How Do We Know?



Forty percent of middle school students learn by watching. They call up images from the past when trying to remember according to the University of Illinois. PHOTO: Flickr/RDECOM

Middle school kids may say that they know certain facts: The Sun is a star. Breathing converts oxygen to carbon dioxide. Wolves are more afraid of people than people are of them. How do middle school kids know that these are facts? Chances are someone told them, and they believed it. Maybe a science teacher told their students that the sun is a star and that humans inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide when they breathe. Or perhaps an expert said that wolves are more afraid of people. However, just because someone said something is true, does not always mean that it is true, and being told something is true is only the beginning of the process of asking more questions and collecting evidence to figure out the facts. This process is called an “inquiry.”

Aside from being told what is and is not a fact, middle school kids can learn by investigating, testing, asking questions and looking at evidence and data. One way of getting evidence about the fact “the Sun is a star” is by collecting data, researching online, going
to the museum or reading books.

Another way kids learn is by arguing or debating. Thoughts can change when we disagree because other people might have different perspectives, thoughts or ideas and have collected data, research, facts, etc., that are different than yours.

Elizabeth Jewett, a researcher at Teachers’ College at Columbia University, studies how middle school kids learn. The goal of her research is to help educators develop students who can think creatively and critically. Middle school kids who can think creatively and critically tend to be better at solving problems, her research shows.

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