Teaching Philosophy (Part II)

Hello Todos – and welcome to the second half of my teaching philosophy which centers on knowledge being constructed, not received.

How do we learn?  Learning scientists and developmental psychologists have explored this phenomenon at length asking how or when does learning have a sustained, substantial, and positive influence on the way one thinks, acts, or feels.  Developmental psychologists found that knowledge is constructed and this process begins in the crib (Gopnik, Meltzoff, and Kuhl 1999).  Babies and children have powerful learning mechanisms that through experience, allow them to spontaneously revise, reshape, and restructure their knowledge.  They consider evidence, solve problems, do experiments, and draw conclusions thus creating their theories about the world.  Yet, when new evidence arises, these theories are then revised.  During the first three years of life, children radically restructure their knowledge as they are continually revising or creating new mental models of the world.  A child’s experience interacts with what he or she already knows about the world to produce new knowledge, which enables them to have new experiences and to test new predictions.  In sum, this enables them to produce further knowledge perpetuating the continual learning cycle.

Perhaps philosopher Otto Neurath put it best by compared knowledge to Ulysses’ boat.  To keep afloat during his thirty years of wondering, Ulysses had to constantly repair and rebuild the boat he lived in.  Each new storm or calm meant an alteration in the design.  By the end of the journey hardly anything remained of the original vessel.  Neurath (1959) suggests this is a suitable metaphor for cognitive development.  People begin life by creating many beliefs about the world, and those beliefs guide how one acts, feels, thinks, and most importantly, revises their knowledge.

To summarize, knowledge is constructed, not received and learning process people cycle through is the same for children as it is for college students.  Students are not a blank slate when they sit in class the first day of the semester.  They have some knowledge and it is the professor’s job to build on their existing knowledge.  Experiential teaching activities are a strong way to accomplish this goal.  Experiences are central to one’s identity, thus, the more learning experiences a professor can imbue into the classroom, the more conducive the environment is to creating new knowledge.



Bain, Ken. 2004. What the Best Teachers Do. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.

Gopnik, Alison, Andrew N. Meltzoff, and Patricia K. Kuhl. 1999. The Scientist in the Crib. Perennial: New York, NY.

Neurath, Otto. 1959. “Protocol Sentences,” In Logical Positivism. Ed. A.J. Ayer, Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 199-208

Van Boven, Leaf and Thomas Gilovich. 2003. “To Do or to Have?  That is the Question.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 85 (6): 1193-1202.


Teaching Philosophy (Part I)

Hola Todos!

As you all know, teaching is my passion and I truly enjoy being in the classroom dispensing nuggets.  Since my doctoral program, I have been refining my teaching philosophy and surprise – its centers on nuggets.  NOTE: while the following pertains to my classroom, almost all of the content described below can apply to your career at your firm.

The essence of my teaching philosophy can be summarized to knowledge is constructed, not received.  My teaching philosophy is central to my approach for knowledge delivery in the classroom.  I truly strive to (A) be active, (B) coach rather than lecture, and (C) use materials and exercises which elicit the maximum amount of class participation.  In class after class, I have learned the less I try to “talk” and lecture straight from my notes, the more engaged the students are in the classroom.  This philosophy fits well with my servant leadership research where the leader (or teacher) acts more as a coach, mentor, or pedagogic partner rather than a general.  Ken Bain’s (2004) book What the Best Teachers Do further enhanced my teaching philosophy by explicitly describing that knowledge is constructed, not received and learning occurs through deep meaningful personal experience.  Therefore, I employ experiential teaching activities such as nuggets (AKA takeaways), journals, topic talks, and research modules to make the classroom experience more active.

A teaching emphasis on experiential activities is theoretically sound as experiences are more central to one’s identity.  As suggested by Van Boven and Gilovich (2003), a person’s life is quite literally the sum of his or her experiences and the accumulation of rich experiences creates a richer life.  Furthermore, experiences may contribute more favorably to one’s identity because they meet intrinsic goals relating to personal growth and therefore are more self-actualizing.

Further evidence from the education literature suggests that experience is the strongest path to creating new knowledge.  Learning scientists have showed that rich meaningful experience leads to deep learning as knowledge is constructed not received.  Perhaps the best way illustrate this notion is to contrast it with the traditional view where, memory is conceptualized as a great storage bin.  Knowledge is put in and then later retrieved for future use.  Thus, it is not uncommon to hear a professor say, “my students must learn the material before they can think about it,” presumably meaning that they must store it somewhere for later use.  However, professors, scientists or marketers who use this “storage bin” metaphor will be disappointed with their results.

In a classic study, two physics professors wanted to know whether a typical introductory physics course, with its traditional emphasis on Newton, changed the way students thought about motion.  In describing the study, it is possible to substitute “think about motion” with any other phrase that fits a learning objective.  The professors devised and validated an examination to determine if students understood motion and this test was given to students of four different physics professors at the beginning of the semester.  The results from the first test surprised no one.  Most students entered the course with elementary theories about the physical world in what the professors called “a cross between Aristotelian and 14th century impetus ideas.” In short, they did not think about motion the way Isaac Newton did, let alone like Richard Feynman (Gopnik, Meltzoff, and Kuhl 1999).

A few weeks after the semester was over, the professors retested the same students with the same examination and discovered that the course had made comparatively small changes in the way students thought.  Perhaps most disturbing, some of the students who had received high grades in the class continued to think more like Aristotle than like Newton.  This study, as well as, other studies has found that students earn high grades by learning to “plug and chug;” memorizing formulae, sticking numbers in the right equation or splicing the right vocabulary into a paper.  When the class is over, much of material is forgotten as the “storage bin” is easily dumped.

In my next post, I will wrap-up my teaching philosophy, further emphasizing that knowledge is constructed, not received.