Monday, November 02, 2009

Back to school today, and it seems for the most part, we've dodged the proverbial bullet. Most students are back in class, relatively healthy. This makes me wonder if our preemptive strike against the flu bugs was successful, or unnecessary. A quick poll of my classes showed only a couple of students in each hour who were 'sick' while on our little mini-vacation.
The kids are full of tales of what they did with their time off. Vivid descriptions of trick or treating, their costumes, and the haunted house at the teen center excitedly flow freely. I wonder if there is a way to capture that enthusiasm and turn it into learning at school.
All the educational research says make learning meaningful and relevant, and kids will buy into it. I agree wholeheartedly! HOWEVER, I struggle with the day to day application of that principle.
In math in particular, it seems not every lesson warrants some fun and exciting project to tie these algorithms to real life. Those ties are so often far-fetched and trivial anyway. Can't we sometimes just learn a new skill for the sake of learning? Just because we will need it for the next lesson, or for 'someday'? In math, skills are so sequential and specific, and not always directly connected to something else, I struggle with making 7th graders excited about learning the distributive property or multiplying mixed numbers or inverse relationships. I can come up with relevant examples, but often times, these mean less to my students than the book's word problems.
When I was a kid, school was school. We learned because we were supposed to. We did our homework because if we didn't, the consequences at home were dire. Now it seems, kids question and want to be entertained much more. The age of electronics has overpowered their sense of being able to learn, unstimulated.
We can argue the need to teach creativity and problem solving skills, touting the need in the 'real world' for this knowledge. Truth is, kids who go through traditional educational programs ARE successful in the business world. My oldest daughter's education was much skill and drill, learning for the sake of learning, little high level thinking, no project based learning, little technology. But now, at 25, she is lucratively employed, able to lead teams to success as they collaborate and work on problems we had yet to imagine when she walked the hallowed halls of this school. Obviously, her traditional schooling worked our for her.
I think if we teach students a consistently viable curriculum, teach them to learn, teach them to be responsible, teach them to value education, we will create contributing members of society. We don't need to worry so much about the path to get there, as much as getting them there.
More students attempt college now than ever before, for better or worse. We are generating more high school graduates than in generations past. Literate adults are being created. We just need to let go of our expectations for every student to become a college graduate, and realize success is measured in ways beyond a diploma.


john in nc said...

Cossondra - I can't decide whether the new Rutgers research supports your position, or not, or is just about something else! But it's interesting... maybe fodder for a future blog post:

Glad to hear your kids mostly dodged the swine flu -- or H1N1 as the pork industry prefers.

cossondra said...

Great article, John (which oddly enough was blocked by our Deep Nines filter at school for some reason?). I like the thinking, that challenging kids IS a good thing, letting them experience frustration builds confidence and pride. It has me thinking.....