Getting Middle Students (and Adults) to Think Like a 3-Year-Old

Anyone who has ever been around a young kid knows they are natural scientists, exploring and problem solving in the world around them. As they grow up that curiosity disappears. You can blame that change on what you choose: an oppressive school system, parents and family who don’t encourage curiosity, or the basic fact that as they get older most of the things they encounter in their lives are already familiar to them.

During the break my family and I were out to eat with some friends and on the drive there my 3-year-old nephew saw the sun was going down. He did not want that to happen, so he came up with a solution.

“We should fly up to the sun and put a rope around it and pull it up above the clouds.” He paused for a moment and then wondered “How would we get a rope that long?”

“Good question.” I said. Yes, it is a impractical solution for many reasons, but he independently thought of a problem, came up with a potential solution, and the figured out a potential solution to that problem all by himself. He did not need to be corrected right then.

As a teacher I need to help my students acquire scientific knowledge, but I also need to give them the opportunity to come up with these questions and figure out solutions or answers by themselves.

As part of growing up you often begin to question less and explore less. Too often we hesitate to ask or speculate about things we don’t know about out of fear of being mocked or wrong.

You can even look at teaching where the push for “best practices” can also become requirements and a desire to explore as a teacher is driven away.

Society, even twitter, can seem a place where “experts” have the answers and those who aren’t “experts” don’t really have a say. Maybe in the new year we should all encourage inquiry, curiosity, and questioning not only in our students, but in ourselves as well.

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