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.