Let’s assume a scenario where your teacher tells you all about the different parts of a plant and their functions in a lecture.
Let’s assume another scenario where instead of giving you all the information in class, the teacher instead asks you to go out in the garden, find a plant, and note down all the different parts you can notice. Then she asks you to do your own research on these parts using the internet and make a diagram of different parts and their functions before she gives the lecture about it.
In what scenario are you more likely to better understand and remember the information? If you thought the correct answer was the second scenario, it is because you engaged in discovery learning in that.
Discovery learning, a type of teaching technique based on the constructivist approach, refers to the type of learning where the student actively engages with the topic and environment to learn about it.
This blog will highlight various classroom examples of discovery learning and also see if this method can be useful for special education.
Discovery learning examples in the classroom
Discovery learning involves the student taking an active role in their learning process by using the information they already know to manipulate their environment to get the desired results and continuously updating themselves by using various sources to gather new information. The whole idea is to get away from the lecture method of teaching, where the teacher tells what is to be learned and, instead, discovers these lessons themselves. Several examples of discovery learning can be seen in everyday classroom activities.
1. Making mistakes
There’s no better way to learn what not to do than by making mistakes in a safe space provided in the classroom. In fact, the hit-and-trial method used in solving various mathematical equations encourages students to try every possible way to solve the problem so that they can make mistakes, learn from them and discover the most effective method by themselves.
2. Perspective seeking
When learners seek the opinions of their peers or their teachers, they end up seeing a side of things that might not have been visible to them. So taking different perspectives and respecting even the ones that might differ from their own helps students in discovering more ways of looking at and perhaps even solving the same problem.
3. Doing assignments
When doing assignments, students often have to engage in independent research. They gather information from various sources like books, the internet, etc., and use various methods like interviewing the people they know, listening to podcasts, watching documentaries, etc. They also engage in a critical analysis of the sources of information, which helps them discover what information is actually true and reliable.
Engaging in a spirited exchange of ideas where different individuals take different and often opposing sides helps in solidifying and articulating the information the individual already knows. This also helps in finding out perspectives, opinions, and facts that might have been unknown to the person before and incorporating this new information to re-evaluate one’s stance on the matter.
5. Reading a book
When we read a book, we don’t just read what happened to a character. We vicariously live the lives they led, the experiences they had, and even the mistakes they made and the lessons they learned from them. Additionally, reading books and stories helps us discover the life lessons of the characters as well as the authors and also gives us a chance to make our interpretation of what they wrote.
6. Talking to friends
Just like while reading a book, we empathize with the characters; when we talk to our friends and hear about their experiences, both good and bad, we empathize with them. This empathy also helps in discovering various emotional states the individual might not have experienced firsthand, as well as several new things to try, like an interesting new game to play or some nice music to listen to, etc. Here as well, the individual learns from the experiences of the friends they empathize with.
7. Keeping up with the news
When an individual listens to the news, they find out about new things that enhance their knowledge, like recent discoveries, world records, economic and political activity, and other current affairs. The individual also uses their already existing repertoire of knowledge to interpret and understand the news items. For example, while listening to the news about a football match, the individual will use their understanding of the game and its rules to find out how the match went.
8. Playing games
Playing a physical game like fire and ice or cricket requires the individual to make use of whatever objects and space are available to them. They will have to reform and adapt the rules of the game according to their environment and, sometimes, might even have to come up with a new game altogether.
9. Hands-on projects
Working on hands-on projects like making a model for one’s social science class, painting a picture for an art class, or performing an experiment for science class requires the individual to draw on their existing knowledge to manipulate the objects in their environment and get the desired result. This process often consists of discovering various information that wasn’t previously known to the person. There are several online platforms available that allow students to engage in projects virtually which gives them enough space to try various things to figure out which works best, and no resources are wasted in the process.
10. Interdisciplinary application
Applying the theoretical knowledge acquired in the classroom requires the individual to use and adapt the information they already know to the current environment. This often takes an interdisciplinary route where information from one subject comes in handy in other subjects and areas of life. For example, using the scientific principle of gravity to figure out how to throw the ball through the hoop, using trigonometry to find the shortest route, understanding the historical context and background of a piece of art or literature, etc.
Discovery learning: Is it helpful for special education?
The discovery learning method takes the responsibility of teaching from the educators and puts the onus of learning on the students. In special education, as in any other type of learning curriculum, the goal is to make students independent learners who are self-aware of their learning process and actively engage in their own education. Including discovery learning in the curriculum alongside the regular lectures and homework can certainly help in meeting this goal.
A 2002 study used an online tool called WebQuest to introduce the discovery learning method in the classroom. 5th-grade students engaged in learning about the Civil War through this tool. The findings revealed that students who engaged in learning using the discovery method were not only starting and participating in more conversations about the topic with their peers and teachers but also engaged in a higher-order critical analysis of it.
Another study conducted in 2016-17 reported the implementation of the discovery model of teaching in a university-level Physics class. The findings revealed that by the end of the class, students’ creative thinking abilities had significantly increased.
Overall, findings from various studies have suggested that an amalgamation of methods, including both traditional teachings as well as discovery learning, can not only enhance learning but also motivates students to learn and engage more.
Discovery learning is a method of teaching that posits a more student-based model of learning. Here the student takes an active role in their education and understands a topic by engaging with it themselves. Regular classroom examples of discovery learning can look like a student learning from their mistakes, taking other people’s perspectives, engaging in research for an assignment, debating a topic, reading a book, talking to their friends, listening to the news, playing games, working on hands-on projects and finding the real-life applicability of theoretical concepts.
This method, when used in conjunction with the traditional method of teaching, can have several benefits in special education, such as enhanced learning outcomes, increased motivation, engagement, etc.
- Castronova, J. A. (2002). Discovery learning for the 21st century: Article manuscript.
- Rahman, M. H. (2017). Using discovery learning to encourage creative thinking. International Journal of Social Sciences & Educational Studies, 4(2), 98.
- Cohen, M. T. (2008). The effect of direct instruction versus discovery learning on the understanding of science lessons by second-grade students.
An engineer, Maths expert, Online Tutor and animal rights activist. In more than 5+ years of my online teaching experience, I closely worked with many students struggling with dyscalculia and dyslexia. With the years passing, I learned that not much effort being put into the awareness of this learning disorder. Students with dyscalculia often misunderstood for having just a simple math fear. This is still an underresearched and understudied subject. I am also the founder of Smartynote -‘The notepad app for dyslexia’,