The average brain is believed to generate around 50,000 thoughts per day. It is said that all of us have the same brain power. But the way we approach education is different. Why, to many, was the apple falling on the ground just a routine phenomenon, while for Newton, it wasn’t? Was Newton exceptionally intelligent? Do we have Newtons and Chargaffs and Chomskys and Aryabhattas in our classrooms? Can we identify them? Or do we want our students to keep re-iterating the concepts of gravity, DNA composition and Language acquisition and the power of Zero forever without moving deeper into these?

As educators, do we have the tools to create more scientists, mathematicians or linguists or just clones of the existing ones? Can we create leaders or just followers? Can we even identify the Newtons from amongst our students?

Pauli shared this during in TEDx in 2009: “If we are only teaching what we know, our children can only do as bad as we are doing, and this is the challenge we are facing – we have to go beyond it.”

While a child learns a lot through the way she observes her surroundings, we, as a society, rely heavily on the ‘formal education system’ to create the intelligence that we are looking for. Classroom teaching is an important process of formal learning. Through instructions, demonstrations and examples, teachers explain various concepts. Often when students fail to understand, the same set of instructions or demonstrations are re-shared/ re-explained with a belief that by repeating the instructions and providing the information, students would gain the much-needed conceptual clarity. This is where there is some work for us to do.

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What made that apple contribute to the whole concept of gravity was Newton’s inquiry-based approach to a phenomenon that people before and after him have seen occurring uncountable times. The work for us is to inculcate this inquiry-based approach in the classroom. Research has found that inquiry-based activities can boost students’ learning in a wide range of school subjects. It can motivate students to learn and advance their problem solving and critical thinking skills. However, the effectiveness of inquiry-based learning requires guided approach. When the demands of learning activities exceed students’ abilities, their learning is blocked and at that stage, they may develop misunderstandings about the topic. Repeating instructions doesn’t help in overcoming misconceptions, but asking the right questions and targeting learners’ understanding does.

Generating conceptual questions which help in identifying misconceptions, monitoring the student inquiry process, and giving constructive feedback would allow teachers to not only assess the learnings, but also help students learn to think more independently and more creatively.