Creating a Clue-Based Curriculum

CLUE: ORIGIN late Middle English : variant of clew . The original sense was [a ball of thread] ; hence one used to guide a person out of a labyrinth (literally or figuratively).

I watch my two-year old grandson, Owen, pick up clues. That is how he learns, everyday, every moment. His life is discovery and feedback. He explores, by trial and error, tries again and succeeds or fails. He watches for clues from others ... facial expressions, body language ... and then he repeats until he grasps and understands and incorporates it into his behavior or rejects it as something not useful at the moment. He also sends me clues. He engages me in make-believe stories. Since his language is still Oweneese, which I sometimes cannot understand, he gives clues by taking my hand and showing me. Owen is quite bright and capable but I don't think he understands the word "answer" yet. Hopefully as he grows and creates his own life, he will come to know that there are answers for a few things like 2+2 is 4, but for most of his life he will continue looking and connecting clues as he journeys forth into the vast unknown.

Learning is both fast and slow. Facts are fast and can be tested in the present moment; slow is a long journey, absorbing and digesting facts within a much longer time span. Slow is carried forward by context and the ability to connect clues along the way.  Slow delights in discovering more, in reshaping one's facts throughout the course of life.  Facts remembered can save lives in the moment.(redcross learning, calling 911, seeking safety in a tornado). Fast and slow learning is essential to the well-prepared mind.  Unfortunately, too much of today's education for all ages seems to be on fast fact learning. Given this focus, how many facts are immediately forgotten after only a short period? Fast to learn; fast to forget.  Since the slow is not immediately measureable, it does not seem to have as much credibility. Taken together, however, the fast and slow weave together bonding facts with context and learning by doing... learning through life.

Every American grammar school child is expected to know that Columbus found America in 1942. Yet, within the last few years, Gavin Menzies has published his book, 1421 revealing that the Chinese got to America long before Columbus did. Furthermore, they spent time in Italy during 1434 and influenced Michaelangelo's body of work and ignited the Renaissance. Does that make Columbus less important? Does that take away his credibility? No, it creates a broader context and Columbus becomes an important clue to our heritage, but not the definitive answer.

Since I was introduced to dinosaurs in grade school, scientists have evolved their thinking about this species many times over. Answers are not really answers.The book, The Motel of the Mysteries is a spoof on the assumption that we can answer questions about our past that are accurate and will live forever. This is the trap of the expert.

Today's world is highly connected and networked. It is relatively easy to gather information ... to become a hunter gatherer in the 21st Century. Almost any information is accessible now. Check out Leonardo Da Vinci's Notebooks or MIT online visit iTunes podcasts. I am constantly amazed at the amount of interesting information being put forth for general use. Without context this extraordinary amount of accumulating information lies dormant. Given a challenge the mind wakes and begins to weave together clues.

With the Genome project we are just beginning to understand the body, brain, and mind and how and when they work as a system. We are just coming to knowing the uniqueness of each human being, each animal, each plant. The world that was made to fit into separate answers is falling apart. How many multiple test questions created before 1950 would hold true today?

Todd in his Journal page Instead of Answers, Clues suggests Syntopical Reading as a way to track clues. Facts without context is a sad thing. Context provides a way of seeing and understanding and connecting one thing to another. In the late 80's through the 90's, consultants we worked with thought of knowledge management as something static, more like a data base of the "best" answers that others within their organization could draw upon to supply answers to other clients. We could not convince them of the fluidity of coming to know something. Answers need both a long history and continuing future. Most will evolve and change as our ability to think systemically changes and matures.

I have no objection to facts. But most facts as they are presented have no past and no future. Facts out of context lie. Think of an education that was about exploration, connecting the dots from one idea to another... following leads through experimentation and ongoing hands-on redesign. Mystery books are the most popular shelf in book stores, partially because they are often never ending. One mystery leads to another and another. We read and search along with the author for clues to who the mystery. The Bobsy Twins, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Madeleine L'Engle series, along with many others are hugely popular with young people. Today's Harry Potter offers tremendous ongoing discovery.

It is not so difficult to improve our entire educational system if we began emphasizing treasure hunts, discovery projects, and future horizons as a way to incorporate facts as stepping stones along the path to taking part in creating a wide, wonderful, world of possibility for all. Curiosity does not need to be killed in the schools; rather, it needs to be nudged forward, exploited as a natural human trait that gives each student access to finding treasure after treasure through one's life.

The etymology of clue is perfect. CLUE: ORIGIN late Middle English : variant of clew . The original sense was [a ball of thread] ; hence one used to guide a person out of a labyrinth (literally or figuratively). Isn't this what learning is really about?