February 8, 2012

A Peacock and Inquiring Minds a Peacock and Inquiring Minds

 I’m sitting at my desk gazing at a large picture on the wall opposite me. It serves as a conversation starter when anyone visits my office, so let me trace its history—in four parts.

Part One
It all began in Texas. Late one summer evening I was reclining in my favorite chair reading when I heard a faint cry. I ignored it twice, but rose to investigate upon hearing it a third time. I ended up in the backyard, gazing upward into one of my tall pines. I could hear the cry plainly now, but could not see a thing. After locating a flashlight, I cautiously aimed its beam into the tree. A peacock!
Maybe I should have returned to my former activity, but I have an inquiring mind, and my initial shock of astonishment was replaced with the questions “I wonder how it got up there?” and “What was God’s intention when He created this bird?” I assumed peacocks were too top-heavy to fly that high, having never actually seen one take flight before. Thus began my fixation with peacocks.
God designed us to wonder, question, and learn about our environment. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were encouraged to explore and share with God and the angels what they had learned.1 This type of learning was also encouraged in the schools of the prophets.2
2012 1504 page24Learning theorists have begun to refer to this method of learning and teaching, across the grades and the curriculum, as the inquiry approach. We learn best when we can connect to personal experience and generate essential questions that capture the essence of our interest, providing focus, engagement, and motivation to learn more.3 In general, “inquiry is a way of looking at the world, a questioning stance we take when we seek to learn something we don’t yet know. And when we are truly inquiring about that something, whatever it may be, we drive ourselves to learn more and more because we are seeking answers to our own questions.”4
Inquiry, however, involves more than seeking answers to questions; the learner must also have the conceptual tools for critically perceiving and interpreting the information they assimilate at any stage of the inquiry process. These tools become a framework, or worldview,5 that serves as the standard by which learners consciously measure, interpret, and apply all data they encounter. 6 Thus, educational researchers have begun to confirm what Ellen White emphasized many years ago—“It is the work of true education . . . to train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men’s thought.” 7
The Adventist worldview accepts the Bible as the standard by which everything else is measured. Four concepts (with accompanying essential questions) emerge from a biblical worldview that can be used as a lens for the inquiry process: (1) Creation—What is God’s intention? (2) The Fall—How has God’s purpose been distorted? (3) Redemption—How does God help us to respond? and (4) Re-creation—How can we be restored into the image of God? And as Pearcey notes, these tools provide “the scaffolding for constructing a Christian perspective on any topic.” 8
Part Two
I commenced to explore explanations to my questions regarding the peacock with a passion. I began my investigation close to home by quizzing those who lived around me. Where did the peacock come from? Why was he roaming the neighborhood? How long had he been living on our streets? In response to my questions, I discovered that Archie (somewhere along the way he had acquired a name) had been left behind when his owners moved. He had been foraging on his own for at least a year and was frequenting yards with bird feeders in particular. He preferred roosting in such high places as my tree or steep roofs. And, more important, he had become a neighborhood favorite, with elaborate plots on the part of his human friends to assist him in eluding animal control. There was even rumor that the purchase and release of a peahen was being considered.
I complemented this empirical evidence with extensive reading on the topic from a variety of sources. I found frequent references to India, their land of origin. And in response to my initial questions concerning flight, I learned that peacocks are able to fly very short distances by using their wings to jump onto tree branches or other perches to escape predators. One particular bit of information that intrigued me was that peacocks are the most beautiful manifestation of fractals (self-repeating, irregular patterns) in nature.  
As I learned more and more about this fascinating bird, I could not help wondering, “How had God’s purpose been distorted?” Here was a magnificent example of God’s creative design that was a victim of abandonment, subject to capture, and living in an unnatural environment. These circumstances were directly related to the fact that all parts of creation are marred and defiled by sin; however, the world continues to reflect God’s laws of order, beauty, and structure. These insights led me to further conclude: Fractals—self-repeating, irregular patterns—are a manifestation of God’s laws in nature, peacocks being one example.
During this second stage of inquiry, the learner conducts research to collect additional information necessary to answer their questions. As they develop and evaluate explanations based on the evidence, the learner determines what is most important. A big idea begins to emerge, an idea that leads to a conceptual understanding of the information collected. Evidence from research emphasizes that teaching and learning should be more concept-based; concepts link the information in a meaningful way, promoting greater understanding. 9
In addition, the Adventist worldview lens continues to be employed, not only in the analysis of the information but in the development of the big idea. The Bible is often taught separately from other subjects, but learners need to realize that there is no spiritually neutral subject matter, but that “every subject area should be taught from a solidly biblical perspective so that students grasp the interconnections among the disciplines, discovering for themselves that all truth is God’s truth.” 10
Part Three
So, then, I had to wonder, “How does God want me to respond to this new learning?” I felt I needed to know more, though, before I could demonstrate an understanding, so I was driven to seek more information and ask more questions. I discovered that fractals can be found at all levels of magnification; “particular elements . . . reappear over and over again no matter how ‘deep’ one goes into the image through magnification.” 11 I identified many examples, in addition to peacocks, that were further evidence of a Creator God, including mountains, nautilus shells, leaves, ice crystals, snowflakes, DNA, a heartbeat.
