Big Ideas

Dropping the artificial walls
created by "Subjects" in schools,
let's go for the Big Picture
in terms of three metaphors
of human experience:





The Primary Element of Learning: Entering the Unknown...

The World-As-Created-By-School creates a world of carefully-divided elements of study that supposedly isolate particular ways to think about and interact with that world, but also end up obscuring a fundamental element of learning: that all new learning begins simply - with an entry into the unknown.

When we first encounter a new World-Filled-With-Unknowns, we want to quickly get a handle on it; to be able to define that World, and to feel comfortable in that World. We look around and find new Things and new Processes that we may not have encountered before, and we wonder what to call all these new things. Much as in learning a new language, when we we work at discovering all the Nouns and Verbs of this new world, we learn how to make it part of our own understanding by relating what we discover to what we already know.

To help us enter this process, as we're out on the periphery of this new Unknowns-filled World, Schools try to provide us with the assistance of a Guide or Interpreter who can tell us what we're seeing, and, at first, that knowledge will be the most important thing we can learn as we cross this frontier. For this kind of Exploration, we often see Schools being of tremendous help, particularly in the youngest grades, as well as later on in high school and beyond. But what about in between?

On one hand, we could make the case for Schools extracting the specific elements of a subject at the beginning and going through a process describing what they are and how they fit into the World as a good way to simplify and focus the needed knowledge that a given subject covers. On the other hand, by extracting the specific elements of each separated subject, Schools may be introducing a level of artificial complexity that actually leads to greater confusion in the learning process instead of simplification.

It's not hard to see that subject-specific Explorations stimulate a rudimentary understanding leading to students developing their own personal models of that specific subject, but will students simultaneously develop their own larger models of the new world as a whole?

For Schools, the answer is often just a mere hope that the personal model of the student, growing more detailed with more exploration and more experience, will eventually fill in the gaps and make broader connections. But much of that kind of development too often doesn't enter into the Big Design of "Schooling" until much later in the process.

This is why it may be better to simply take away all subject orientations at the beginning, and focus on Exploration itself. Again, because this is our starting place in all new learning, it can have a powerful effect on the rest of our lives.


Direct Examination of the World: Finding things that catch our attention...

As our personal world model develops, we begin to recognize patterns, similarities, differences, and so on, of the characteristics of things and processes we encounter. We gather them up, group them, and place them on a mental shelf as markers of our progress toward understanding this World.

We also begin to note, compare, measure, define, sort, and even catalog the objects of our scrutiny, comparing them with what we've encountered before, even to the point of beginning to codify and set apart that which is different, and even unique in our experience. Furthermore, our codification of our experiences in this World can become an effort for the sake of posterity.

With each scrutiny into this World, we're seeing the Adjectives and Adverbs (i.e. the descriptors) take a more important role in our understanding. These nuances, of which we were ignorant in our earlier superficial explorations, now act as landmarks and features in the landscape we've been exploring and add a richness to our experiences in this new World.

We also differentiate things in our new world in newer, more detailed ways, and learn to discriminate between qualities that elicit feelings in us (either positive or negative) vs. those to which we're indifferent. We may begin to appreciate the value of our new experiences in this world but may also start to judge some things as to whether they're "good" or "bad", and so on.

Our discrimination can lead us on to further explorations, to wider acquisition of samples to apply to our notes, and/or to greater refinement of our catalog of experiences as part of our deeper scrutiny.

Again, it doesn't matter which "Subject" of School we're considering here - the process of acquiring measurements of the extent and variety of this new World is part of building our inner working model of this World. The danger for School is making this too pedantic and too narrow in focus in its expectations for students.


Shared Minds: Making connections beyond our own experience...

Descriptors from our observations may fall short of our expectations when sharing our experiences with others if we don't make connections with known experiences (often called a priori knowledge). Prior knowledge lends weight to the value of each new discovery, and offers a path to define it in known terms. The community of which we are a part has already developed its own ways of understanding the world, and we cannot help but connect with that perspective as we learn new things.

As we build upon our own knowledge, we may also be trying to share these ideas with others, and must recognize that others have their own collected a priori knowledge that may or may not be able to accommodate our new findings about the World. The challenge is to relate our own perspectives and insights in ways that can be mutually understood by others, which will likely involve working within existing rules of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax of a common language

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And within each context, consider how these are part of our process:


(Work out an idea in your head)


(Build a model of your idea)


(Test it and decide what needs more THINKING.)

Think, Make, Improve comes from
Invent to Learn
by Sylvia L. Martinez and Gary S. Stager

Our Modern World