Problem solving starts with engagement

When I was in grade 10, biology was my least favorite subject. We spent a lot of time memorizing a bunch of meaningless words: variables, cause and effect, bacteria. What is fun about it?

I vividly remember when my feelings changed. My teacher started the class with a question: “Almost 200 years ago more women died in childbirth in hospital than when babies gave birth at home, why do you think this was happening?

“How was that possible in hospitals? ” I asked myself. My boredom melted away as I carefully watched a movie about Dr Ignaz Semmelweis and his discovery of how an ordinary chemical could eradicate a deadly communicable disease.

Today, as I help my grandson wash his hands with soap and water, I am overwhelmed by the memory of being motivated to want to know why. How to make children experience what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls to flow, that feeling of being so involved in a task that time flies?

For all students, it is difficult to learn when the questions asked are not personally meaningful. Biology started to become more interesting to me, for example, because the class discussion was about mothers.

But interest alone is not enough. Students must also be challenged and have the skills to meet this challenge. If they don’t, they may become anxious or stressed out. Or, if they’re too adept and can fix a problem easily, they get bored.

In my to researchI have found that when students feel engaged in a science class – experiencing high levels of interest, challenge, and skill – they are more likely to say that science is important to them and to their future. If parents and teachers want children to pursue stimulating projects that enhance discovery and creativity, we must design meaningful problems to which children do not know the answer but have the capacity to discover.

Not suppose children struggling with homework are lazy.

To do encourage young people to explore the issues that concern them. It took many years after Semmelweis’ discovery to understand how handwashing in particular saved the lives of mothers and their babies, and many more years for doctors to embrace the practice. If young scientists decide to take on interesting puzzles, there is no limit to what they could solve.

Barbara Schneider is a Distinguished Professor at John A. Hannah University in the College of Education and in the Department of Sociology at Michigan State University. She wrote this week’s UpBringing column for Angela Duckworth, founder and CEO of Character Lab and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Sign up to receive Duckworth’s Tip of the Week – practical character science tips – on characterlab.org.

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