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Confusion is good for learning+ #46

+Upcoming Events

Quote of the Week

Confusion is the sweat of learning. If a student doesn’t get confused at some point in a class then either the student already knew the material in class, or the student didn’t learn anything in class. It’s just like going to a gym to work out. If you didn’t sweat and you didn’t get sore afterwards, you probably didn’t do anything. -Rhett Allain, Associate Professor of Physics at Southeastern Louisiana University

Hi, this is the GenWise team– we bring out this newsletter to help parents and educators to complement the work of formal schools and associated systems. We can help our children thrive in these complex times only by exchanging ideas and insights and working together. We are also a founder-member of the Gifted India Network– if you are interested in issues related to gifted education and talent development, an easy way to keep updated about talks, programs and resources is to join the Gifted India Network telegram channel (

In this week’s main post ‘Confusion is good for learning’, we highlight the risk of mistaking ‘clarity’ for understanding and point out when confusion can be good for learning, and ways to use confusion productively in the learning process.

Join this conversation on learning, by commenting on our posts or writing to us.


Confusion is good for learning

Upcoming Events

Confusion is good for learning

Most of us feel that if something is explained clearly to us, we understand it well. In the film below, one set of students watch clear, concise videos on the science topic of ‘forces on an object thrown in the air’. This makes them feel like they are learning it well and they become more confident about their answers to questions on the topic. But on a test on the topic, after watching the video, they do significantly worse than another set of students who have been through a different and more ‘confusing’ approach to learning the topic.

Derek Muller, founder of Veritasium which makes these great films, shares these 5 reasons why these clear explanations do not actually help them to learn the concept.

What happens is that students already have an ‘intuitive idea’ of the concept, which is often wrong. In this case, the idea that a ball in the air would still have the force of the throw acting on it- it does make sense right? Why else would the ball be going up? A ‘clear and concise’ explanation does not help much if the older ‘intuitive idea’ is not explored and replaced with a convincing explanation (of why the ball is actually going up, in this case). Thus, the hard and ‘confusing’ work of doing this is needed if students are to really gain a scientific understanding of this concept.

GenWise co-founder, Vishnu Agnihotri and science teacher, Anagh Purandare, explain why a science teacher needs to tackle prior mental models in this article in the iWonder science magazine.

One of the main drawbacks of traditional science teaching is that it does not recognise that students come to the classroom with “prior mental models”, and that the process of teaching-learning, requires:

Bringing such mental models to the surface, so that the learner as well as the teacher are aware of these

Devising methods to challenge these mental models

Discussions and exercises that allow the learner to replace her prior, incorrect, mental models with correct scientific ones. But, more often than not, neither the teacher nor the learner is aware of these mental models, and everything may appear to be clearly understood… till you face a situation of ‘cognitive conflict’. A good science teacher knows that recognizing and working through the confusion and conflicts is critical for deep learning. 

To clarify a couple of things-

Good, clear explanations can be useful and are necessary… but the teacher needs to consider what is happening in the mind of the learner? And how does he plan to make what is in the learner’s mind visible?

When we say ‘confusion is good’, we are referring to a ‘cognitive conflict’ created by the teacher deliberately to get the student to think hard about the concept. So any kind of confusion is not good, especially a confused teacher explaining things poorly.

Finally, ‘optimal confusion’ may be an important requirement for learning in general, not just for learning science. In her book Atlas of the Heart- Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience@BreneBrown says

In an article in Fast Company, Mary Slaughter and David Rock with the NeuroLeadership Institute write, “To be effective, learning needs to be effortful. That’s not to say that anything that makes learning easier is counterproductive—or that all unpleasant learning is effective. The key here is desirable difficulty. The same way you feel a muscle ‘burn’ when it’s being strengthened, the brain needs to feel some discomfort when it’s learning. Your mind might hurt for a while—but that’s a good thing.” Comfortable learning environments rarely lead to deep learning. So, we have “the zone of optimal confusion” and “desirable difficulty” , but what happens when things get too confusing? Based on D’Mello’s research, too much confusion can lead to frustration, giving up, disengagement, or even boredom. Learning strategies most often used to help resolve confusion were seeking help, finding the most important information, monitoring progress, and planning a strategy.”

