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Valuing Uncertainty
September 13, 2022
Our world is complex and growing more so every day. It is no longer enough to shape learners who know. For our students to be truly successful they must also be brave in the face of not-knowing.
-Caitlin (Cat) Lynch, Artist Educator

In his book Ignorance: How It Drives ScienceStuart Firestein, Professor of Biological Sciences at Columbia University, notes, “Scientists don't concentrate on what they know, which is considerable but also miniscule, but rather on what they don't know. The one big fact is that science traffics in ignorance, cultivates it, and is driven by it.” He adds, “Being a scientist requires having faith in uncertainty, finding pleasure in mystery, and learning to cultivate doubt. There is no surer way to screw up an experiment than to be certain of its outcome.”

In A Can of WormsNick Terrones explores how he values uncertainty and risk in the classroom, “I want to stay true to my goals for children and myself, goals which are less about content-driven teaching and learning, or focusing on developmental skills, and more about practicing thinking about complex ideas and about becoming comfortable with uncertainty… This has been (and continues to be) a learning process for me! I’ve worked to feel comfortable with my own discomfort when complex issues come up in the classroom, and to be as compassionate with myself as I am with the children when I’m unsure how to respond.”


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Comments (3)

Displaying All 3 Comments
Kirsten Haugen · September 13, 2022
Exchange Press
Eugene, OR, United States

One more thought, Frances - you are so articulate. Have you ever thought about writing for Exchange? An article on this topic would be most welcome! See https://www.exchangepress.com/opportunities-for-you/write-for-exchange/

Kirsten Haugen · September 13, 2022
Exchange Press
Eugene, OR, United States

Frances, absolutely! Firestein's other book is all about the importance of failure (was going to include that, too, but the message got a bit too long!) I'm so glad to have people like you leading the charge for educational settings that value questions at least as much as answers!

Frances Killingbeck · September 13, 2022
The Halton Resource Connection
Milton, ON, Canada

This is really the heart of all learning and discovery. Being uncertain and developing a level of certainty that things will not go according to plans, offers room to grow. Every great discovery was preceded by multiple attempts, also known as failures. Think of all of the amazing things we wouldn't have today, had the curiosity died with the failed attempts! This definitely aligns with emergent, play-based curricula nicely too.

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