“People are usually more convinced by reasons they discovered themselves than by those found by others.”
Blaise Pascal – French mathematician, philosopher, physicist (1623 – 1666)
Many researchers have established that children learn better through a process of discovery. This discovery process enhances student engagement, assures high interest levels, develops creativity and problem-solving skills and most importantly results in lifelong learning. The process starts by building curiosity among the children through guided exploration and experimentation. The children then use their observations and findings to arrive at conclusions that help shape their understanding and learning of a concept. This article describes how the process of discovery was used to introduce geography and to teach ‘Oceans and Continents’ to a heterogeneous group of children within the age range of 7 to 14 years.
As a social studies teacher, I had the option of introducing the subject ‘geography’ as given in the textbook. I could have explained the chapter and got the children to solve the exercises given at the end of the chapter. Two sessions and I would have been done with it. However, keeping in mind a quote I had read, “If you want to learn geography, you need to step out of the classroom,” I decided to try the discovery-based learning approach. As a teacher, I wanted children to understand what geography is and how the earth was formed. Secondly, I wanted them to know that the earth is made up of land and water. These landforms and water bodies come in different shapes, sizes, are made of different components and occur at specific locations on our globe. The biggest landforms are the continents and the biggest water bodies are the oceans. I initiated the process of natural discovery by displaying a large physical and political map of the world in the classroom a week before my scheduled geography class. Next, I brought in a globe and an atlas and finally a few books on geography. I let the children observe, scrutinize, read, share experiences of the countries they had visited, places they had seen. All this happened without any teacher participation. It was interesting to see how the children clustered around these objects between classes, during snack and lunch time. They read the books displayed. Corridors filled with chatter about places they had visited, places they wanted to see, movies and videos they had seen. It was a joy to see their curiosity levels soaring and their enthusiasm build up. I started the module with an open discussion. The children were given a space to share and ask as many questions as they wanted. In the last 10 minutes, we made a list of questions that they needed answers for. This was a crucial turning point where we established the learning objectives together as a class. What was crucial at this point was the onus and responsibility. The children were not learning what the teacher wanted to teach or what the syllabus required, but what they wanted to know more about.
The author is a social development professional with over 13 years of experience in working with children and young adults. She took to teaching after she met with an accident in 2010. She taught math and social studies at a primary school in Mysore for three years before joining an MA in Education programme at Azim Premji University (APU). She now juggles her time between studying, teacher training, helping children with learning difficulties and looking after her children. She can be reached at [email protected].