New Discovery – The Joy of Learning

The Exploratorium

The Exploratorium

We are geared to teaching what we can measure, and we can’t measure the joy of discovery. These words are paraphrased from an interview of K.C. Cole on her book entitled, Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up. Frank Oppenheimer helped develop the atomic bomb. He was a pacifist and felt betrayed when it was later dropped on civilians. He felt he had a responsibility to show how to make sense of the world through discovery and went on to develop the Exploratoriumin San Fransisco. He hoped to rekindle peoples’ childhood search for enlightenment, a quest for discovery and a confidence in problem-solving things (typically brushed off) too difficult to understand.

How can teachers provide students with the opportunities to make their own discoveries and follow their innate curiosity? Do we provide too much guidance in guided learning? Is it too contrived? Can we replicate an Exploratorium feel in the classroom making discovery an individual and not a group think kind of activity? Science is sight-seeing! That was Frank’s message as a teacher.

Teachers walk into a museum expecting a guided tour. It is an efficient way to cover a large area in a reasonable amount of time while absorbing research based information. Is that what we want for our students? It this the learning process? I wonder. When I consider adults seeking professional development there are several different approaches people take in pursuit of learning. Without reaching for any statistical documentation I think it’s safe to say that most teachers expect to have the learning delivered to them in the ‘guided-tour-style’ of learning as seen in museums. This is a relatively passive activity. They expect a modicum of exploration (a chance to practice and converse, socializing) and then they expect to produce a lesson based on the content.

What do children expect from a classroom? I think perhaps they expect exactly the same thing. They expect an organized, guided introduction to knowledge, a time to socialize and play with concepts and then to apply the knowledge to their seatwork in hopes of attaining good grades. Hmmm, I’m very interested in ways to give students more of a responsibility for their own learning. If I expect them to rely on me for what they know, or even on their parents then they will not have the skills to make new discoveries. What are the ways teachers turn on and turn over the learning to the students? How do teachers create the sense that anything is possible? How do we celebrate a students joy in even the smallest discoveries?

Can learning develop naturally in a contrived classroom setting? How can a classroom become an Exploratorium? Is there a way to blend more opportunities for authentic discoveries to develop among students? My favorite teacher was Miss Papora, my 7th grade science teacher. When I think about why I enjoyed her class so much, it was the excitement of making discoveries. I had the sense that every time I entered her classroom I would be given the task of making a discovery, with a lab partner and I couldn’t wait. We were on a journey of discovery.

This is exactly the feeling I get when I go onto the internet in search of new ideas, materials, and tools for teaching and learning. People ask me why am I so motivated to learn all these things on my own. Why when I don’t get any PLUs (credits) do I spend time discovering new ways of doing things? The answer is simple. I don’t want to be hindered by anyone else in my personal discovery process. I don’t want to wait for a certain date and time or for someone to tell me what to do. I do want to be given clues, encouragement and take the time to share what I’ve learned with others who are following their own paths on my own time. I love the process of discovery and it frustrates me that I still haven’t found a way to truly incorporate this process into my students’ learning. Discovery is messy, a bit chaotic and unpredictable. It can be time consuming. My mission is to add the element of discovery into each new day for my students. I am on an endless quest for new ideas. Fortunately, the world is full of them!

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2 Responses to “New Discovery – The Joy of Learning”

  1. Reaction to post by Kathy Shields “New Discovery the Joy of Learning” | ecreative Says:

    […] In this post Kathy expresses a desire to find ways of making learning less contrived and of giving students the opportunity to make their own discoveries and satisfy their own curiosity. She makes an analogy between traditional classroom learning and a guided tour. In a guided tour people move as a group and are presented with a large amount of up-to-date information. Effort is made to make the information interesting and engaging, but there is little opportunity for individuals to follow their own interests. […]

  2. Nintendo Wii – Endless Ocean | ecreative Says:

    […] waters on offer’. It has that element of discovery which Kathy Shields describes in her blog New Discovery – The Joy of Learning as like an ‘exploratorium’. The game also includes a marine guide which logs all the […]

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