Head, Heart, Hands

by Gabrielle DeMarco on June 16, 2011

Usually at The Approach we focus on our professors’ research into science and technology. But, life in the lab is just one aspect of the busy lives of our faculty. In between the genomics and geology our professors are educating the next generation of scientists and engineers.

A substantial amount of research is out there on how to build and foster knowledge. Sure, professors can rely on the tried and true method of lecture and memorization. But for the inspired profs, there are several innovative and effective ways to educate university students. Professor George Plopper is such an example.

Plopper is bringing his skill with the scientific method and innovative thinking out of his biology laboratory and into his biology classroom, complete with a hypothesis: If you use Bloom’s Taxonomy to generate higher orders of thinking, you’ll observe more of that thinking. And since he started utilizing the processes of Bloom’s in his upper level graduate courses in cancer biology and the cellular matrix, he has been seeing some wonderful results in his students.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a way to classify how a student is actually thinking while learning. It is named after Benjamin Bloom who chaired a committee of educators way back in the 1950s. Since that time, it has gone through many tweaks and revisions, with many educators like Plopper translating into their classroom in unique ways. At its essence, is the belief that true learning of a subject takes place at three levels: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. Translated this means that you know, feel, and experience the lessons using your head, heart, and hands. This goes well beyond simple memorization (i.e. the head). Through this process, students go from simply knowing the material, to applying the material to their own work, to ultimately being able to manipulate what they know in their own creative ways.

In Plopper’s courses this means that learning is so much more than memorization. Students in his upper level course must come prepared to do a whole lot of mental heavy lifting. As an example, for a large part of the semester the students actually become the teacher. Each week a group of students delivers the lecture to their peers. They are tasked with learning, interpreting, and making interesting that week’s materials and delivering it to their classmates. Plopper is always there throughout to provide guidance or get students back on track with the lesson plan goes awry.

Plopper use of Bloom’s Taxonomy was recently featured in the newspaper Inside Higher Ed. Check out the full article on his use of the method here at RPI and how it is serving as model for other professors around the country.