A Whole New Way to Create Geniuses?

by Colette Moran

Wired magazine has a very intriguing story in its current issue about an unconventional teaching method – that’s actually been tossed around for centuries.

[A] new breed of educators, inspired by everything from the Internet to evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and AI, are inventing radical new ways for children to learn, grow, and thrive. To them, knowledge isn’t a commodity that’s delivered from teacher to student but something that emerges from the students’ own curiosity-fueled exploration. Teachers provide prompts, not answers, and then they step aside so students can teach themselves and one another. They are creating ways for children to discover their passion—and uncovering a generation of geniuses in the process.

This method of learning goes all the way back to Socrates and continued most notably in recent years with Maria Montessori, who believed children learn by playing and following their curiosity — just ask the founders of Google, who attended a Montessori school. Albert Einstein spent a year at a school with a similar philosophy and he said the experience taught him the thought processing that helped him to develop his theory of relativity. 

The story lists a few examples of studies that indicate students fare far better when they are more in control of how they learn. One of the researchers put it this way:

If you program a robot’s every movement, it can’t adapt to anything unexpected. But when scientists build machines that are programmed to try a variety of motions and learn from mistakes, the robots become far more adaptable and skilled. The same principle applies to children… human cognitive machinery is fundamentally incompatible with conventional schooling… [Y]oung children, motivated by curiosity and playfulness, teach themselves a tremendous amount about the world. And yet when they reach school age, we supplant that innate drive to learn with an imposed curriculum. “We’re teaching the child that his questions don’t matter, that what matters are the questions of the curriculum. That’s just not the way natural selection designed us to learn. It designed us to solve problems and figure things out that are part of our real lives.”

It all seems to boil down to letting kids find their own potential — rather than simply filling their heads with rote lists and facts. Read more here

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