In the science and math classroom, there is an inherent tension, felt by any mindful teacher, between the urge to impart canon of content knowledge, on the one side, and the ideal of nurturing curiosity and facilitating discovery, on the other.
On the one extreme, there is content which educationalists believe all students should learn for becoming science and math literate. Part of this pull is the practical effort of providing tools necessary for a career in STEM. Armed with sufficient content knowledge, students can march beyond the classroom toward their highest potential. For carrying out this objective, techniques like lecture and textbook reading are employed to get the job done.
On the other extreme, science and math loving teachers envision a classroom where students, equipped with a sufficient degree of context (perhaps from a previous lesson), think of a problem, ask a question, design an experiment, conduct the experiment, and conclude something new about how the universe works. Many teachers employ a project based technique for carrying out this objective.
The tension plays out in the mind of every teacher. How can I ensure my students leave my class able to converse intelligently about science and math? How can I ensure my students leave my class with a love and passion for learning, curiosity, and discovery? The risk of over focusing on content is boredom. In turn, student performance suffers. The risk of reliance on student driven projects is ill-defined learning outcomes. In turn, students gradually take notice of unorganized and limited progress and feel frustrated and lost.
Herein lies an obvious question. Can the tension be relieved by bringing both sides together? Can the teacher design curriculum where students get to discover things on their own and get to accumulate necessary content knowledge?
At QuantumCamp, we believe there is a strikingly simple answer to the question. The answer lies in researching how content knowledge was discovered in the first place, recreating the conditions at the time, and setting the students free within this well defined setting to rediscover the important content knowledge.
In one our classes, a 5th and 6th grade course on Combinatorics, the condition we established was the common human objective of finding beauty and symmetry through mathematics. The author of the earliest know Sanskrit works on poetry meter, Pingala, wanted to determine the number of ways a six-syllable meter could be made from long and short notes. A simple and intriguing curiosity. QuantumCamp students get to work on this conundrum and, in route, discover the Fibonacci Sequence and Pascal’s Triangle!
Sometimes the condition we establish is a shared instinct and belief that there is order in a particular system that needs uncovered. In QuantumCamp’s Chemical Reaction course, students explore the reactivity of elements and discover groups with very similar properties. Indeed, these elements are fundamentally related and the associations are represented accordingly in the Periodic Table.
The methodology can be summarized like this: We design projects rooted in real application. In turn, this leads to student-led discovery of content knowledge.