Thursday, July 07, 2005

Good Questions

Clarence is a Canadian educator. I read his blog regularly. Today he writes:

Knowledge is something that many students think is a compiled mass of stuff that they need to memorize and fill their heads with. It is not necessarily something they feel they need to understand, expand upon, or comprehend. To many students, it is finished.

Science Magazine has compiled a list of 100 questions that science needs to solve. 100 big questions for this century. Interesting. What else is interesting is this essay they have posted In Praise of Hard Questions.

The essay explains how hard questions, many of which seem unanswerable push us forward. They push us towards novel ways of thinking, new ways of looking at problems, and ask us to stretch what we feel we are capable of. This would be valuable reading for students (if of course I was not enjoying my second day of summer holidays :) ).

As is equally true in classrooms as in a hard science research lab:

"Unsolved mysteries provide science with motivation and direction. Gaps in the road to scientific knowledge are not potholes to be avoided, but opportunities to be exploited.

"Fundamental questions are guideposts; they stimulate people," says 2004 Nobel physics laureate David Gross. "One of the most creative qualities a research scientist can have is the ability to ask the right questions."

Science's greatest advances occur on the frontiers, at the interface between ignorance and knowledge, where the most profound questions are posed. There's no better way to assess the current condition of science than listing the questions that science cannot answer. "Science," Gross declares, "is shaped by ignorance."

The idea of classrooms being learning communities, where students are pushing the boundaries of their knowledge, and of knowledge in general is one we need to pursue. Classrooms as places of research, of dialogue, of knowledge creation is powerful, gives education relevance, and moves ideas to centre stage in classrooms.

It would be interesting to compile a list in a classroom with students of what they feel the gaps are in their knowledge are. Would they feel there are gaps, or does schooling knock ideas of creativity and curiousity out of them?

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