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Asking vs Telling

No matter how interesting the subject matter, teaching children new material effectively can be tricky business. Teachers have their lesson plans and know that on a certain day they are supposed to teach a certain concept and prepare mightily to do so. When the day comes, the teacher explains and shows and explains some more. Then they sit back and reap their reward, which is “Boring…. Why do I have to learn this? … What was that again, I was watching Suzy over there? … I already knew that stuff… I don’t get it… I don’t feel good - and the classic – You can’t make me.” Now, many of the students will have actually learned something, but many will put up some kind of psychic resistance to it because of the simple fact that they aren’t invested in the process. They didn’t come up with the lesson plan, they didn’t ask for this; they are told that they need this and that is that. Children being children, many will resist being told what to do. Most will eventually comply but a lot of time and energy is spent overcoming educational resistance.

There is a better way. “Frederick, will you look at that. That apple is half eaten and has been sitting on my desk for over an hour. That middle part is turning brown. How in the world can an apple just turn brown? What in the world do you suppose is going on here, Frederick?” Now sit back and watch Frederick’s head spin out of control as it is trying to explain the unexplainable.

“Hey, Shonterrica, do me a favor and hold that shiny spoon up to your face, stare at it and tell me what you see.” The shock on her face when she realizes that her image is upside down in the spoon is matched only by her expression when you ask her “How can this be possible?”

“Robert, do your best to bend that iron bar for me, please. Give me your Superman imitation.” After Robert strains and concedes that iron is pretty tough stuff, put it in a pan and have the children water it like a plant for a few weeks. “Hey, Robert. I thought you said that iron was tough. It doesn’t seem to be able to deal with simple old water. Look at that mess there. What is all that reddish brown stuff? It looks to me like your iron bar is falling apart. Would you mind explaining this to me? Your bar looks pitiful.” Robert’s brain, being only seven years old, will explode with crazy theories.

“Tina, how come I can see millions of miles into outer space but I can’t even see your Grandmother’s house from here? And don’t give anything about the trees being the way, because its forty miles of flat interstate.”

In each case, a child’s brain is not being told what to learn, but is asked to solve a seemingly (to them) unexplainable phenomena. The brain loves this type of thing and now is actively involved in doing what it does best: satisfying it’s curiosity. Every human being, but especially children, are curious animals. They cannot help themselves. Teachers should harness this powerful mental force to overcome educational resistance. Basically, ask before you tell. Asking stimulating questions will get the brain involved and engaged in finding the answer. All a teacher needs to do is plug in interesting questions at the beginning of the lesson plan, which will eventually lead the children to the knowledge that the teacher wanted to impart in the first place, but this time most of the children are following on the journey, because it is in fact interesting. In the end, Frederick will be able to tell you about oxidation, Shonterrica about how the eye and brain work together, Robert can explain why Mars looks red and Tina can talk about the curvature of the earth. Education through curiosity. It works.

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