Here’s an interesting find:
These three expert pedagogical experimenters:
- Maria Montessori, Italian school teacher and founder of the teaching method by the same name
- Sugata Mitra, creator of the esteemed “Hole in the Wall” experiment and winner of the 2013 Ted Prize, and
- Paul Anderson, a high school biology teacher, 2011 Montana Teacher of the Year, and creator of over 300 biology videos on Youtube.
all speak of a similar insight about learning:
The need for exploratory learning environments, where students can tinker, investigate and discover central concepts for themselves.
Maria Montessori, spoke of the “Prepared Environment” that allows a child to discover concepts like reading, writing, colors and numbers. Her Sandpaper Letters are a wonderful example: each letter is cut from sandpaper and pasted on a smooth card. The tactile difference between the letter and the surrounding card acts as a natural writing guide for a kid. Kids are able to ‘discover’ the motion of writing on their own just by tracing the sandpapered letter with their finger.
Sugata Mitra’s Hole-in-the-wall is another example. Mitra setup computers in public places in impoverished neighborhoods in India and South Africa. Within weeks, children who had never touched a computer before were able to learn basic computer skills just by exploring the machine amongst themselves. No formal lessons required. Further, discovery and exploration is fun, so kids were self-motivated and dedicated to learning.
Finally, Paul Anderson, a high school biology teacher in Montana, who is constantly evolving his classroom and how he teaches talks about the importance an Investigation / Inquiry phase before formal lessons are given. For example, he teaches viral mutation through a game where students role a die to mutate a fake virus and infect their classmates. This learning lab is fun (about a billion times more fun than reading the equivalent in a textbook), and enables students to experience the concepts first hand.
It is worth noting that these 3 teachers differ slightly in their philosophies: Montessori emphasizes individual learning, Mitra focuses on peer-learning, and Anderson discusses exploration as one part in a 5 part step learning process called the “blended learning cycle”.
Still, all share the central idea that students form a deep understanding when they are placed in an environment where they can discover and experience concepts first hand.