Kids learning stuff, was Re: extropians-digest V6 #1

From: Emlyn (
Date: Tue Jan 02 2001 - 19:13:32 MST

Mihail Faina wrote:
> I am not trying to assume nothing. My question was more like a
> "methodology" question - how should we introduce scientific concepts to a
> year old (ordinary 5 year old and I underline ordinary). Should this be
> core scientific facts or something built in a FABLE (I didn't say fairy
> tales) of some kind? Hard for me to imagine that a 5 year old could
> a bacteria and get
> the meaning of the word metaphor by using "not really" in the
> Using the word doesn't always equal understanding.
> Again, I am not here to launch a polemic, my goal is to learn even if I
> disagree.

There are difficulties, it's true. For instance, you are contrained by a
child's vocabulary - not a huge problem in our case, but probably tricky in
general. More interestingly, you are constrained by a kid's concept of
number and conservation laws; kid's have a lot of trouble understanding big
numbers (100 may as well be infinity), so talking about something
infinitesimally small is quite difficult; bridging the conceptual gap
between the macro and micro scale is very difficult, and if you can't do
that, the whole lot of the subject matter seems like a weird fairytale.
After all, if there are all these bacteria everywhere, where are they? I
can't see them...

Still, you can struggle by. There seems to be an emphasis throughout
education that you have to walk before you can run. That means starting at
the most basic concepts, and building up. Like ensuring a solid
understanding of big numbers, before trying to apply the concepts (like
talking about very very small things).

I take issue with that approach, however. It leads to this very theoretical
learning, which goes on for a long time. The ability to actually apply what
you have learned gets pushed back to later years of schooling, even to uni
(even beyond that); meanwhile, stuff you learn at school is strange,
intangible gobledegook, which bears no relation to the rest of your life.
This leads to lack of retention and lack of interest. How many times have we
all heard people complain about Maths in school? That it never did them any
good, that they never used it again and can't remember it any more?

I feel that I was lucky early on to get a computer, and get into
programming, because I found a solid application for a lot of the maths I
was taught. It helped it feel more real for me, which kept my interest

You see people go back to schooling in their later life and see it in an
entirely different way; they understand that they can get some tangible
benefit from the stuff they are learning. Interestingly, they tend to do
very well!

I'm not against theory; if anything, I go overboard with it. But I think,
when you're talking about kids, you are talking about little people who are
trying really hard to come to grips with an astoundingly complex world. They
want real information to help them work with and in it. Abstract theory
means little to them; they want to know why stuff falls down, or what germs
are, or why they can't fly up into the sky. So I start with the specifics,
and fill back in toward the more general & abstract as necessary.


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