School Re-Examined

kids(6)I believe kids are natural scientists. They are curious about how the world works. Just watch some children playing around a pond, chasing frogs, peering at the minnows, exclaiming over water striders and dragonflies. Young children ask a seemingly endless series of questions, expressing an insatiable desire to understand. This, I think, is a basic, evolutionary characteristic, of being human.

How then has traditional education often made learning arduous, stressful, and sometimes downright unpleasant? Just observe an average high school student preparing for final exams to witness the misery.

How, and why, do we do create this? Can we do it differently? Can we do things better?

How can we, as educators, tap into that natural human curiosity, that drive to understand, that intrinsic need to master the world? How can we ignite that passion for learning, blow it into a flame and keep adding fuel, rather than throwing a bucket of cold water on the fire?

Let us start to question our assumptions of how education works. Let us build a new paradigm!

Here are some assumptions I would like to begin to re-examine.

– Learning is largely a solo activity, accomplished at a desk, in a library or in one’s room.

– Learning happens best when students sit quietly and listen to the teacher.

– Frequent quizzes, tests, and the assigning of grades are required to properly motivate students to work hard.

– Homework is a key part of school.

– Pressure and stress are an inevitable, if not important part, of the academic experience.

– Final exams are necessary to: measure learning / motivate students to work / justify the grades in our grade books.

This year I am so excited to have the opportunity to again teach a class of Biology. Approaching this prep fresh from a summer of rejuvenation, I am feeling energized and creative. With the luxury of summer time to contemplate, I’ve been thinking of the “big goals” for this course. I want this class to be much more than a traditional march through content.

Biology is such an amazing subject. What could be more interesting than studying the life on this planet?! What a terrific platform upon which to set these youngsters up for success in high school and beyond. Let us not simply learn some cool stuff, let us become learners, become collaborators, become scientific thinkers, become tech-savvy investigators, become problem solvers!

Here are the “big goals” I’ve been working on this week.

Goals of the course:

◊ To ignite a genuine passion for learning about the natural world!

◊ To become empowered and compassionate cooperative learners, able to contribute, and nurture the participation of others.

◊ To gain confidence and skills for learning in the modern age by integrating proficient use of powerful technology with real life hands on study of nature.

◊ To develop deep working understandings of the major paradigms of Biological Science from the “big picture” of ecological relationships, down to the molecular level.

◊ To become scientifically literate citizens who can participate, from a basis of understanding, in helping to shape humanity’s relationship with this living planet, Earth.

Now, it is time to work on the nitty gritty lesson plans. I’m envisioning some projects this fall students can do together, kids outside, getting dirty, laughter and joyful exploration. I’m hoping to make this class more student centered, tapping into the social and emotional components of learning that are the way human beings have been learning for thousands of years, long before the industrial model of education took over and became the norm. Humans are, after all, social primates. We learn best in a social setting. We depend on one another, we share knowledge, tap into each others’ strengths, support one another, and as a group, we achieve more than the sum of the individuals.

Life is a team sport. I believe learning is also. Let us begin!

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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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