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Stories Connect with People

“There is no greater power on this earth than story.” - Libba Bray

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” - Rudyard Kipling

Stories connect with people in ways that data alone cannot. Stories grab our attention and engage our hearts and minds. They summon emotions and prompt our brains to release dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. Dopamine is released when your interest is sparked, you learn something new, or hear encouraging words, and its presence dramatically increases motivation, learning and long-term memory retention. Oxytocin, on the other hand, increases empathy and connection to others, and makes us more open to different perspectives. Endorphins are released when a story is humorous and makes us laugh, or when the story is sad and makes us cry. Drawing upon these emotions are among the most potent storytelling techniques. We don’t yet fully understand their role, but we do know endorphins improve cognitive function and promote memory formation. Leveraging this powerful trio of hormones makes storytelling a powerful force in the classroom.

"A life becomes meaningful when one sees himself as an actor within the context of story." - George Howard

Great teachers are great storytellers. Readers and listeners are active participants in engaging stories. Their imagination is on fire with anticipation and questions. Great storytellers capture their audience’s attention, and then continually increase thetension in the story. I’m willing to wager that most of your favorite teachers and professors were able to harness the power of stories, transmitting information in an extraordinarily memorable way, and this is why you learned so much from them.

Science case studies are science stories. Great case studies are engaging, focused, relevant to the student, and they pose dilemmas that students need to grapple with. They lead students to the peak of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Knowledge, the widely accepted framework through which all master teachers guide their students through the cognitive learning process, where analysis, evaluation, and creation of solutions or ideas are held in the highest regard.

Image Credit: Vanderbilt University

Or, presented differently...

Image Credit: Rawia Inaim / Kwantlen Polytechnic University

Case studies give students the opportunity to cooperatively support one another as they hone their higher-level intellectual skills. If designed to not only assess student knowledge but to build it, well-designed case studies progressively disclose information in stages and spanning the continuum of increasing cognitive complexity—from remember to create. The incalculable value in this approach is that actual scientists also progressively uncover information in stages as they answer questions and create solutions to problems.

In sum, students learn best when teachers see and hear them as individuals, help them understand their strengths, coach them as they turn their weaknesses into new strengths, and connect what they are learning with their future ambitions. The case study approach is so effective precisely because it deeply engages students in the real world and faithfully prepares students for authentic scientific work.

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