Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling of encountering an idea that contradicts something you believe to be true. "Cognitive dissonance is a consequence of a person performing an action that contradicts personal beliefs, ideals, and values; and also occurs when (someone is) confronted with new information that contradicts said beliefs, ideals, and values." (wikipedia) Because we want to feel better and ease the mental discomfort of cognitive dissonance, people will change or add the new information to their thinking. In this way 'knotty problems' which cause cognitive dissonance lead us to build knowledge and deeper understandings. So setting up contexts which bring children to the point of cognitive dissonance is how I can bring rigor to projects all around the school.
Here are a few examples which I didn't capture particularly well, but which hint at the possibilities ahead;
Artist Ei Arakawa challenged us to create 'island hats' for more than one head. Children designed hats which were symbols of the community and isolation of immigrants to New York and Ellis Island. The elementary, preschool and VCU students directly experienced the difficulty of being in community while trying to match their pace and height, wearing the hats in an island parade. In this way the materials made everyone experience the ideas behind the project directly. Contemporary artists work with materials and ideas in the same way we can work with children in the atelier.
A group of young children who were fascinated with the gothic design of Old City hall were more satisfied with clay representations which could capture the qualities of rich texture and ornate design better than drawing. The children couldn't name these qualities but discovered them in a tactile way through the clay.