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Spoon Feeding Information Sucks the Life Out of Learning: The 5E’s

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We bought my kids a cheap ‘GoldieBlox‘ set from Aldi. Being a science teacher and having heard all about how this toy was sooooo fantastic, I couldn’t wait to give it a go. ‘GoldieBlox‘ is an award winning toy that is designed to promote engineering for girls.

The GoldieBlox set comes with a cute little story book, that acts as a set of instructions. The box contains: one peg board, 5 wheels, 10 axels, 10 blocks, a couple figurines and a ribbon. The main character ‘Goldie‘, wants to design a spinning wheel for her pet dog, so that the dog can spin like a ballerina.

I sat down with my older daughter (5), read her the story. She built as I read out the story/instructions. She made the doggy spin.

There were a few other picture diagrams at the back of the ‘GoldieBlox‘ book of other things you could design: a see-saw, a conveyor belt, etc.

My kids lost interest quickly.


Because the instructions were too explicit.

There was no room to explore.

I distinctly remember my brothers and I playing with a similar toy when I was a kid: Tinker Toys.

Remember those things?

There were no instructions.

Just a giant container of a zillion wheels, axels and assorted components. We played for hours, days, weeks, months, YEARS with those things.

This semester, at university, I’ve been teaching the 5E’s of teaching and learning. I had been using this model of teaching and learning for years with my students and with my own children, without even knowing it was a ‘thing‘.

Engage    Explore    Explain    Elaborate    Evaluate

(You can read more at the Primary Connections website)

My kids are little, they don’t go to school, so there’s no need for me to evaluate them. But, all the other Es are very applicable to the everyday teaching and learning that goes on in our house.

We regularly provide activities that engage learning and we spend lots and LOTS of time exploring. They explain their interpretation of what they’ve learned and I might fill in the gaps, if they need it. My kids elaborate as they use the concepts they’ve learned and apply them to new situations. It’s a very simple concept but powerful when used correctly because the student becomes the owner of his or her learning experience.

Spoonfeeding: Is giving answers the cause of long term frustration?

Meanwhile at the uni… Each group of university students was asked to predict what you needed to make a simple circuit that could light up a light bulb.  Almost all of them had an idea and they drew a diagram of their prediction.

Then, each group was given a mystery bag with all the materials they needed to make a light bulb light up, plus a few items that they didn’t need. They fumbled and fussed around and got frustrated… really frustrated. Only a few of the twenty odd groups I had over the course of two days, could get the lightbulb to light up unassisted. The rest of the groups needed some help.

But, I was careful in the way that I helped them (the lecturer of the course showed my how to skillfully administer help). I asked them very specific reflection-type questions.

“Show me what you’ve tried so far?

So, now, you’re holding both wires to the bottom of the bulb… and now you’re holding them both on the thing that you called the base of the bulb. Did you try anything else?”

“It looks like your hands are really full holding both the wires and the light bulb.” (cue another group member stepping in to help hold all the stuff).

Finally, someone would yell out “Eureka!” and their lightbulb was shining. Most of the groups got their lightbulb to light up in this way, with a tiny bit of guidance. A good dose of frustration and a lot of head scratching. But, they got it… and they were proud of their work and all said that they felt deeply satisfied with the activity

Except a few groups that remained frustrated, even after they go their lightbulb to light up.

Those few groups that remained frustrated, were the groups that wandered over to another group to find out how to get their lightbulb to light. Or, they overheard what another group had discovered.

There was no joy in their learning. They had been told what to do. There was no “Eureka” moment. The frustration didn’t go away when they got the lightbulb to light up… rather their frustration was amplified because they hadn’t been able to solve the problem.

Spoon feeding answers gives short term learner satisfaction, but creates long term learner frustration.

2 Responses »

  1. I totally agree with you.
    I have that problem with Lego. I find all the pre-determined designs boring and so do my kids. If you only can make a certain thing out of it and then play with that thing, why not just buy the toy. At least that one won’t be frustrating and fall apart all the time.
    The thing that keeps my kids entertained for hours and has been doing so for years are boxes of just plain addorted bricks and wheels etc. They can make whatever tickles their fancy out of them . A favourite is building zoos that they can then play with their plastic animals toys in. Or houses. Sometimes they can’t find the piece they think they need for their construction so they have to improvise.
    My kids are 6 and 8 now so they really have outgrown the duplo range. But they still spend more time with their duplo bricks (we have tons) than with their lego star wars or friends sets. I’m now building a stash of generic little lego so they can move on from the duplo.
    Toys need to be open ended to encourage creativity and problem solving. Otherwise kids quickly tire of them.
    A favourite toy in this house are sticks and string. Oh the things you can make with sticks and string. Oh, and sticky tape. I should buy shares in a sticky tape manufacturing company (shares in band aid would not go astray in this house either).

    • I know what you mean! I can’t stand those pre-determined lego designs. Then you end up with a bunch of funny shaped pieces and you can’t really do anything with them. Sticky tape is a winner, for sure! Margo’s favourite used to be just cutting paper with scissors 🙂


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