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Learning Through Inquiry and Curiosity: Forensic Investigations+ #34

+ GenWise Residential Program 2021 | Upcoming Events

Quote of the Week

“There is no way to help a learner to be disciplined, active, and thoroughly engaged unless he perceives a problem to be a problem or whatever is to-be-learned as worth learning, and unless he plays an active role in determining the process of solution.” Neil Postman, Author and Educator

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 collaborating on this. 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 (

This week’s main post ‘Learning Through Inquiry and Curiosity: Forensic Investigations’ highlights the importance of getting learners to think on their own through carefully constructed lessons, and guiding their thought processes through incremental questions, without giving away the answer. The importance of providing a motivating context is also highlighted. The post is written by Ritu Lamba, the founder of Things Education; she shares examples from a course on forensic investigations she has conducted multiple times.

You are invited to be an early member and beta-tester of the GenWise Club (ages 13-90), a community of interested students, parents, and educators. Check out this link for more about the club and how to join it. It is open to all in the current beta phase. 

Join this conversation on learning, by commenting on our posts, or joining our club community for more regular and closer interactions.


Learning Through Inquiry and Curiosity: Forensic Investigations

GenWise Residential Program, Dec 2021

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Learning Through Inquiry and Curiosity: Forensic Investigations

We think this post by Ritu Lamba really brings to life how powerful student inquiry can be when facilitated well. It may not be always possible to design such engaging contexts for learning, but it is always possible to ask a question that makes the student think, instead of turning him into a passive participant, by giving away the answer.

In a previous edition of this newsletter- The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, we spoke about the joy in learning that results from working on such tasks. In Teaching Children to Connect the Dots and The Importance of Factual Knowledge in the age of Google, we emphasised the importance of active learning by getting learners to synthesise meaning from isolated facts. All of these principles get embodied in the examples Ritu shares in her post.

Why learning through inquiry and curiosity?

Would a group of 13- to 14-year-olds with no particular interest in biology spend upwards of 30 hours excitedly learning about fingerprint patterns, nitrogen and phosphate bases in DNA, and antigens in blood? Most of us would say that this is quite unlikely. Yet it has been my experience (4 times in previous courses) that young students were fully charged up about learning these topics…

…because they were primarily working to solve mysterious cases, and were willing to do whatever it took to catch the robbers. They were not setting out to learn the above-mentioned topics- that they had to learn these along the way was just in service of their main goal of solving the mysteries.

In inquiry-based, curiosity-driven classrooms, students feel in charge of their own learning. Yet, as you will see below, and in the detailed original post, the instructor carefully drives the discussions and activities based on meticulous lesson plans and a deep understanding of how students think, which concepts may be too abstract or too demanding, and what misconceptions students bring into the classroom. There is noise, there are truckloads of questions, and sometimes productive chaos – but in every case, there is deep learning. Students not only learn the science (or language or law) involved, but they also learn how to think critically, how to identify and deal with their own biases, how to ask effective questions, and how to persevere and learn from failure. But most importantly, they learn how to learn, and that learning can be fun. A few months down the line, they may not immediately recall the names of the nitrogen bases found in DNA, but they will remember that a seemingly-difficult scientific concept was actually easy to understand – all it needed was some motivation and some curiosity.

A vignette from an inquiry-based, curiosity-driven classroom

The class begins with a brief about the Regal Aureate Vase being stolen from a museum – the robbery took place at night; no alarms were triggered, no CCTV footage was captured, and the glass protecting the vase was shattered. Given the brief, students are asked to identify what evidence to look for. Students invariably propose many theories instead – Maybe it was the security guard! Maybe someone within the museum! No, a visitor who stayed behind and hid till after hours! I remind them that a good investigator moves from fact to theory, not theory to fact.

This reminder focuses students, and they start looking for evidence in a more disciplined manner. They come up with ideas like talking to the people who visited the museum that day and searching for fingerprints. Through careful open-ended questions, I let them discover the challenges of the strategies they have identified, on their own (hundreds of people have visited the museum, and there are a very large number of fingerprints).

