Source: Character Lab, used with permission
This is the second part of a two-part series on the legacy of Mihaly Sekszentmihalyi, with contribution from Barbara Schneider.
When I was in the 10th grade, biology was my least favorite subject. We spent a lot of time memorizing a bunch of meaningless words – variables, cause and effect, bacteria. What’s the fun in that?
I vividly remember the moment my feelings changed. The class teacher began by asking: “Nearly 200 years ago, more women died giving birth in hospitals than giving birth at home – why do you think this was happening?”
“How was that possible in hospitals?” I asked myself. Melli melted when I was watching a movie about Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis and his discovery of how an ordinary chemical could wipe out a deadly transmissible disease.
Today, as I help my grandson clean his hands with soap and water, I am overwhelmed by the memory of being motivated by wanting to know why. How do we get children to experience what Mihaly calls Chiksentmihaly? flowThat feeling of being involved in a task that goes by the time?
Make science fun for students
For all students, it is difficult to learn when the questions being asked are not personally meaningful. Biology started to get more interesting for me, for example, because the discussion in class was about mothers.
But attention alone is not enough. Students also need to be challenged – and have the skills to meet that challenge. If they don’t, they can become anxious or stressed. Or, if they are very clever and can easily solve a problem, they are bored.
In my research, I’ve found that when students feel engaged in a science class—they experience high levels of interest, challenge, and skill—they are more likely to report the importance of science to them and their future. If parents and educators want children to pursue challenging projects that foster discovery and creativity, we need to design meaningful problems that children do not know the answer to but have the ability to discover.
don’t do Assume that children who struggle with homework are lazy.
Do Encourage young people to explore problems that concern them.
It took many years after Semmelweiss discovery to find out what specifically hand washing saved the lives of mothers and their babies and many more years for doctors to adopt the practice. If young scientists decide to tackle fun puzzles, there is no limit to what they can solve.
Barbara Schneider is the Distinguished Professor at John A. University. Hana is in the College of Education and Department of Sociology at Michigan State University. She is the author of 19 books, including Learn science And with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, becoming an adult.