I learned from my first teaching assignment in the Dallas projects with no books EVERYTHING had to be HANDS-ON.  If my students could touch it, hold it, and test it, they could remember it.  Rather than simply telling them about electricity, I had them set up a complete circuit.  Rather than merely explaining a vacuum, I had them create a vacuum.  Rather than solely talking about heat and expansion, I had them heat and expand a number of objects and record their results. HANDS-ON, experiential learning  captured my students attention, yet there was more.

It was not until we were studying concave and convex lenses, when my students DISCOVERY taught me something.  With the school’s limited funds, I found no convex lenses in the stock room, so I decided to create my own by using drops of water on newspaper.  Students looking through the drops of water  (concave lenses) saw newsprint magnified and drew their own conclusions about the properties of concave lenses.  Eyes lit up and light bulbs went on above heads all over the room.  “Man look at this!  My drop of water is magnifying!”  With their DISCOVERY, I had DISCOVERED how profitable it was to teach to the light bulb.


DISCOVERY Promotes Understanding, Not Mastery

Teaching my own children at home, I conscientiously employed DISCOVERY learning.  Once while baking bread in the KONOS Patience Unit with Jason, my then five-year-old, DISCOVERED what fractions were as he measured  flour.  As the light bulb went on above his head, he responded, “Oh, I see, 4/4’s equals a whole cup and 3/3’s equals a whole cup too!”  At this point I became the encouraging questioner by asking, “What do you think 5/5’s would equal?  What about 8/8’s?  Is there a pattern here?  What is your conclusion about fractions that have the same top and bottom number?”  An encouraging questioner is one that asks leading questions…questions that led to critical thinking or further experimentation.

At the age of five, Jason had DISCOVERED the concept of fractions, yet he had not mastered the use of fractions.  His ability to add, subtract, multiply, and divided fractions would come later with much repetition and drill, but the foundation had been laid on which to build mastery.  Too often educators skip the doing, discovery phases of learning moving straight into drill.  How can anyone master that which they do not conceptual comprehend?  They cannot, because mastery requires more than rote memory.  Education, after all, is more than a compilation of facts.  Education at its best develops the ability to think critically, and thinking critically requires full understanding about what one is thinking.  DISCOVERY learning provides an incredibly fertile field for understanding to grow and flower into mastery.


DISCOVERY Gives Ownership of Information

Children  personally own the information they DISCOVER.  It is theirs forever, because they found it.  In the KONOS Patience Unit, children practice patience as they make bread and wait for it to rise.  This leads to a full-fledge study of yeast, mold, and mildew.  After many DISCOVERY experiments with varying water temperatures and yeast and concluding how the various combinations affected the rising or not rising of each dough sample, children make a baker’s hat a`la discovery.  True DISCOVERY does not require instructions in four languages.  True DISCOVERY allows or even forces students to figure out on their own how to make a baker’s hat.

My second son, Jordan, lamented, “I wish I had a real teacher who would tell me the steps to make a baker’s hat,” so he would not have to figure it out himself.  Attempting to prime the pump, I asked a number of foolish questions to force him to think. “What material would you use…wood, steel, plastic, or fabric?”  to which he indignantly replied, “Mother!”  Next, I asked, “What do you think you should measure… your leg, your arm, or your head?”  “I’ll do this on my own!”  A set of instructions would have squashed Jordan’s creativity as well as his Yankee ingenuity, yet his design was not without flaw.  In measuring his head he left no seam allowance, hence his perfectly made baker’s hat was far too small for his head… more like a crown on a frog’s head. You can bet Jordan never forgot a seam allowance again. Sad to say, the picture to the right shows Jordan’s second attempt at the baker’s hat, not the first.


DISCOVERY Teachers Need a Gag and Handcuffs

What makes good DISCOVERY learning teachers?  How tempting it had been to instruct Jordan about seam allowances before he made his mistake or to grab his hat and do it for him, so the hat would fit perfectly instead of sitting on top of his head.  Yet, what would he have learned?  Not only are mistakes for learning, but with younger children, educators should place more emphasis on the process not the product.  By not usurping Jordan’s project, I had encouraged his creativity, and his  process of thinking.  Most parents need a gag and handcuffs to aid them in being good DISCOVERY learning teachers…. because in their zeal to tell their children everything or help their children produce perfect parent-made products…. in reality they are handicapping their child’s creativity and critical thinking ability.


DISCOVERY learning certainly takes longer than filling in workbook blanks, but the dividends of understanding concepts, having ownership of information, building creativity and critical thinking skills is hard to beat.  And there is nothing to match the reward of seeing a child’s face light up with understanding when the light bulb go on in his eyes!