Importance of Stepping Back and Asking Why in STEM Education

As kids engage in problem-solving in STEM education, they will encounter different problems requiring different approaches. Expertise is helpful at certain moments but less so at others; at one point, free, wide-open divergent thinking is essential, while discipline and focus are required at another.

As kids enrol for robotics for kids and coding for kids, they will have to imagine different ways, plan for action and then reflect on the issue at hand.

“Asking Why”

Asking “why” involves seeing and understanding various aspects of a problem. To do that effectively requires two things.

1. Ability to notice things that others are likely to miss. Kids have an innate ability to see something that adults can’t detect, even right under their noses.

2. In the case of adults, they will need to reorient their worldview in a way that their outlook aligns with that of a seven-year-old kid.

What does stepping back mean?

Seeing things from a fresh perspective is essential for asking why questions. But that’s only part of the process of asking potent whys. The strategy to understand a problem requires stepping back, noticing what others miss and challenging assumptions by asking relevant questions.

It’s a process where we first move forward with the problem by taking a step back.

Stepping back suggests a distinct type of backstep— distance from one’s presumptions and domain knowledge.

We don’t always need to be on vacation with a perceptive three-year-old to ask good questions, particularly the essential Why ones. But to start inquiring, one must at least momentarily stop doing and knowing. It involves briefly losing knowledge and switching to wondering.

We fundamentally see the same realities and circumstances. However, a larger picture becomes seen at a greater distance. We could now see the bigger picture and recognise the patterns and connections between things we had previously assumed to be unrelated. Everything may alter as a result of this. You can feel as though you’re seeing something for the first time after taking a step back and examining something you’ve been looking at the same way for years.

Pausing what we do

Stopping doing something may seem easier than stopping to know something. However, it can be tough to do. After all, who has time to wonder “why?” in a world that demands we move quickly, continue to advance (even if only gradually), and “get it done”?

In the workplace, this is especially true. Asking “Why are we doing this?” during a business meeting is a surefire way to lose friends. —despite the possibility that the query is entirely legitimate.

The temptation to keep progressing—and the ensuing unwillingness to pause and reflect—is not just a business phenomenon. “Stepping back and questioning” is unlikely to find a place on the calendar when daily life fills up with more duties, activities, diversions, and distractions. Consequently, some of the most crucial questions—such as why we are carrying out those tasks in the first place—never come up.

The first rule of asking why might be that there must be a halt, a gap, a break in the discussion, a pause to “progress,” or a minute of silence spent gazing out the window on the bus. These pauses are ideal situations when there is time to question.

If asking Why requires stepping back from “doing,” it also demands a step back from “knowing.” People become experts within their domains—generally confident that they know everything they need to know to do well in their jobs and lives. This sense of knowing makes us less curious and less open to new ideas and possibilities. To make matters worse, we don’t “know” as much as we might think we do.

Pausing what we know

In the same way that asking Why necessitates a step back from “doing,” it also requires a step back from “knowing.” People become experts in their fields, whether in life or business and are typically assured that they already know all the necessary to succeed in both. This sense of certainty may reduce our curiosity and make us less receptive to fresh concepts and opportunities. Even worse, we may not “know” as much as we think we do

Our brains are programmed to respond rapidly, sort, categorise, and even ignore some of the vast quantities of stimuli coming at us constantly.

Most of the time, this is effective, but sometimes we need to change our default state to think differently, open our minds to new possibilities, and build on our existing knowledge. To do this, it can be helpful to temporarily let go of what we already know.

Establishing a setting were asking “dumb” questions is acceptable is crucial. Most Innovation-driven companies have learned from experience that naive questioning may produce insightful discoveries that lead to game-changing ideas and superior products. They go out of their way to safeguard and promote it.

We frequently miss all the open opportunities because we don’t look long enough. The best inquirers “keep looking”—at a circumstance or an issue, the behaviours of those around them, and their actions. They have a sharp eye for small things and search for what is present and absent. They take a step back, look at things upside down, and, if necessary, squint. Such focused attention requires endurance and patience.

The underlying lesson is to enable your kid to develop a rebellious attitude, that’s essential for successful questioning.

It’s one thing to notice a problem and wonder why it exists — and perhaps even consider whether a superior choice might be available. It’s another to continue asking those questions after specialists have effectively informed you that the problem can’t be solved.