Aha! Moments

Nancy White

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Student to Learner

Eureka! “I get it!” Education professionals know this well. We refer to these moments as “aha!” moments- when we can ever so briefly see the flash of a lightbulb go off in a learner’s brain. As an educator, I can tell you that teachers constantly strive to provide opportunity for these ideas to take hold. It is during these moments that a student begins to act like a learner. Their new-found understanding, connection, and/or idea makes them thirsty for more. How can we, as educators, parents, and community, provide the environment and support to sustain these momentary flashes, and encourage the continued exploration of this new insight and motivation to learn?

Something neuroscientists are just beginning to understand is what propels these flashes of insight, such as described by Albert Einstein, who said famously of E = mc2, “I thought of it while riding my bicycle.” (“Eureka! Deconstructing the Brain Mechanics of Aha! Moments” available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201603/eureka-deconstructing-the-brain-mechanics-aha-moments).

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to listen to best-selling author, Steven Johnson, who wrote Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation as a keynote speaker at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. During the keynote, Johnson made this statement: “When ideas take place in a hunch state – they need to collide with other hunches. You have to be able to create a system to allow those hunches to come together and turn in to something bigger than the sum of their parts.” In his book, Johnson writes a good idea is essentially a network of cells exploring the adjacent possible of connections that they can make in your mind.”

This suggests a few things. To start with, we need some background knowledge and experiences with which new knowledge and understandings can collide. Read, help learners break out of normal habits to explore new places and topics, and exchange ideas with those who think differently. Learners need to embrace curiosity. Questioning and wondering are essential ingredients in producing new ideas and “Aha” moments. As teachers, parents, and community, we can model this, and provide time and opportunity for wonder, collaboration, and reflection.

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