Self-Initiated Cognitive Activity

The education world is full of acronyms for educational practices. I have one that I would like to promote. SICA: Self Initiated Cognitive Activity.

We know that self-initiation is an important quality for everyone to have to be successful in life. We should design activities in school that promote such behavior. Every day we hear about how entrepreneurship is the wave of the future—or is it the present? Every “self-made” millionaire required self-initiation.

And cognitive means thinking. If education is not meant to help students think better, then I don’t know what it is for!

Cognitive learning theory and even recent brain research has demonstrated how learning is enhanced when the learner is actively engaged in their own learning process, rather than being a passive recipient of knowledge from someone else.

This leads us to the obvious conclusion that school activities that are designed with student initiation and that engaging them in heads on, hands on activities, need to be centerpieces of our curriculum.

So, what are such activities you might ask? A simple word for such activities that you may be familiar with is … play! According to the best researchers and psychologists, play engages children—and adults too—in self –initiated cognitive activity in ways that foster their cognitive, social, emotional and even physical development. While most of what you see and read in the literature regarding the role of play in learning is about early childhood education, the truth is it is really almost as important at any age.

Ask any inventor or serious scientist and I bet you they will tell you they used to “tinker” and play around, taking things apart, putting things together, and just “fooling around” with stuff from a young age. I recently read that that is what some companies look for in the scientists or engineers they hire—more than good grades in school—is those tinkerers.


So, if you are a teacher or other educator, find time to allow your students to engage in play, of whatever form. If your supervisor asks you what they are doing, tell him or her that they are engaged in the latest research-based best-practice of SICA.

6 thoughts on “Self-Initiated Cognitive Activity

  1. Love the last line, “latest” means a dab of brain research added like flavoring to practices known to be worthwhile for at least a century.

  2. Practices known forever to parents, teachers, and other so-called grownups who have not stopped learning or growing. Heavy version (about which I known very little) developed ~1800 by the great Friedrich Schiller. But this innocent post begs THE PROBLEM: Schools are not a mess because of lack of available awesome ideas, approaches and shmethods. Available from at least hundreds of formidable researcher-writer-teachers like the Meiers. So, if you agree there is a “mess”[and I don’t exactly mean A Nation at Risk (1983!)], then the “fight” is not about publicizing good theory and practice. Could Rethinking Schools, Badass Teachers et al. be on to something more essential? Henry Giroux, too, however ponderous a writer.

    Last thought here: There is a natural (UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES) tendency for our “best” people to become university-centric in a way that faciliates choosing intellectual rather that, uh, social-poliitcla-cultural struggles. (wish I knew more about possible exception = Teachers College at Columbia = Lucy Calkins and many other likely warrior-angels. ) J

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