Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Learning Today

This article on the Taste of Tech blog states, “I worry about how K-12 education can remain relevant and engaging as we continue to filter out anything that’s not on a test.”

The information may remain relevant, but not engaging. I think that’s why kids start to view school as a chore by 4th or 5th grade. (You hardly ever hear kids in lower grades complain about going to school – they almost all start out loving it). We have already seen a dramatic increase in testing and teaching to the test materials this year with our 3rd grader. Grades, test scores, and levels all matter to her a lot more now than they did last year.

The way in which material is typically presented slows down the learning process in an age when there is so much more to learn and so many more ways to learn it. Listening to a lecture IS typically boring. But creating dynamic, interactive, multi-sensory learning is hard within the current school structures of fixed class periods, divided subject matter, and fact memorization. Heck, I can’t even make a one hour Sunday School class interesting to 7th through 12th graders! I can’t imagine trying to do it day after day for a 6 hour school day. (This is why I’m not a school teacher, so don’t get too worried).

What’s worse is that parents are blocking educational progress as much as anyone. The attitude I see weekly is that “if my kid ISN’T being taught the same way I was, there must be something wrong with the school or teacher.” The reality is that if your kid IS being taught the same way, that’s the larger problem. It is hard to imagine a better way to learn than the one you personally experienced. After all, we came out ok, didn’t we? But the world today is FAR different than the one in which we grew up.

My kids are still talking about visiting Plimouth Plantation last summer, where they got to see, taste, smell, Megan Grinds Maizetouch, and live life in 1628. Before they went, they watched the PBS Kids show “Fetch with Ruff Ruffman” where they watched other kids complete reality-tv-show-like challenges in Plimoth. So when they got there, there was huge satisfaction in being somewhere they’d seen on tv.

Then last fall, our 1st grader studied Plimoth at school with the incredible Mrs. Hricik. She taught our daughter and her class even more about that time in history through an interactive game, online research, hands-on building experiment, food tasting, and team activity that captured for the kids the emotional, human side of the pilgrims’ story. It was all capped with a program for parents and relative consisting of a series of short skits interspersed with factual presentations for those kids not as interesting in acting.

The beauty of this type of teaching is that it was relevant to a 1st grader’s perspective, engaged all types of learners in the class, involved all their senses in the learning, used a variety of media, and captured the human experience. You can bet the kids in this class will remember this info in context for years to come – and not because they needed to know it for any test. THIS is TRUE learning.

It’s also why we parents have to be engaged in our children’s education from day one. Children are natural scientists and eager learners. My kids were learning in formal and informal ways years before they started school. Learning happens through play, travel, experimentation, and observation of the world around us. It happens when we talk about something that just happened that wasn’t planned or expected. Learning doesn’t stop after school or in the summer. Learning happens in the tiny questions that pop up unexpectedly as we spend time together. This is self-guided learning; it is this type of learning that is lost when children spend more hours in daycare than they do at home with parents who care about answering the incessant barrage of questions that everyday life raises for younger children.

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