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What is the differ- have an intuitive understanding of lan- guage, numbers, and science based on “Kids have considerable encebetween a their previous experiences. They have knowledge. They have complex thinking processes that they student learning apply to problems, even without a mastery an intuitive physics. They of basic skills. By ignoring this preexisting multiplication tables have invented algorithms base of knowledge, schools miss a tremen- and mathematics before from a textbook and another dous opportunity both to place new knowledge in context and to challenge student solving similar problems they come to school. preexisting ideas that are mistaken. with an interactive computer? They have substantial oral True, students may master the basic Aren’t both simply acquiring new literacy. They invent skills schools strive to information that they can later apply to real-world problems? teach, as measured spelling systems. All of by multiple choice “Kids learn well in conditions Recent research into how children these are facts that where they have to actively learn has provided surprising new answers tests. But change the educators must come to these questions. In the past, the student terms of a test slight- grapple with stuff, inter- learning straightforward tasks from a book ly, or ask students to to hear, see, and learn to pret, judge, make sense, in was the model upon which education was apply their knowl- use as resources for new some sense argue about it. based. According to this view, students first edge to real-world learning.”—R OY P EA , had to master basic skills before they could problems, and they They have to have their NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY move on to higher-order skills. School cur- fail. For example, stu- hands on the materials.” ricula therefore built up knowledge layer dents may learn all about the tilt of the — J AN H AWKINS , B ANK S TREET by layer, with each layer dependent upon COLLEGE OF EDUCATION what went before. Multiple choice tests Earth and its orbit measured whether the basic skills had around the sun, but been learned. Once students had demon- they remain unable strated their mastery of the material, they to tell you why the northern hemisphere is could move on to the next level. colder in winter and hotter in summer. This model of learning has been turned on its head by the past two decades of cognitive research. Scientists have shown that even the youngest students come to school with quite sophisticated theories about the world. Children LEARNING ABOUT 26 LEARNING In the SuperSchool demonstration area at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (above), students con- trol monitors that A student learns about the defense mecha- In the computer simulation SimCity created by Maxis, Inc., explain how light acts nisms used by the body to combat viral infec- users build a city of the future that behaves according to the as a messenger in tions at the “Viral Attack” exhibit at San complex dynamics of current cities. Says Jeff Braun, the fiber optic cables. Francisco’s Exploratorium. The exhibit was President of Maxis: “People learn best through direct experi- built as part of the National AIDS Exhibit ence and experimentation. Many things a child would like to Consortium. participate in are not available to them. So simulations are the next best things to actually doing.”
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C Cognitive research is also demonstrat- groups to solve problems, giving knowl- ognitive research ing that intelligence is a much more multi- edge a much-needed social context. of recent decades dimensional attribute than previously sup- Traditional pencil-and-paper tests are giv- has shown that posed. Schools have tend- ing way to assessments embed- ed to focus on just a few ded in learning that are based earlier theories of “Individualizing the facets of intelligence—logi- on student portfolios, note- learning did not instructional process is cal analysis and language, books, and projects. take into account in particular. But individu- This style of education certainly a necessary als can also excel in other looks strikingly similar to the the intuitive capa- provision, but it is not areas, including the grasp learning that is going on in bility that young sufficient. Students have of spatial relationships, the another kind of educational children have to process com- understanding of music institution: science museums. to have an opportunity to and sound, the use of the In science museums through- plex thoughts, even in the engage in what might be body to solve problems, or out the country, students are absence of basic skills tradi- called playful exploration.” learning by interacting with the intuitive understanding tionally instilled in the young —RICHARD ATKINSON , of other people and of displays, manipulating objects, themselves. These dimen- and solving problems posed by as “building blocks” of learn- UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA sions of intelligence give an exhibit. The successes and ing. Nor did earlier theories AT S AN D IEGO every individual a particu- limitations of science muse- recognize the extent to which lar set of strengths as ums in education are provid- unique as a fingerprint. ing valuable lessons both for complex learning skills begin The new findings of cognitive research schools and for parents. developing at preschool ages. provide a blueprint for the restructuring of The recent findings of cognitive re- The innate learning capa- education. In classrooms that have sought search reemphasize the tremendous poten- to apply these findings, students are mak- tial of the new technologies now beginning bilities of the young are now ing their own scientific hypotheses and are to appear in schools. Through multimedia being joined with interactive testing them with experiments of their own or networking technologies, computers are learning skills achieved design. Students are working together in now powerful enough to place new knowl- edge within a proper context for learning. through encounters with For example, an analytic thinker might game and other information study a play through a careful reading of technology. The new chal- the text. Another student more attuned to the spoken voice may learn best through lenge for education is two- an acted-out version of the play. The range fold: First, what has already of experience made possible by digital been learned about learning technologies allows educa- must be applied to aid the “We live in an interesting time tion to take general teaching and edusca- where each of us every day advantage of tional reform effort. Second, each person’s lives a little less in the real individual while systemic reform goes world and a little more strengths. forward, research into the inside of different kinds of changes in learning posed by synthetic environments. . . . interactive technologies must And as we develop technolo- be vigorously supported so gies that empower even tomorrow’s schools will profit deeper immersion in a wider from improved understand- variety of artificial realities, The Exploratorium in right in the auditorium ings of learning in the infor- what are the implications San Francisco, the at the National Academy mation age. Museum of Science and of Sciences) have been for learning and what Traditionally the federal Industry in Chicago, pioneers in building ex- are the implications for and the Franklin hibits that engage visi- government and a few philan- redesigning education?” Institute in Philadelphia tors through hands-on thropic foundations have been —CHRIS DEDE, (shown from left to and interactive learning. the sources of support for GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY cognitive research by scien- tists and scholars. These institutions must be encour- aged support research that will improve our understand- ing of how the children of the information age will learn.