Making Sense



“All knowledge begins with the senses, and proceeds then to understanding…” Kant said that (Critique of Pure Reason (1781; 1787)(1). At that time it was a revelation. It merged combatting views on learning and understanding. But we still do not fully grasp the meaning, let alone the implications of that statement. Kant added a little extra to the statement that makes it even tougher: “ …and ends with reason”. Here is, comprised in one sentence, what energizes instruction, although admitted, a bit masked by the clouds high up the philosophical mountain. If we start at the foot of the mountain (our senses) the statement has much to do with how we teach our students and how students come to know the essentials of what they are supposed to learn. Scholastic approaches (originating in the Middle Ages – 2) govern still much of what we do in education. i.e., to teach the structural first as a solid layer of elementals and then trickle down to the details. We aim for coherence; i.e., it is about understanding, isn’t it? Still, it may not be the best way to operate.
In a study which used games to teach fundamental concepts in mechanics another view was exposed. The game set-up allowed for a searching and exploring behavior to make provisional steps and pilot approaches to get to experience mechanics laws. It was a fragmentary and piece-meal route to make sense of a subject. The authors speak of getting ‘a sense of mechanism’. i.e, actively and gradually dealing with the real world of objects to understand.

Knowledge we already have can block new understanding. We are trapped in our own ‘theories’ and often well-articulated notions about something. Learning then first becomes to have to discard the old. The alternate way is to build understandings from the case, the setting, the context that you can manipulate, or experiment with to gain gradually and continuously ideas of what it entails what you are learning. It is a kind of organic, distributive making sense of things. Knowledge comes in pieces (3).
Kant would smile, probably; and add: “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind”. Intricate, it is.

Pratim Sengupta, Kara D. Krinks & Douglas B. Clark (2015): Learning to Deflect: Conceptual Change in Physics During Digital Game Play, Journal of the Learning Sciences, 24:4, 638-674,
To link to this article:
Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 1050-8406 print / 1532-7809 online




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