The importance of vocabulary in math and science cannot be overstated. In order to answer or understand basic problems in any math/science course, a solid footing of footing vocabulary is needed.

Many progressive educators state that students should not have to memorize vocabulary because they can simply look it up. I find fundamental problems with this mode of thinking.
  1. Teaching students that vocabulary terms can just be looked up undermines their importance.
    • What if a term is so important and deep, that simply looking it up offers no help?
    • What if there are multiple definitions?
      • Such a vocabulary term like "electronegativity"is beyond important in the understanding of chemistry, however, simply Googling it yields results that leave little to the understanding of electronegativity.
    • Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that students should be rote memorize dictionary definitions of vocabulary terms.
    • Students need to learn vocabulary terms by using them.
    • Students should be creating their own definitions to vocab terms and internalize them for themselves.
    • Looking them up gets rid of this process of students internalizing the vocab and does part of the thinking for them.
  2. Memorizing improves cognition.
  3. Habits, habits, habits of mind...
    • A lot of soft skills are needed to understand vocabulary.
    • Skills such as persistance, remaining open to new learning, managing impulsivity, metacognition, etc.
    • Finding a way to understand something enough to use it to create or analyze something else requires a lot of brainpower.
    • Thinking in this way can improve habits that can help with skills needed later on in life.
So what can be done about improving vocabulary understanding for students?

Here is a working list...
  1. Multiple exposures
    • Students need to the see the term used in many different ways and how to use its understanding to solve problems.
    • This is difficult to do if students are just Googling the terms without making sure the source is reputable.
  2. Model the term
    • Students can create visual representations of the terms.
    • Drawing (no matter how bad) has been shown to increase understanding.
  3. Student-made definitions
    • Students should be able to make their own definitions for terms.
    • This is different than kid-friendly definitions. Kid-friendly definitions can leave out important concepts for the sake of the full truth. This can cause students to be confused later on when another class discusses the "real" meaning of the term.
    • With self-made definitions, there has to be certain criteria that are met for the definition to e accurate, however, the students can arrange or create that definition however they like.
  4. Front load terms
    • I always like to introduce terms before students need to use them.
    • This goes against what is seen in most, if not all, textbooks or online resources.
      • With these resources, definitions are given as they are being explained with other concepts and not as separate entities.
    • By front loading the terms, this can help enable a more clear understanding of the term as it shows up.
    • It also allows the students to check back with term as it is separated from the new concepts that is entailed with it.
Let me know what I missed!
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