So next time your child or you feel an explanation is easy and clear, ask yourself if you really understand it.

Upcoming Events

Giftedness- Parent Perspectives– this panel discussion on Fri, Feb 18 at 6 PMis part of a series of events from the Gifted India Network of which we are a founding member. You can view more details about the session and register for the same here.

He wouldn’t view the world as he was taught but how he thought made more sense to him logically. Since, he would never buy just any idea sold to him, we always faced some resistance towards him from various people/institutions.

For example, in preschool, my son was asked to draw the milky way, showing the earth too. He said, “How can I draw this mama? The earth will not even be a dot compared to the milky way”

– Parent of a gifted child, who is 13 years old now

The teacher did not understand my child and made fun of him in front of the class, and other children also started making fun of him. He is a loner and could never get the company he could interact with. As he speaks his mind, and others may not understand what he says, it has been difficult for him to fit in.

– Parent of a gifted child, who is 17 years old now

Join a conversation with these 2 parents and a young adult to understand the world of the gifted student and parent.

The session will be moderated by Vishnu Agnihotri, co-founder of GenWise, who has been working with gifted students since 2015. 

Star Gazing Webinar for Beginners (Online, Paid)- on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. This is a 90 min webinar, where you will learn how to stargaze using simple and easy, naked eye viewing techniques like ancient travellers, sages and sailors. Stargazing is best in a live session, but this webinar is to help you learn to stargaze by yourself, without having to wait to attend a live event. The session objectives are- to learn the art of stargazing without feeling overwhelmed; to know what to look for while lying under the canopy of the night sky; to have fun stirring up your imagination and creativity. The webinar style is suitable for older children (14+). Younger children can participate along with their parents / teachers as co-guides. Register here.

Summer Programs from GenWise (Residential)- May 8- May 29 (Paid)

India’s premier talent search platform, Ei ASSET Talent Search (ATS) and GenWise are strategic partners. ATS identifies gifted students and GenWise delivers programs to nurture gifts. Watch Ei ATS Gold/ Silver/ Bronze scholars sharing their experience at GenWise programs here- 

Registrations are now open for 3 residential programs in May 2022, all running concurrently at the same campus- For Ei ATS Gold/ Silver/ Bronze scholars         -GenWise 2022 (entering Gr 8,9,10)         -GenWise Jr. 2022 (entering Gr 6,7) Open to all interested students          -Genesis 2022 (entering Gr 8,9,10) Please check this post- and this presentation for more details- The academic enrichment component of the program provides diverse opportunities to students to identify and pursue their interests- Artificial Intelligence, Mathematical Thinking, Leadership, Forensic Investigations, Urban Sustainability, Creative Writing and Engineering Design are just some of the options available. All the programs above are however much more than their academic enrichment component and the goal of the program is to help with the development of the whole child-read more about the benefits of GenWise programs at Safety and comfort of students is ensured by a high quality team of Residential Counselors, trained and managed by the experienced Site Director and Residential Head. The adult:student ratio is 1:5 or greater. Call Vishnu @9342247734 or Rajesh@9840970514 or write to

Present Data-based Insights as Comics, facilitated by Gramener, a leader is data-based storytelling (Free)

Most often, insights from data analysis get buried deep in traditional communication formats, never to see the light of day. Data comics, inspired by the visual language of comics, serve the important insights and information on a platter. They are simple, “catchy” and can evoke emotions, which makes them a powerful medium to engage audiences. We are all familiar with them, yet we’ve rarely used them for data storytelling. Join this workshop for students aged 13- 17 years, on Sat, Feb 26 from 6 PM to 7 PM, to know more about communicating data effectively through comics. This is a hands-on session where students will be given an exercise and will start working on it during the session and present it. Students will take the exercise home and submit it on Comicgen Friday, a regular event that students can continue to participate in on an ongoing basis.

Check out Gramener’s works on Data Comics, to know more. Seats are limited- register here to receive the link for the session.


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