Think Inside the Box

Think Inside the Box

One of the goals of great educators, inarguably, is to teach students to think outside the box; meaning to examine methods of problem solving outside the commonly accepted process. The marker of good students is the ability to implement this concept across the spectrum of their education and careers. I would argue that the marker of great students is to think inside the box.

My experience as the daughter of a Marine, educated in schools domestic and abroad, has taught me that a mass of educators teach about the box. For example, let’s examine a right triangle. Most people, given the values of a and b, the sides adjacent to the right angle, can determine the value of c, the hypotenuse, based on the Pythagorean Theorem learned in grade school. a2 + b2 = c2. This is the box.

Thinking outside the box would be solving for c using a method other than the Pythagorean Theorem, such as the trigonometric functions tangent and secant. The length of the process is irrelevant when thinking outside of the box.

Now we come to thinking inside the box. To think inside the box, we need to ask ourselves leading questions. We need to dig through what makes the box, much like scooping out pumpkin guts and examining the seeds. Why does a2 + b2 = c2? Who asked the question? What problem originally needed to be solved?

This is a mathematical example and, as a math major, these questions are natural for me to ask. However, in other classes, such as history, I am less inclined to ask who, what, and why. But I should!

By asking these endeavoring questions and digging into the box, you expand your knowledge base and start to learn what the box really is. This increases the opportunity for inserting yourself in conversation as an informed participant. Looking in the box and understanding a concept allows you to create cross-discipline relationships. For example, knowing drone bees come from unfertilized eggs, a biology concept, allows for the conclusion that a single bee’s family tree expands on a Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical concept.

So in addition to thinking about and outside the box, challenge yourself to think inside the box.

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