are powerful motivators.  Have you found a way to award “gold stars” during your classes?

—Karen

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