Real-life learning lessons from an article about the Intel Science Talent Contest #WhatIfWeekly

First, a few quotes:

  • “The program, said Valerie Holmes, one of its teachers, encourages students to find a subject with which they have a personal connection.”
  • “At Stuyvesant she continued to explore what she describes as “how interdisciplinary science can be.””
  • “Part of what the research program teaches students, Ms. Holmes said, is tenacity; Dan and his advisers approached 30 to 40 potential mentors before finding one who would take him on.”
  • “From there she taught herself cellphone software coding and electrical engineering techniques, using “breadboards” and a soldering iron. “Engineering is the field that worships impact,” she said of her choice to enter it, “and to have the greatest impact, it has to be in the developing world.””

[All emphasis mine.]

From “A Laboratory Grows Young Scientists,” By ETHAN HAUSER,, Published: March 11, 2013.

When students are encouraged and empowered to engage in real-life learning, for which they can see the relevance now, strong progress and achievement is made. And not just for the students, but for the larger world of which they are a part.

From the quotes above, one can see five key components of “real-life learning,” something I write about often here. These traits make for some great education. Schooling could be enhanced to facilitate more of this kind of learning.

  • personal connection
  • interdisciplinary
  • tenacity
  • taught herself
  • to have the greatest impact

What if school possessed more of the characteristics of scientific research, investigation, and exploration? And I don’t just mean that school should “do more science.” I mean that the very culture and foundation of school could look more like the culture and foundations of science – observing, questioning, hypothesizing, experimenting, reflecting, repeating with additional insights from testing, etc. Sounds a lot like innovating, too.

I’ve rarely (never) been to a lab where the scientists spent most of their time in rows and columns of desks receiving content for much of the day, day after day.

2 thoughts on “Real-life learning lessons from an article about the Intel Science Talent Contest #WhatIfWeekly

  1. What if schools were to create a department or position to manage research and development? It could be focused on action based research and partner with higher learning. It could be a powerful model for students to see it in action and directly impact their learning. Just a thought…

    • Matt,

      ABSOLUTELY! Do you know of St. Andrew’s Episcopal School partnering with Johns Hopkins School of Ed on the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning? ( It’s a partnership based on developing and implementing the brain research on learning. I learned of it from Grant during #EdJourney, and I met Glenn Whitman (@GWhitmanCTTL) at NAISAC13. It might not be exactly what you meant, but it connected in my mind.

      I am increasingly an advocate of R&D in schools, as part of schools, in the core business of schools. You made me remember a post I wrote in April of last year as part of “CHANGEd: What If…60-60-60” – Also, I think there are examples of such student R&D work in Suzie Boss’s book, Bringing Innovation to Schools.

      And I hope you have seen, or have time to watch, Brittany Wenger at TEDxAtlanta: Of course, Brittany did her work as an independent study, and then went beyond that. I certainly think the integrated, real-life work of students – as you say, in partnership with adults – could be much more of school.

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