Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Rethinking the classroom is no longer an's a necessity

I hear my daughter's complaints about school.  And I hear her friend's complaints, too.  They're remarkably similar. They are bored with school. And they have been for years.

It's not that they think that they know everything (although at 14, there is sometimes a bit of that, too!) It's that they're not learning anything that seems to matter to them.  Or even worse, not learning anything at all.

For example, the math. These are gifted, talented kids but they are mastering only enough of their advanced math classes to get through the tests with a good grade. And I understand why.

No where in their assignments or textbooks or lectures is there a hint of how any of this information can be used in life -- or a career. No where is there an explanation of the application of Advanced Geometry or Algebra. The subject are taught in a vacuum, and the result is a classroom full of really smart kids who don't give a darn beyond the grade sheet.

The same could be said of their science, English and history classes. No where is the "why" answered...or even allowed to be asked. 

 I was thinking about this when I came across this article on Wired's website this morning "Coding for kids is as easy as Pi" it said. And the story was the opposite of what I see and hear in my daughter's school. These little kids weren't be told to USE a computer program; they were being taught how to create their own programs.  They weren't handed "learning games" to play...they were coding their own games.

And I was struck by the difference between that school in the UK, and this supposedly outstanding high school in Texas. In one, learning is doing. And when you do, you quickly learn the "why" of things like math and science. They used math and science and English to make a toy crocodile "bite" an offered finger. And in the process, learned far more than any textbook and test could ever teach.

But that lesson seems to be missed in the high school here, where competition for grades and ridiculous levels of homework substitute for actual learning...or even motivation for real learning.

There's a lot of talk about education reform, classroom size, and how we are falling behind the rest of the world in knowledge. But instead of more tests and longer school day and stricter attendance policies, it seems to me that the real answer lies in a primary school in England -- and making a crocodile bite a curious finger. 

(Image from the wired website and the original article)

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