Recently I had the privilege of sitting in on a workshop
conducted by Ewan McIntosh (http://www.notosh.com) who took us through a process where he helped us
(the students) become better “problem finders.”
He then challenged us to go out and help our students become better
“problem finders.” Giving up control is
often hard, especially for educators, but I realized I wanted to move this
way. Thus, I thought of a group of forth graders I
was going to work with the following week.

These forth graders come to see me twice a week for
enrichment and I decided to see what would happen. So on our first visit, I copied Ewan and took
these ten year olds through an exercise to help them learn whatever they wanted
to learn about. The only stipulation I
gave them was that they had to choose a science related topic, since this was
my field of expertise. After two thirty-minute
sessions with these students they came up with two very good problems to be
solved.

They fell into two distinct groups and they came up with two
VERY different questions: The first
group wanted to figure out how to solve the problem of groundwater
pollution. Once they settled on their
topic, they realized they didn’t really know very much about groundwater
pollution. In fact, their understanding
of what groundwater pollution is was incorrect.
I allowed this misconception to persist and encouraged them to learn all
that they could about groundwater pollution.
Once they understood what groundwater was, they realized that the best
way to “solve” the problem of groundwater pollution was to prevent it. As of this post, these students have decided
to make a 2-3 min video where they are going to educate people about the
dangers of groundwater pollution. They
hope to put it on youtube and educate the world.

The other group came up with the question: What is it about the human brain that causes
it to make the decisions that it makes?
This question was truly advanced for a bunch of forth graders. As they began their research they had a
daunting task. After about four
sessions, they turned to me and said that this answer is not out their on
google. They knew some things, but they
needed help. One young man told me we
needed to ask a “super smart scientist.”
So I told him we should do that.
He then replied, “Who would want to talk to a group of ten year olds?” And I told him you might be surprised.

So I encouraged them to reach out on the web and look for
some neuroscientists to skype in and help them.
And you can probably predict what happened. They are now looking forward to skypeing in
with a professor of cognitive neurology from MIT this coming Monday.

My take-away’s from these two events is that we do need to
give up the control of the learning to our students. They will pursue things with passion if we
only give them the chance.