How to use fireworks for inquiry-based learning experiences in all the school subjects

It has been said that worksheets don't grow dendrites. In case you don't know, dendrites are physical connections in the brain that are created when learning happens. The more dendrites you have, the smarter you are. Dendrites remain as long as they are used, but are lost when not in use. This is when forgetting happens.

Worksheets are a simplistic and static way to learn. They honestly don't challenge the thinker enough to sufficiently stimulate the learning process. They may satisfy a school check-off list, but they do not satisfy the learner. Remember, children love to learn. When your child gives you push-back about his schoolwork, it is because he is not getting the learning experiences he yearns for. He's getting drivel.

I encourage you to step outside the comfort and convenience of worksheets in order to allow your child to do what she really wants to do: get down to the business of really learning!

Once a child's interest in a topic has been sparked, it's time to fan the flames into a blazing fire – a burning desire to know more. You will start to hear your child say things like, “Let me try!” “Can I do it?” “Show me!” “Tell me about...” “Let ME do it!” “Can you buy these books for me?” “Can we go to the hardware store?” Learning becomes fun and memorable. This is when you know your child is really learning. These are the most effective learning experiences.

To help fan the flames of learning, we use fireworks. Fireworks are a like homework, but they are better at lighting the fires of learning. These are organic learning experiences that complement your child's natural curiosities. With fireworks, I see children who choose to read for hours a day, others who choose to write for days on end, others who build things, others who work on their physical abilities, others who... you get the idea. They do it well and they do it a lot.

Questions: A Workout for the Brain

If you've spent much time with children, you know they are inquisitive. They want to know who, what, when, where, how and why. They want to learn. Asking questions and solving problems is like an aerobic workout for the brain.

In the same way that physical activity increases physical ability, increased brain activity increases the brain's ability to learn. So if you want to help develop a learning brain, it is important that the learning brain is sufficiently challenged.

Most school situations seek to simply fill a student's head with a litany of facts. The tactic is a lecture or reading assignment, followed by some type of assessment in the form of questions on a worksheet or test. Unfortunately, this approach is backward. It doesn't allow for much opportunity to question or solve.

A better approach is to give the students the questions first. Give them the opportunity to seek out the answers on their own. By working to find the answers and to solve problems, the brain is more fully activated. More than just learning the information itself, they are learning how to learn. They are more fully activating their brains, which increases their brain power and ability to learn. Given these challenges, their brains are physically changed as their brains grow more dendrites to store what is learned. Students become smarter and better prepared to learn even faster.

To push the learning potential ever farther, allow the students to come up with their own questions. When a child takes an interest in a subject, he is likely to drive himself to learn. He will ask you for help finding answers and resources. He will spend extra hours in learning mode. He will create things that impress you.

What's great is that children really like being in the driver's seat. Most students would prefer to go on an information-seeking adventure than to have the information spoon-fed to them. Why? Because dynamic learning feels good. In this way, healthy learning patterns are created and students can be better prepared to be information-finders and problem solvers as adults.

For this reason, fireworks are designed to spark inquiry. Neither the questions nor the answers are provided to the students. The fireworks are for them to mold and create as they are inspired to do.

Motivation and Choice

It's important for you to give your child choices in her education. When you take away her choices, you dampen her passion and zest for learning.

When you force your child to do schoolwork, chances are he's not learning the lessons you intended him to learn. Instead, he learns to do just the bare minimum to get by. He learns how to please authority figures. He learns that learning and study are not fun. He learns that his opinion doesn't matter. He learns that his abilities don't matter – whether he's ahead or behind. He learns that the school busiwork is more important than knowledge and may resort to cheating.

Does this sound familiar?

Unfortunately, most parents and teachers still prefer force. They like the ability to just give out assignments and mete out consequences. We have been conditioned to believe that this is what education is and that anything else must be less valuable or less effective. This just isn't true. The most difficult kind of learning is that which is imposed on us by someone else.

There is a better way, and choices are an important part of it. We give the students lots of activities to choose from. Like spreading a smorgasbord of options in front of them. We let them graze and to pick and choose the most delicious learning experiences.

When a child has the opportunity to choose what to learn, he will choose things that inspire him to want to know more. He automatically chooses activities that are within his own learning style. He chooses to learn about interesting things. He will want to go on field trips. He will work on projects. He will read interesting books.

Why does she choose these great ways to learn? It's because the brain is naturally motivated. The brain loves to learn. We just need to stop insisting things be done our way and we need to provide the opportunities they crave and we can offer help.