Paths Of Discovery Effecting Learning

In my philosophy of education I stated how I believe that people assimilate new information through a series of discoveries. This comes from my observations in school that labs and assisted projects seem a much more meaningful component of my education. It is important to note that there are many people have the opposite learning style as myself. A possible explanation for this is that they are fooling themselves into thinking that lectures are better or that they are able to follow the lecturer closely enough to be able to make the discoveries sitting down. Either way, for the purpose of my following writing I will take it is a truth that discovery is a major component of learning.

It is interesting how little meaning a string of key words can have – like my first sentence above. As I did all throughout school, Grace often combines relevant vocabulary into a grammatically correct sentence in response a question that is a perfect example of what Neal Stephenson calls “bulshytt.” I mean in my opening paragraph that a learner gets something more out of discovering. By discovery I mean a mental struggle to determine truth, meaning or data where the learner is forced to synthesize information, recognize a pattern, deduce, infer, analyze or use another form of cognition that involves engagement. Why is the mental struggle important? In a mental struggle we sometimes determine truth by picking the simplest fit with the idea in question in a  series of counter-factual realities (another Anathem reference) and other times we compare the problem with as much of what we know as possible. What if each comparison creates a link with the new idea and more links create a strong web which cements the new information stronger in our brains. Again, I don’t know.

I realized at the end of last year that I most often lead my sister to discovery through encouraging her to synthesize information. I wondered how various methods of discovery affects how a learner can use their knowledge. We were engaging in preliminary discussions of our upcoming experiment/project making spaghetti bridges. I was having trouble getting her to suggest that we measure the strength of a bridge in how many pennies it can hold. I got her to realize that a unit can be anything as long as people agree on exactly what it is. Then I got her to realize that a unit is one of something that we measure in multiples of. I told her to write these two ideas down, combine them and tell me how we were going to measure the strength of a spaghetti bridge. She has made a lot of progress in thinking for herself over the months and she sat down with her whiteboard and started combining the two sentences in different ways and substituting various words in each sentence with other words and finally came to the conclusion that we can measure the strength of the bridge with multiples of something and made the leap to say that we will see how much of something the bridge can hold.

This is how Grace learned that strength has something to do with how much something can hold without breaking. She made this discovery with the idea of units so I wonder if she will always think of strength in units. Will she have trouble in the future thinking about strength if a question is posed without units? Will she ever make the mistake of discussing strength without units? How would her understanding change if she made the same discovery through a different mental process such as pattern recognition or divergent thinking? (I don’t even know what that would look like.) For the people that like science but not math, is this because they have somehow avoided discovering scientific concepts without mathematical ideas? I would love to have access to the UMaine databases of journals to see what actual smart people think of this but I’ll have to wait a week for when I return.

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