Encourage curiosity and don’t be afraid to introduce chaos once in a while.

I like this. We should be doing this in our classrooms.

And, yes, I know most of us like things to be neat, tidy and orderly. But the world isn’t always neat and tidy. We need to push our kids a bit in our classrooms so that they’re ready to survive and battle in the real world.

The advice came from Army Chief of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey as he spoke last week to graduates from the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. Dempsey added:

(Your subordinates) need to be a little surprised on occasion.

Your kids need to be surprised as well. He also elaborated a bit on the curiosity issue:

If we don’t deliberately nurture curiosity . . . we could inadvertently squash it.

I like that quote. We need to purposefully find ways to encourage questions and historical curiosity or our kids will settle deep into their chairs and never come out.

So . . . what does chaos and curiosity look like in a social studies / history class? I heard a teacher once describe it as

academic discomfort.

Academic discomfort is when a kid doesn’t have the answer but wants to find it. It’s when multiple choice and true/false questions just aren’t enough. And it boils down to this: Problem-Based Learning. Give kids great problems and questions to solve, provide a path to the resources, organize the groups and then step back and watch them flounder a bit.

It’s okay. You’re right there if they start going under too many times. Throw ’em a lifeline every once in while. But real learning happens when the brain is confused and has to solve the problem for itself.

Here’s a couple of examples that I think are awesome:

1. Is it ever okay for the government to violate the Bill of Rights?
A teacher used this as the guiding question to her WWII Japanese internment unit.

2. What should our response be to the Ogallala Aquifer problem?
In western Kansas, this Aquifer is life to everything . . . crop irrigation, city water supply, etc. The problem? It’s dropping about six feet a year. A teacher in the area tasked his senior level government students to solve the problem and present their findings to the May Water Board meeting.

Chaos and curiosity.

I like that.

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