Friday, November 15, 2013

Spark, Whimsy -- the importance of learning simply to learn

Space Models at Brick Fest, Flickr via Creative Commons
Young children are encouraged to be whimsical and imaginative and to always ask why. Students in younger grades look with awe upon the lifecycle of a butterfly and draw endless pictures of colorful circles that they truly believe resemble their parents.
Then a few years pass. Times tables are memorized and we increase the content we teach and begin to instill a sense of conformity and pressure in our students that focuses on attaining success measured by society. It is no surprise that the imagination of our students changes to reflect a stale, stagnant state because they are learning what others want them to learn. Yet, our students are still creative underneath a shell of academic standards. However, we don't give them the opportunities to show the whimsical, inquisitive nature deep within them.

As teachers, we suffer from much the same ill-fated trajectory our students do. Believing we can change the world as a young teacher, we come to the first year of our teaching careers with an energy that feeds into our innovative lessons. Years pass and we are met with more strict standards, more programs to teach, less time to teach them, and more students, many of whom are bored and unengaged with the curriculum since they are being told what to learn and how to learn it.

Think of topics that you find interesting. Think of what you'd want to learn in school. Now think of what you teach. Think of how you teach it. Ask yourself, would I want to learn that way? Would I want to spend my afternoons at home doing that? A recent article came out about a revolutionary way of learning that focuses on engaging students with what they are interested in. Joshua Davis writes for Wired, "How a radical new teaching method could unleash a generation of geniuses." In it he explores a variety of progressive philosophies on learning.

Peter Gray, research professor at Boston college, is quoted by Joshua Davis as stating, " 'We’re teaching the child that his questions don’t matter, that what matters are the questions of the curriculum. That’s just not the way natural selection designed us to learn. It designed us to solve problems and figure things out that are part of our real lives, ' " which raises some key issues of institutionalized schooling. The whole purpose of school should be to teach kids a love of learning, a desire to understand the unknown, and the ability to apply what they know to questions they have. Ultimately its about the spark that fires up their curiosity thus raising their engagement in the classroom. It should not be about what other people think they need to know.

So, what if homework was filled with activities that truly sparked the curiosity of our children, thus supporting that their questions matter. What if students rushed to school the next day asking why, why, why? What if students eagerly awaited the next lesson rather than day dreaming through it?

A simple task like watching a video about space could be that spark for a child. A spark that could change the trajectory of a student's life, assisting them in realizing dreams they have. Take a look at these amazing videos on the International Space Station by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.

Here are two class work or homework documents I’ve put together, one for primary grades and one for upper grades.

Take on the challenge of giving assignments that you’d want to spend time on. If you wouldn’t want to do it, why would your kids?

Inspired and want more? Additional resources can be found at Ramsey Musallam’s Cycles of Learning blog that discusses in depth the use of video as a curiosity spark for initializing a love for learning.

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