I also learned that Benoit Mandelbrot, a mathematician, noted the fractal geometry of nature: “Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.”12 He subsequently developed a system of visual mathematics based on the concept of irregular shapes, noting that beauty and order are present not only in the physical world but in the abstract domain of mathematics as well.
In light of this new knowledge, I wondered, “How have we used the concept of fractals to live in harmony with God’s laws in nature?” I was able to observe one practical application involving the walls that have been erected along highways to shield homes from noise. I learned that flat walls were initially installed but were proved ineffective, because the noise simply bounced off them. Then someone had the idea of building a wall with a fractal surface to absorb the noise, which was successful.
The learner applies what they have learned during this third stage of inquiry, often discovering how the new concept fits with real life. In the process, they are led to appreciate anew the redemptive power of God, who, through grace, continues to impute logical order and beauty into His created universe, despite the ill-effects of sin.
Part Four
I continued to refine my understanding of fractals, through a joint process of reflection and synthesis. New opportunities to use the concept presented themselves as well, allowing me to creatively apply and assess what I had learned. For example, the North American Division Office of Education, in conjunction with Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, is developing an inquiry-based science program, By Design, for grades 1-8. As part of the initial development process, we searched for repeating patterns across grade levels and topics that allowed us to organize the content in relation to common big ideas and essential questions.
Next we wondered, “How can we be restored into the image of God through the study of science?” In response, we are using the Bible as the lens through which to study science. The Adventist worldview is woven into each big idea and essential question as well as the content. The program will focus, in particular, on communicating the re-creative power of God (God as both Creator and Redeemer) to help learners develop a deeper understanding of God’s intent for this area of study. That is, to restore in us an understanding of God’s laws as they relate to the field of science.
Stage 4 of the inquiry process demonstrates the need to extend the learner’s understanding by collaboratively applying the concept in a new context and in a form that can be justified and communicated effectively to others. And the Adventist worldview lens continues to provide focus and meaning as the inquiry cycle comes full circle—from creation to re-creation. It does not end here, though! Already a new essential question has emerged: “How can this learning be applied to further impact Adventist curriculum, instruction, and assessment on the journey to excellence, moving hearts and minds upward?”
Learning through inquiry is a dynamic, active process that encourages the learner to develop and use the dispositions of wonderment, thoughtfulness, questioning, exploration of multiple resources to conduct research and investigations, and collaboration. It is learning in its most authentic and meaningful form that can lead to a depth of knowledge and understanding as learners conceptually explore both school subjects and their own wonderings. Furthermore, this approach to learning and teaching becomes even more critical in the context of our global society in which learners have access to ever-increasing information and technology.13
Using the Bible as the lens for inquiry has the potential to transform our Adventist classrooms. Learners will leave our classrooms with a conceptual toolbox, a worldview, that can empower them to critique any topic, including opposing worldviews. Paul says, “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21, NASB).14
I still catch glimpses of Archie when I return to Texas for visits. God’s creative and redemptive power is manifest in all that we see and do. What will you wonder about today, using the Bible as your lens for inquiry?
1 Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1903).
2 Ellen G. White, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1913).
3 Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels, Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action (Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 2009); Steven Wolk, “School as Inquiry,” Phi Delta Kappan 90 (October 2008): 115-122.
4 Diane Parker, Planning for Inquiry: It’s Not an Oxymoron! (Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 2007), p. 1.
5 Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2004); Harro Van Brummelen, Steppingstones to Curriculum: A Biblical Path (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Purposeful Design Publications, 2002).
6 Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick, eds., Activating and Engaging Habits of Mind (Alexandria, Va.: ASCD, 2000).
7 White, Education, p. 17.
8 Pearcey, p. 127.
9 Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World (Alexandria, Va.: ASCD, 2010); H. Lynn Erickson, Concept-based Curriculum and Instruction for the Thinking Classroom (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, 2007); Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future (New York: Penguin Group, 2005); Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, Understanding by Design (Alexandria, Va.: ASCD, 2005).
10 Pearcey, p. 129.
11 John Briggs, “Hunting the Hidden Dimension: The Most Famous Fractal,” NOVA, June 9, 2011, from www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/fractals/set.html.
12 Benoit Mandelbrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co., 1977), p. xiii.
13 Yong Zhao, Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization (Alexandria, Va.: ASCD, 2009).
14 Texts credited to NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Carol Campbell is director of elementary education for the North American Division Office of Education. This article was published February 9, 2012.