Learning That Matters

IndiaGirlToday I learned from a high school girl on the other side of the planet, how to make a steam powered electrical generator out of a pressure cooker, part of a hair dryer, some plastic tubing and a few wires, stuff many people have around the house. The video lesson spawned all sorts of ideas about how my students could use inexpensive parts like this to experiment with wind power generators.

Which is just in time, because next trimester, we are going to build things, like wind turbines in Climate Science class. And for once in my time as a teacher, I’ve not designed the curriculum, nor planned out the lessons day by day.

You see, I cannot do so this time, because I need the kids to help make the plans. This is going to be a different sort of trimester, student driven, student powered, student created. The trick I’m hoping to pull off is total buy-in from the kids, and to do that, they have to be fully empowered.

The course has already had two trimesters of somewhat more traditional learning.  The students have studied how Earth’s Climate works and how humans have been disrupting the natural processes.  They understand the problem and the gravity of the situation. Now they are ready, hungry even, to look at solutions, to explore ideas for fossil fuel free energy systems.

These are the young people who will inherit the world and be faced with the issues humanity has created.  These are the young people who will find better ways to inhabit the Earth.  These are the young people who must develop their creativity, their problem solving skills, and most important of all their ability to collaborate with others near and far, and come up with new ideas.

Let us empower them to begin now.  Let them do work now that matters.

In the “Real World” learning happens continuously and as needed.  Each level of new understanding leads to more questions, to be figured out and tested,  the results added to a body of knowledge which is immediately put to practical use.

What if school was like that?

Here is the idea so far. We are going to explore solutions to the climate crisis by making things, and we are going to blog about it. The concept is continuous learning through building, discussing, photographing, writing, experimenting, thinking, and reflecting. We will be using our portals to information, I-pads, lap-tops, smart phones, to tap into other human brains on the planet who are also building, experimenting and thinking about solutions to the climate issue.

This is the vision anyway. I don’t know how this is all going to work out. The students and I will be creating this curriculum together. My wish is for learning to be real, hands on, relevant, and above all inspiring.  I’m expecting some bumps along the way and many unanticipated challenges.  But I’m also optimistic there will be new insights into how kids learn.  Hopefully there will be breakthroughs for them in terms of making connections, unleashing their creativity, and increasing confidence, because we are going to need super capable people to meet this century’s challenges.

LightBulbThere is something about holding objects in the hands, manipulating them, fitting things together, and trouble shooting, that I suspect will be ever so much more effective at creating neuronal connections, than reading about what other people have done, followed by a test on that material.

I’ve ordered some simple kits to get us started learning. There is one that makes a model of a working wind turbine. It promises that once built, students can do several experiments with it. There is another that explores hydro-power and a third that is a different variety of windmill. Students can work in small groups to put these models together, then of course experiment with them.

Hopefully, once we all have the basics down, we can become more creative, like our friend from across the planet, who showed us how to make a steam electric generator from some junk around the house.


About Sue Houston

I've been teaching high school science for over 25 years. The more I learn, the more questions I have about how good education really works. This blog is an attempt to explore the fundamental question of "How do Kids Learn?" This blog will include posts related to technology in education, neuroscience, behavioral science and real life experiences in the classroom. Please, I invite you all to join the conversation in the comments sections. Perhaps together we can find more insights into how kids learn! If you are a student, educator, or past student (that covers everyone, right?) you have something to contribute! :)
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1 Response to Learning That Matters

  1. Pingback: Project Update: In Students’ Own Words | How Do Kids Learn ?

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