Wired to Inquire? Poster at the ACER conference on ‘How the brain learns’

Christina Surmei and I are presenting a poster called ‘Wire to Inquire’ at the Australian Council of Educational Research. See the poster here: Wired to Inquire – FINAL

If you will be in Melbourne 4-6th August, come and talk to us about being, neurologically, wired to inquire.


Our abstract is:

Early childhood is the time when the development that happened in utero and the world surrounding the child meet to create new knowledge and understandings through personal self-initiated inquiry (Willison, 2013). Such spontaneous inquiry can be considered an innate occurrence, connecting biological function, the physical world and the socially constructed world (Zeanah, 1996). Educators document how young children use their constructed play environments to inquire and question their world, providing data that is rich in detail about a child’s Proximodistal and Cephalocaudal development (Berk, 2010). An example of this is an 11 month old infant who, although preverbal, points to objects all around the play environment to provoke a statement from their carer about the name of each object. This answers the young child’s personal self-initiated inquiry, through ‘Cause and Effect’, just like the game, ‘Peek a Boo’ (Berk 2010). This poster will consider multiple factors that equip young children to be, neurologically, wired to inquire.

Berk, L.E. (2010). Infants, children and adolescents, 7th edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Willison, J. (2013). Inquiring Ape? Higher Education Research and Development 32 (5) pp. 861-865. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07294360.2013.806043#.Ue-wJm1HAhU

Zeanah, H. (1996). Beyond Insecurity: A Reconceptualization of Attachment Disorders of Infancy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 64 (1) pp. 42-52.

Inquiring Ape?

We have labelled ourselves as Homo sapiens, but what makes us ‘sapiens’ (Latin for ‘wise’)? Humans have, it seems, an inbuilt drive to inquire into our natural and social worlds. This drive is not the will to believe, but the will to find out (Bertrand Russell) and the will to find out is the will to research.

In the Higher Education Research and Development journal ‘Points for debate’ article just published, ‘Inquiring Ape?’ (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07294360.2013.806043#.Ue_LcG1HAhU)  I suggested that we would do well to determine whether our capacity to research is only true of a small proportion of the population or is quite a typical way that the human mind wires, or can wire, neurologically i.e. are we well characterised as the inquiring ape?  Likewise, a major need for the medium to long-term is discipline-based and interdisciplinary studies that help us understand the elaborate interplay between genetic and environmental factors that influences the wiring of the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and other key areas of cognition and memory that seem to be major brain components involved in research processes.

The practical implications of such research are that ‘If it is a more typical capacity of the human brain to engage in the processes associated with research, then higher education, in concert with our entire formal education systems, needs to nurture and embrace this capacity in the design of learning environments for the inquiring apes that we call students.’ (p.864).

If humans are well characterised as the inquiring ape, then curricula from early childhood to PhD could have a uniting conceptual thread of  explicit, incremental and scaffolded research skill development  to enable student engagement in ability-appropriate research, whether into the commonly known, the commonly not known or the totally unknown.

What is your perspective on the ‘Inquiring Ape?’, on research needed to determine this, and on potential implications for formal education curricula?