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Discovering the world

Today on the way to work, a few ideas I had been having clicked together, thanks to a “Perspective” on KQED.  It all centers around the idea of discovery as the key aspect of learning.

A man named Mike Newland spoke about “Citizen Scientists”, and how he wishes there were a greater sense of “curiosity and love of exploring, science, and discovery” in the country.  It led me to think of how much I love that in the earlier grades in the French curriculum, there is a subject called “découverte du monde” – discovery of the world.  It combines what Americans learn in subjects like social studies, civics, and science.  I would like to borrow that idea for the whole curriculum, or for all of grade school – it is all about discovering the world.

Mr. Newland also mentioned how he sees this love of exploration and discovery, and scientific method in the daily life of his three-year old, and I immediately pictured Ellen, now almost 21 months, and how her days are almost entirely comprised of experimentation, trial and error, and sheer delight in discovery.  As we get older, we often lose track of this continual learning and delight.  Even in an elementary classroom, we (teachers and parents) can lose sight of this.  We need to remember that it is okay to get messy, figuratively and literally, in the name of exploration and discovery. We need to keep the emphasis on learning the skills that enable us to explore, discover, analyze, and connect.  Maybe it is okay to memorize less and explore more.

Of course we do need to learn the content as well, but with the intention of enabling our discovery, not just for the sake of knowing it.  We need to learn math facts not because it is impressive when a young child knows multiplication tables, but because understanding how math works and its role in so much else in life is crucial to further learning.  We need to learn to read not to be able to decode high-level books, but because being able to read opens up new worlds to explore.

In our independent school, we have the opportunity to be innovative, to spark young minds and keep the flame burning throughout school years. I hope that teachers and parents alike will join me in celebrating the exploration and discovery aspects of learning, and in putting more emphasis on this than on memorizing facts “because we should know them”.  School (and much of the rest of life) should truly be about discovering the world.

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