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Sunday , January 26 2020

Teaching kids how to think

Are you smarter than a 4th grader?

  1. The number of protons and electrons are the same? Different? Found in the atomic number?
  2. DNA stands for what?
  3. Who developed the concept of ‘zero’?
  4. Why do today’s dish soap work so well against greasy dishes?

Almost 1,000 4th and 5th grade students from Kuwait’s government and private schools can answer these questions correctly. Can you?

From January through May, the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah implemented a non-traditional STEAM education programme for 4th and 5th grade students and non-traditional education workshops for teachers. These were organised, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, as part of a US State Department Middle East Project Initiative grant to promote informal/non-traditional education in Kuwait. (I should note here that [the opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the DAI and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.])

Why non-traditional education? Because when it’s used properly, it teaches kids HOW to think; not what to think. Consider the difference between giving kids all the ingredients for a cake, directions on exactly how to make it and a picture of what it should look like when done versus giving the kids the ingredients for the cake and a picture of what it should look like when it’s done and having them figure out how to get there. With way one, the probability of getting a cake on the first try is pretty high; way two, not so much. Ask yourself though, during which process do the kids learn the most?

Let me put in a second disclaimer here. We are not suggesting that we should do away with directions; sometimes specific, step-by-step directions are important … say in a chemistry lab when one of the ingredients is explosive or in the kitchen on a night you really need cake. But there are times that activites can be created that allow the child to teach himself/herself.

Here’s some scary thoughts compiled by the Smithsonian Institute in the US: “Many of the top jobs in 2012 didn’t exist in 2002 [social media strategist, for example]. Many of the jobs today’s elementary students will have don’t exist today. And they will use technologies that haven’t been invented to find solutions for problems that haven’t emerged.”

If you doubt the above, let me give you some personal context. When I graduated from university there were no laptops, no computer classes were required, the best computers around did less than my cell phone today, the internet didn’t exist (for normal people), email hadn’t been invented, and e-commerce wasn’t even a glimmer in an entrepreneur’s eye. Consider all the jobs that came about because of these innovations . . .

Here’s something else. According to an IBM study of 1500+ senior executives in leading corporations around the world, the most highly prized quality in new recruits is CREATIVITY! According to Fast Company magazine, an American business publication, the second most highly recruited grad degree is a Masters of Fine Arts. Because along with creativity, they’re also value collaboration, communication and critical thinking abilities.

So how do we teach these abilities? If we want today’s kids to succeed in a world we can’t even imagine, how do we make education just as good at teaching collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking (the 4 Cs) as it is at teaching times tables and grammar?

The answers are many, but one practical solution is to enhance the quality and amount of non-traditional education activities incorporated in a school year. What we found as a result of the DAI/MEPI project was that kids enjoyed figuring out the solutions to science challenges; they had fun in the exhibition galleries applying the 4 C-oriented Harvard University Project Zero thinking routines. And we saw a 34.192% increase in their knowledge based on pre- and post- assessments.

The Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah is facilitating the development of non-traditional education advocacy group that will promote the practice in schools and with potential providers. If you would like to be part of that group, if you are willing to learn more about it and share your knowledge with others, email us (education@darmuseum.org.kw). We’d love to have you on the team and the community will be better for your efforts.

And the answers: the number of protons and electrons is the same and is found in the Atomic Number. DNA is Deoxyribonucleic acid. Muslim scholar Al-Khwazrimi introduced the concept of ‘zero’, calling it “Zifr/Sifr”. Today’s dish soap is the result of sophisticated chemistry, which developed a formula for a product that breaks the chemical bonds of fat, making it easier to clean.

How many did you get right?

By Susan Eileen Day

Director of Education

Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah



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