Thursday, July 07, 2005

Just the Facts, M'aam - Creativity in Fact Lovers

Maybe you know one of these fact lovers or maybe you are one yourself. It's all to easy to dismiss fact lovers as trivia geeks, hyperfrontal-types, or Asperger folk, but the truth is, a strong knowledge of facts can make the essential difference in innovative or ground-breaking work, and expertise at acquiring and retaining facts may mean that education should take on a different purpose.

One example of an avid fact aficionado is Isaac Asimov. Asimov voraciously read books his whole life long, and he wrote nearly 500 books over the course of 40 years. Many have referred to him as a very 'non-visual' writer and he himself had made this comment about visual thinking:

"You may have heard the statement: 'One picture is worth a thousand words.' Don't you believe it...As soon as it becomes necessary to deal with emotions, ideas, fancies- abstractions in general - only words will suit."

In fact, Asimov's series of "How did we find out about..." is really an extraordinary collection of children's books. Each is only about 60 pages long, but well written and quite creative in its charting of the course of scientific discovery. It's a great book for kids because it talks about the whys and hows and serendipities of science, and it makes the questions and pursuit of knowledge seem attainable. When science is only taught from the standpoint of 'we know this now', students may be discouraged from thinking that they could actually find out anything new. Asimov's series includes topics such as germs, lasers, microwaves, blood, the round earth, and much more. It's great summer reading. We found the books at the library (did you know the microscope inventor Leeuwenhoek was not really a scientist, but a janitor who like tinkering around with lenses?).

One of Asimov's real gifts was being able to recognize and organize interesting facts in simple but compelling ways. Creativity is not just making something completely new, but it is also an ability to see in facts, what others haven't been able to see.

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