“To be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand.” – Jose Ortega y Gassett.
If you surprise a child and inspire them to wonder, your job as an educator is nearly complete. (Teachers please don’t confuse your job as an educator with your other jobs: classroom manager, statistician, counselor, mediator and general miracle worker.) In the learning process nearly everything that comes after the inspiration of a really good question is the work of the student. This strawberry in a bottle sat on a table at the front of Mrs. Braga’s fourth grade class asking a question. The question was so obvious it didn’t even need to be verbalized. The answer, however, wasn’t quite so obvious. This question sat on the table all morning long, encouraging something we all long for children to experience, the struggle of challenging thought. It did this without the use of punishment or reward, without discipline or pleading.
After lunch the students had a long discussion about how this berry got in the bottle. All theories were entertained with respect, even the ones that fell quickly. Maybe the glass was cut. Maybe the berry was dehydrated than re-hydrated. Maybe it was shoved in really fast. The spectrum of ideas was broad. This conversation was lively and the debate was vigorous. The answer was discovered more than it was revealed and the students felt the pride of solving a problem.
The puzzle that this berry presented, though perhaps more obvious, is no less challenging and compelling than the puzzles that our students find in the garden and in nature. This problem solving approach immediately became a template for their discussion of strawberry pollination (a theory that after much consideration and debate was skeptically accepted) Too often we give children answers to questions they are not asking. If we can present the world to them without filling in all of the blanks, showing them just enough to inspire curiosity, education can become an engaging conversation and not just a lecture.