September 22, 2012 at 5:36 PM Leave a comment

“Never underestimate the element of surprise (Su)”is my favorite coffee cup slogan, especially as it’s my name, sort of. Sue.

Surprise is pretty much the keystone of all learning when you think about it. What surprises us is what doesn’t match with what we already think we know. It’s unexpected. To be noted as ‘surprise’, you have to be aware of what you already know and see that it doesn’t match with the new information. Being surprised demands meta-cognition, and that’s strongly associated with academic achievement, unsurprisingly.

Surprise is a pretty powerful emotion. We remember what we feel. Surprise is a more delightful way of framing new learning than say, cognitive dissonance, discrepant events etc. It’s fun, its something kids love, and it feels like my job to set up surprises for them and to listen for when they find stuff surprising that I’ve known forever, invigorating me right along with them. Learning science is a perfect fit – predicting, observing, being surprised by the unexpected beauty and underlying patterns of the natural world.

I’m training my students to recognize when they are surprised, especially when they correct their answers on homework and tests – that’s what they have to study, not the head-slapper careless mistake. The rest they already know. But I’m also trying hard not to crush their natural wonder and curiosity about the natural world. Pretty delicate business with 8th graders.

Surprise is an extreme form of curiosity, of inquiry, engagement and interest. Some people enjoy it more than others, a pretty stable part of personality I’d say. But kids are often a little more open to it than adults.

An observation that doesn’t fit with a hypothesis – surprise! It’s science. A story line that has you predicting the outcome. A sudden, but plausible change of direction – surprise! It’s a joke. Humor, science, surprise, engagement and inquiry, I’m going for it in a more relaxed and open-ended design of curriculum during this unit on force and motion. Stay tuned…


Entry filed under: Curiosity, Inquiry and critical thinking, Physics Topics, Reflections, Starting the School Year. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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