Inspiring Inquiry with Beauty and Mystery

Tweet by Sylvia Duckworth –

So much of the writing about learning and teaching through inquiry/ project-based learning/ design thinking/ etc. talks about starting with a question. When students are asked to generate questions, I have found that they often come up with the questions they think that the teacher wants to hear or something quite random that they con’t really care about.

I remember reading a blog post by Sam Sherratt back in 2013 that spoke of the importance of stimulating wonder in our classrooms. If we want students to learn to learn throughout their lives, they need to wonder about the world around them and then do something in response to the questions that are raised in their minds.

Since then, I have frequently spoken about the need to inspire awe and wonder when planning provocations to kickstart explorations of new concepts in class.

Several of the speakers organized for Constructing Modern Knowledge Summer Institute reminded me of how the arts and something beautiful can be a mystery waiting to be explored. When this happens, inquiry comes naturally.

Jie Qi – Circuits as Crayons

How can you look at this painting and not wonder how it works?

Jie Qi is a mechanical engineer with graduate degrees in media arts and sciences and a passion for blending papercraft with electronic circuits. I can’t help but think that when students view something as beautiful as this that they would wonder how it works and once the electronics are revealed, could be spurred to consider what else they could do with copper tape and stickers (or wire and LEDs).

Jie enjoys this creative thinking and wants it to be more mainstream, stating “My wish is that one day people will sit in coffeeshops and create circuits” and use circuits as crayons.

Carla Rinaldi – Multimodal Learning

Carla Rinaldi, President of The Reggio Children Foundation, presented a series of images and videos that showed young children exploring light and shadows. I wish that I could find a copyright-free image as beautiful as those she shared… The closest I could find online are part of the September 2014 edition of The Quarterly Periodical of the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance.

She spoke of the “aesthetic of knowledge” of which beauty is key (eg. light and shadows). This reminded me of how mathematicians often speak of math being beautiful to them, scientists are often in awe of how the world works, linguists speak of the beauty of words and ideas…

Carla also spoke of how digital tools can be poetic and inspire the languages of learning. She suggested that is not just about learning how to learn with digital tools and more about learning in a multimodal context. She advocated for more dialogue between the tools and languages of learning.

As Jie Qi said,

Jie Qi Quote

Exposing students to things that they find beautiful and mysterious may be the key to sparking an interest to explore. Giving students choice, time, space and opportunity to create can go a long way to deepening their understanding. How are we inspiring awe and wonder?

One comment to “Inspiring Inquiry with Beauty and Mystery”
  1. Brilliant @ljensen. I have experienced the exact same disconnect with students who first need some modelling in the act of wondering if they are to find an entry point towards discovery.

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