Want to know the best question a student can ask in Maths? Or, anywhere, in my humble opinion. A single word, that opens up a world of potential. A word that inspires curiosity, arguably the most important trait in any budding Mathematician or Scientist.
It is the very definition of curiosity. It shows interest, sparks excitement and fascination, and usually leads to a much deeper understanding on whatever they happening to be studying.
Unfortunately, this wonderful question can often be met with some truly horrible answers.
“Because that’s the way it is”
“Because I said so”
“That doesn’t really matter”
I hear it far too often. In school, in sport, even in art, and especially the workplace. And every single time, I cringe.
For quite a few reasons.
It means the instructor doesn’t really understand
If someone can’t explain why a process is in place, they probably don’t truly understand the process in the first place. Which, in itself is not a crime. We are all learning something at some point.
The real issue is that, when someone is in a position to teach, it can be easy to fall into the trap of believing they should know everything. Rather than accepting gaps in their own knowledge and striving to fill them. Students love seeing that their teachers (or tutors, or coaches, or managers) are human too. We are all learning. But by refusing to admit that you don’t know something, you’re doing a disservice to yourself AND your student.
It discourages curiosity
If students don’t get satisfying answers to questions, eventually they’ll just stop asking. Which is worse. Much worse. It ends up perpetuating the vicious cycle that we all moan about.
It’s a big trend at the moment to complain about how the education system is broken. Which it kind of is. But I firmly believe that nurturing curiosity can save it.
It’s all well and good to talk about personalised learning experience, multi faceted learning, and all the other fads. And while they’re brilliant ideas, they’re not sustainable in the world we live in – there aren’t enough teachers in classrooms, and they aren’t paid enough to be able to foster that kind of environment permanently.
The thing that IS killing the system is situations in which students are afraid or otherwise discouraged from discovering things for themselves. Asking questions, adventuring, and being curious.
It gives knowledge without wisdom
We all know the saying.
Knowledge is knowing the tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
Knowledge is knowing how to add two numbers together. Wisdom is knowing when to add two numbers together.
One without the other creates very human looking calculators, and not a whole lot more.
If a student asks why, either answer the question, or find someone who can.