Op-Ed: Remembering the Kiss

I bet, if you thought about it you could remember your first real kiss. I am not talking Tia Maria pecking you on the cheek. I’m talking that someone that you were so hot for back in the day. You were nervous, you were excited, you were sweating, you were worried. Even if it happened decades ago you probably remember the place, the time, the person, everything about that first, real, slobber-rama of a kiss.

I bet you also can remember your driver’s test. You were nervous, you were excited, you were sweating, you were worried. Think back now, to all of your science classes. What was the one lab you remember to this day? I bet that it was the frog dissection. You were nervous, you were excited, you were sweating, you were grossed-out. Yuck!

Now, think back to the kiss you had, oh say, fifteen kisses ago. Where were you? Why did you kiss? Were you saying goodbye? Hello? Were you nervous, or excited, or sweating, or worried. Probably not.

And I bet you that you had a harder time remembering kiss # 12458 than you did kiss #1. You still remember kiss #1. Kiss #12458, not so much.

Where did you drive Saturday evening three weeks ago? Were you nervous, or excited, or sweating, or worried. Probably not. And I bet you that you had a harder time remembering drive #10458 than you did your driver’s license test.

Funny how the brain works isn’t it? We can remember something from three decades ago, yet we can’t remember something that happened three weeks ago, or maybe even three days ago.

So what is the difference between what happened all those years ago and what happened just a few days ago?


There was emotion attached to that learning process. I am not saying you were not emotionally attached to the person that you kissed fifteen kisses ago; I am saying that you probably weren’t as emotionally attached to the ACT of kissing fifteen kisses ago.

I was first introduced to the idea that in order for long-term, deep learning to take place, the “brain has to make an emotional connection” idea by a gentleman named Bill Stepien.

Bill was a slight man, white hair and white beard, who is one of those rarities in education: A researcher who actually practiced what he researched. At the time Bill was doing some professional development for my school district on the concept of Problem Based Learning or PBL.

While the concept of PBL was very interesting, it was his thoughts on the emotional connection to learning that really made me think about how we need to change how we teach.

Bill would say “It doesn’t mean you have to make students laugh all the time. Or cry. It just means that you have to get some type of reaction out of them. Make them make an emotional attachment to what is being taught.” Any reaction to learning I think Bill would agree, is better than no reaction at all.

That was why Problem Based Learning was so interesting to me. The context of problem caused students to become real-world problem solvers and, if done correctly, would allow them to make emotional attachments to the learning. They would remember the kiss or learning.

PBLs put kids into real-life situations. For instance, a first grader learning about animal habitats, might be put into the role of a wild animal expert, and have to determine if the animal hanging in grandma’s tree was a good thing to bring to school. (The animal was a bat but the students didn’t know that.) They were given the adult role, presented with a problem, in the form of a letter from “Billy” asking if he should bring the animal, which he didn’t know what it was, to school for show and tell.

The kids were given minimal information and not only had to determine what the animal was using “Billy’s” blurry picture, they had to come up with what questions had to be answered in order to solve the problem. PBLs always ended with some type of product, in this case, a letter back to “Billy” explaining their answer on why or why not he should bring the animal in Grandma’s tree to class.

The best PBLs are taken right out of the headlines or what is happening in a city. For instance, in a unit about first amendment rights, the students might be asked to be on a committee determining if Robert E. Lee school or Street, should be renamed.

Students act as different members of the community, a civil rights activist, a history professor, a person that thinks we should never destroy “our history.” Real world, real connections, real learning. They would remember the kiss of learning the First Amendment.

The PBL process, where kids were given adult roles to solve real-world questions, almost automatically lends itself to creating the emotional attachment to learning scenario. That in turn, leads to long-term learning. They remember the lesson. Just like you remembered the kiss. It’s all about the emotions.

So what does this all have to do with my forte, Education Technology? Recently I have noticed that there are a growing number of adults saying that all that ed tech that we spend billions of dollars on and throw in front of children in schools doesn’t amount to a hill of beans with learners. Recently, even the New York Times recently ran an editorial about how taking notes on a laptop was a not effective during lectures. (Ironically, I read that article on my laptop.)

The implication of course, is that technology in schools is a waste of time and money. And of course it is, when it is used to do the same

Royalty-Free Stock Photography by Rubberball

thing that we have always done in a classroom. Why use technology simply to do exactly what has always been done?

Drill and kill worksheets on a computer are no different than drill and kill on paper. I once saw a set of slides where the presenter showed a research paper assignment on a blackboard (1940), the same assignment on an overhead projector (1975) and the same assignment on a PowerPoint slide (2010).

The point was, that the teaching had not changed with the times. The message and the delivery was stuck in 1940 while the kids, and the world, were in the 21st century.

Are we allowing technology to give students an emotional attachment to learning by using the tools in ways we have never done before, or are we just teaching the same things in the same ways with more expensive equipment?

I once had a teacher tell me “The kids really got excited when I brought out the digital cameras to record our experiment.” “Then then why the heck aren’t we bringing out the digital cameras every day?” I asked “Oh, I’m too busy.” she said without the slightest thought about how the learning should be about the students, and not the teacher.

I have seen how learning with digital tools gets kids excited. It is real and it happens everyday in classrooms. But not in enough classrooms. Why aren’t we allowing multimedia science fair projects? Why do we still have kids glue papers to cardboard backboards?

Why aren’t we saying “You know, I think a movie instead of a research paper is called for here?” PBL’s are ripe with opportunities to integrate technology into the learning. The final projects can be commercials, movies, songs, cool SWAY presentations, web pages, anything! And the technology becomes secondary to the learning process, not “instead of” the learning process.

Long-term-in-your-gut learning has to be emotional, has to be real, and has to be “authentic.” We have to present learning, and especially learning with technology, as something that will forge the long-term neuron-bonding that leads to life long understanding.

The literature is full of examples of the emotion/learning connection, and now the literature is beginning to say there is a connection between proper technology use and learning.

Perhaps the connection is there between technology and learning BECAUSE of the emotional connection the kids have to the technology. I think adults only show emotional attachment to technology when they lose their cell phones, or their satellite TV goes out during the big game. Other than that…

Are we teaching for the kiss from fifteen kisses ago, or are we teaching for that first kiss?


Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment.