As some of you know, I like to begin my presentations with something that I’ve just learned — something that I didn’t know yesterday. It usually starts with a blog entry that comes into my RSS reader or a newspaper or magazine article that comes into Google News. Often it’s one of a number of ongoing Twitter searches I have going, but I usually do a little more research to learn more about the topic, so that I can talk about it. Sometimes, it’s to no avail, because the story is so far above my head that all I can say is, “I don’t understand this, but isn’t it just knock-your-socks-off interesting?”
Sometimes I will search YouTube to see if there is a video demonstration of something folding DNA or Goldilocks Planets, or somebody talking about the topic to people who are as clueless as I am. But I’ve noticed lately, when I do find YT videos of people talking about one of these pieces that strikes my fancy, they almost never seem to be talking in English — and if they are, then English was obviously not their first language.
Now I’m not complaining, and I don’t want to go off on some flat world scare. It’s not the point, because what also struck me was that the speakers are often very young — something high school young. What struck me was why are these kids so interested in this very new and obscure topic, like DNA Origami. What makes kids curious about things that require research and deep understanding in order to talk about it?
Of course there are a lot of reasons. But what came to mind was that most students I know have never heard of DNA Origami or Goldilocks Planets. Should they? Should they know about the ideas that are just barely out there? If so, should they be learning about them in school?
It seems to me that one way to grow curiosity in our students is to introduce them to ideas that are so new and so fresh that they haven’t had time to be on any tests.