Humans have an innate capacity to be curious, explore to the sky’s limit, and learn through a self-driven inquiry that leads them to infer and make meaning. But just a quick glance at what we do in schools reveals how we inadvertently squash that innate ability to learn. Our long list of topics of the curriculum stifles critical and creative thinking, instead of providing opportunities for kids to ‘play’ with concepts, test theories, and make connections with their background knowledge to learn meaningfully. To best put it in words, the Hobbs Research Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard school, Howard Gardner once quipped, “what we teach is a mile long and an inch deep.” Honestly, in making kids a store-house of ‘facts,’ we essentially clutter their mind.
Our system of education, especially in schools, needs a sizeable change. But until we envision what we want to accomplish through education, aligned with innate abilities and potential of humans and particularly children, the change is far from happening. The ‘what’ has sadly been compressed to getting “good grades” in lieu of nurturing intellectual skills like being curious, seeking evidence, considering perspectives and open-mindedly exploring ideas as individuals engage in multifaceted contexts throughout life.
In STEP, S stands for SEE –
What is it about ‘looking’ at art in museums that’s drawing the attention of researchers in the educational field? Is there any link between looking and cognition? In what ways can art observation promote broader thinking skills that facilitate learning? Why do developmental psychologists and academics in the field of education like Howard Gardner contend art to be a matter of the mind?
In STEP, T stands for think – creatively & critically.
What are good thinking skills? How can educators make students better thinkers? Why in the first place should one need to ‘think’ to learn what Einstein theorized, or what Galileo formulated? Research educators at PZ think these skills can be taught by providing opportunities that allow kids to be curious, explore, consider options and perspectives, be flexible and so forth.
E stands for explore – perspectives, options.
What do kids learn when they explore? How can educators create an environment that supports the tendency to explore, wonder and probe? When kids explore topics like gravity, planets, forests, etc, they begin to lay the groundwork for independent inquiry that steers them to new understandings.
P stands for persistence – persistence in the face of ambiguity
Learning ceases when kids get disengaged. Unfortunately, what’s valued and rewarded in classrooms is retention capacity- how much a child knows/has learned from textbooks. Our approach of getting the “single right answer” deters kids away from persisting unless they know the “right answer.”