Finally, there is a consensus that the shattered glass case may yield a clue… perhaps one of the robbers cut themselves on the glass? … and they find that one of the shards of glass has some blood on it! A conversation along the lines below ensues-

Yayy! So now we can find the robber! How?

With DNA evidence! Yes, but how? How will we get the DNA from the blood?

Umm, in the lab? Correct, but that’s the answer to where? My question is how?

We take it out of the blood and examine it… Okay, let’s start over. Where is DNA found?

In cells? Yes, in cells. Can you see cells?

No… But we can under a microscope! All right. What about DNA?

Yes, yes, under a microscope! We can see DNA under a microscope and check who it belongs too! Hmm, all right, let’s try to see DNA.

This is followed by a DNA isolation activity, where every student uses his or her own saliva and simple chemicals including dishwashing detergent, salt and ethanol in a test tube to isolate a spool of DNA. At every step of the activity, I explain to students how each chemical is interacting with the cheek cells present in their saliva to get the DNA out. The spool of DNA they see in the test tube is a small mass of white, barely visible and impossible to study.

The students are stumped. Finally, they concede that we cannot study DNA just by looking at it.

But this setback only makes them more curious – because their ideas are never dismissed, and they understand the science and evidence that proves them wrong. Their motivation to figure out DNA and find the robber is stronger than before.

Another discussion full of carefully-worded guiding questions follows, and students conclude that the answer probably lies in the structure or chemistry of DNA. Now, their motivation is sky high, and the science-heavy discussion about the structure of DNA is full of energy and curiosity – after all, they must catch the robber!

An approach for building lifelong learners

Along with ensuring deep learning, this approach of inquiry and curiosity also builds lifelong learners – learners who understand their own thinking patterns and are not afraid of challenging themselves. Building the right culture is key – by asking questions, encouraging debate and being open about what you don’t know – and students will follow suit!

(Read a more detailed account of this approach here.)

Ritu Lamba is the founder of Things Education, whose educational activity boxes, unboxED, offer educationally robust sets of activities that build literacy and scientific (STEM) skills through conversations and creation. Things Education also conducts Teacher Professional Development programmes to make educational research accessible and implementable in the classroom. If you’d like to customise courses for your school, you can reach out to them at

Ritu will be conducting a 1 week course ‘Investigative Thinking Through Forensic Science’ from 18 – 24 December 2021 at Bengaluru. (registration details are available in the next section)

GenWise Residential Program, Dec 2021

With the COVID situation showing significant improvement, we will be running a 2-week residential program from Dec 18-30, 2021 at the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence in Bangalore for children currently in Grade 8, 9 or 10. The recommended duration is 2 weeks, though participants are free to choose either week. 2 course options are offered each week as listed below. Ei ASSET Talent Search (ATS) Gold, Silver and Bronze scholars are eligible for the advanced courses. If you do not have ATS scores but are interested in the advanced courses, contact us. For more details and to register, visit the program page

Our residential programs are much more than the ‘academic enrichment component’ the above courses represent. The benefits of attending a GenWise Residential Program are highlighted here.  GenWise co-founder, Vishnu Agnihotri, has also shared his personal take in a previous edition of this newsletter titled ‘The Magic of Residential Programs for Children’.

We have very high standards in ensuring the safety of children. Several young athletes (age 9 and upwards) have been staying at the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence Residences for the last few months- a child-friendly facility with strong COVID protocols for all residents and visitors.

Upcoming External Events

Forest Conservation- This week’s edition of ‘Talk to a Scientist’ features Agrim Saini, a science graduate from IISER Pune and an officer in the Indian Forest Service. Questions such as the following will be addressed- Why do we need to conserve forests? Why is preservation of the mangrove ecosystem so crucial?How does science enable conservation efforts?

On Sat, Nov 27, 2021 at 5 PM IST for children from ages 6-16. Register here.

Northwestern CTD Online Courses 

-Physics of Roller Coasters (Grades 5-6)

-Forensic Science: Blood Evidence (Grades 7-8)

Both courses are scheduled on Sat, Dec 18, 2021 from 7- 1030 PM IST

Links to register for both courses are available here. You will need to create a MyCTD account to register.


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