Education in the new world
Humanity is entering a completely new world – a world of genetic engineering, sophisticated AI, emerging technologies, dramatic ecological changes, and the rising symbiosis between sciences and humanities. Social and technological complexity is increasing rapidly in front of our eyes. This world, in which we have little experience and intuition, presents unique challenges for children and adults alike. As humanity becomes increasingly more technologically sophisticated and powerful, it needs more wisdom to avoid harming itself, the life on Earth, and the whole planet.
What should we teach our children to make sure they make good use of that newly acquired power? Fundamentally, we should start with developing qualities such as open-mindedness and fearless inquiry, critical thinking and big-picture perspective. Few areas of science offer a better opportunity to learn such skills than astrobiology, an emergent science concerned with new worlds and the future of humanity.
From education to science to management, studies are suggesting that questions matter more than answers. The most frequent complaint of many college professors is that students undervalue questions and do not possess well-developed inquiry skills. Astrobiology is a great source of open-ended problems for all ages, and can be used to model questioning techniques for students. In our classes, children learn to be comfortable with unknowns and to revisit what they take for granted. The instructors serve as role models for asking questions, making mistakes, and getting stuck, building a growth mindset and mental resilience.
System thinking through astrobiology
As a space science, astrobiology allows students to zoom out from their habitual perspective and see themselves on the cosmic scale. It helps a child get a holistic view of the world by bringing together scientific disciplines that are frequently taught in isolation. Through the lens of “systems thinking,” children see everything as deeply interconnected on every level – and always changing. As a young science, astrobiology encourages a sense of wonder and provides inspiration to young explorers by presenting a world full of unanswered burning questions.
Complexity and emergence
One of the buzzwords of modern science is “complexity.” Sadly, it is rarely addressed in a school classroom, leaving children disconnected from the scientific debate. Meanwhile, astrobiology, with its focus on the emergence of life, has tremendous potential for bringing the ideas of complexity and emergence into the STEM educational discourse, starting as early as upper elementary and middle school.
Complexity - be it ecological, social, technological, biological or political - is everywhere around us. However, human intuition is pretty weak when dealing with complex, nonlinear systems, often leading to decisions with unintended consequences. Astrobiology can help students make a habit of noticing complexity, recognizing that “the whole is more than the sum of its parts,” distinguishing between complicated and complex behaviors, and contemplating the evolution of systems over time.
Curiosity is the only prerequisite
There is no need to wait for high school and college to introduce the ideas of self-organization, complexity, evolution, and incessant change. In our extensive experience, no advanced math background is required to enjoy natural feedback loops, fractal art, and computer simulations of emerging phenomena. Our observations show that young children are strongly motivated by deep conceptual problems and are eager to take intellectual risks. Such problems stimulate imagination, enhance creativity, demonstrate the value of brainstorming, and encourage children to revisit their solutions and search for new insights.
To learn more, take a look at some testimonials from our parents and students.