Students Who Innovate, Not Imitate

As a school that develops students for new, 21st century green careers, our students need to be creative, innovative thinkers who not only think outside the box, but decide how to create an entirely new and different kind of box. But how do you teach this type of thinking? 

In "What Babies Know About Physics and Foreign Languages," Alison Gopnik discusses the powerful kind of learning students are able to participate in at UAGC:

". . . studies show that explicit instruction, the sort of teaching that goes with school and “parenting,” can be limiting. When children think they are being taught, they are much more likely to simply reproduce what the adult does, instead of creating something new.

My lab tried a different version of the experiment with the complicated toy. This time, though, the experimenter acted like a teacher. She said, “I’m going to show you how my toy works,” instead of “I wonder how this toy works.” The children imitated exactly what she did, and didn’t come up with their own solutions.

The kind of teaching that comes with schools . . . pushes children toward imitation and away from innovation.

The children seem to work out, quite rationally, that if a teacher shows them one particular way to do something, that must be the right technique, and there’s no point in trying something new. But as a result, the kind of teaching that comes with schools and “parenting” pushes children toward imitation and away from innovation.

There is a deep irony here. Parents and policy makers care about teaching because they recognize that learning is increasingly important in an information age. But the new information economy, as opposed to the older industrial one, demands more innovation and less imitation, more creativity and less conformity.

In fact, children’s naturally evolved learning techniques are better suited to that sort of challenge than the teaching methods of the past two centuries . . . We don’t have to make children learn, we just have to let them learn."

At UAGC, we agree.