"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Monday, July 29, 2013

Stories Add Spice

In a previous post in this blog, "State of the Heart", reasons for storytelling by Pamela Brown Rutledge in "The Psychological Power of Storytelling" (also posted in Psychology Today) were highlighted:
  • Stories have always been a primal form of communication. 
  • Stories are about collaboration and connection. 
  • Stories are how we think. 
  • Stories provide order. 
  • Stories are how we are wired. 
  • Stories are the pathway to engaging our right brain and triggering our imagination. 

Daniel Willingham recently brought to attention recent evidence supporting the notion that storytelling does help in boosting learning outcomes. Willingham's "Storify: Make science tell a story" shared the findings of Arya and Maul (The role of the scientific discovery narrative in middle school science education: An experimental study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104, 1022-1032.) Willingham shared excerpts from passages regarding Galileo's use of the  telescope to illustrate the difference between an expository text and a narrative (storytelling) one.
Expository: 
And with this simple, powerful tool [Galilean telescope], we can see many details when we use it to look up into the night sky. The moon may look like a smooth ball of light covered with dark spots, but on a closer look through this telescope, we can see deep valleys and great mountain ranges. Through the telescope, we can now see all the different marks on the moon’s surface
Narrative 
When Galileo looked through his new telescope, he could see the surface of the moon, and so he began his first close look into space. He slept during the day in order to work and see the moon at night. Many people thought that the moon was a smooth ball with a light of its own. Now that Galileo had a closer look through his telescope, he realized that the moon’s surface had mountains and valleys.
Fresco by Giuseppe Bertini depicting Galileo showing the Doge of Venice how to use the telescope
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bertini_fresco_of_Galileo_Galilei_and_Doge_of_Venice.jpg
The differences between the two are quite subtle. The narrative paints a personal story. In a way, the narrative one is closer to what one might get by gazing at Bertini's painting above. Students who received instruction via the narrative version performed better in recall tests given immediately after the lecture and one week after. 

Some scientists are indeed colorful figures. One story even made it to Broadway and won the Tony Award for Best Play, Best Featured Actress in a Play and Best Direction of a Play. The play "Copenhagen" is about a meeting between two physicists, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. And in 2002, the play was adapted into film and broadcast on PBS. The following is a key scene:


Key Scene: Heisenberg and his Uncertainty Principle
http://www.pbs.org/hollywoodpresents/copenhagen/scene/index.html

A good story, one with conflict, struggle or controversy, adds spice. So perhaps, this indeed helps in learning.




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