This comment is by rezam on the post “We Owe Our Sons What We’ve Given Our Daughters.”
Here are a few solutions.
Premise – all kids originally are curious, and like to learn about things. Of course, kid A is interested in thing X, and Kid B is interested in thing Y. We cannot accommodate both now can we. Or can we? What happens when all roads lead to Rome?
Lets take math and science. Suppose one kid is interested in sports – football, basketball, baseball, and um snooker. (Well some claim it’s a sport.) The scores can give you the basic of multiplication. The players performance can give you the basics of statistics. The paths of baseballs can give you the basics of quadratic equations and parabolas. Snooker can give you the basics of plane geometry.
Another kid is interested in automobiles. Start with wooden box cars and address friction, kinetic and potential energy, acceleration and gravity, speed and distance problems, drag, weight.
Another kid is interest in model rockets – chemistry, finishes and materials, control systems, payload design, wind drift and recovery determination.
Another kid is interested in cooking. Teach them chemistry of colloids in reduced sauces, teach them the biology of parasites and infection, why do you add sugar when whipping cream, the action of yeast, the metabolic impacts of proteins vs fats vs carbohydrates, Kreb’s cycle vs ketogenic states.
Another kid is interested in wars. Teach them the development of weaponry, materials, stored energy ion crossbows, the economics of manpower and water as causes, lead into history of the Mongols, the speeches of Cicero, Henry IV, Charlemagne Sun Tzu.
Construction leads to english grammar (building blocks, clauses are pre-fab plug-ins)
Ancient myths lead to Ceasar, Machiavelli, and philosophy.
Instead of teaching THESE 3 specific works in grade 7 to all students, let them choose from a list of 100 different works – there can be teachers who provide support to those reading Ender’s Game, and different teachers providing support to those reading Sabriel. And those teachers do not need to be collocated – they could be 100 miles away. Some of that support could be archived discussions, debate, lectures, clips. Since the student has a mentoring teacher, the one-on-one support comes fro the teacher helping to navigate those support aids.
Now instead of the process being found in the table of contents in a conventional text (assuming they are still in many classrooms), you are more moving from the index at the back of the book, through the things that actually interest you. But the path can jump from text to text to text across disciplines, following the student’s path of interest.
The point is to leverage the KID’s interests as a guiding pathway to learn things – it is ALL connected anyway, and ANY interest pursued enough will lead to ALL fields. The problem is, curricula are not designed that way. Teachers can’t present that way. Classes all have to learn the same stuff, the same way, at the same time. We can’t assess the student’s progress that way.
Computer systems can be designed to provide a graph theory approach to learning, where each student can map a path through an education process that suits their interests, and their capabilities, at their maturation rate. Complicated to design, expensive to build in up-front capital costs, but far more cost-effective to operate, and potentially, far superior results.
Teachers then become coaches. Instead of writing lesson plans and executing them, they monitor progress through the network system, do more one-on-one work suggesting new facets to the interests that help the student progress, pose challenges that help overcome resistance to areas of learning that the student does not see as relevant. Attach digital game challenges to the learning to turn acquaintance into strengths, place progress through the systems as a competitive endeavour. Add in points for peer guidance, if the student chooses to do so.
Now you have leveraged interests, added competition (and since all paths are different, is carries less hurt to ‘lose’), placed a large measure of control into the student’s hands, turned the teacher relationship into a less adversarial role, reduced the stress on teachers, and enhanced the real mentorship role of teachers.
Assessment comes from the system, plus the teachers appraisal, plus potentially, some conventional exams at periodic points. Instead of it being EXAM XYZ at month 59, it might be a similar exam, when the student has completed a relevant section. This reduces the impact of differential maturation rates of boys and girls in manual dexterity (cursive script), reading and vocabulary
The system would be available from home, which means that the homework and associated management and pre-frontal cortex issues are reduced.
School classes would include some P.E., game playing (RISK, chess, poker, GO) partly for the intellectual and cognitive development benefits, partly for the social skill development, argumentation and debate, music, dance, self-defense, all things that require groups of students.
Once you free up the adult human resources from the mundane drilling of rote learning, they are available to provide these kinds of opportunities instead.
Parents would be able to monitor online the progress of their kid. A kid’s interest could lead to a mentorship of another parent in the community who knows about cars, sports, war, cooking, dance, so their is a wider circle for the kid to draw on that JUST their teacher, and their own parent. And if that parent/mentor is from a different cultural, racial, or SES demographic, that is a benefit, too.
As the student enters the last few years of high school, they may have a better appreciation of where their strengths and interest lie, they will have pre-existing ties into the adult community through the mentorship roles, and they can be encouraged to think more effectively on their career path, and what post-secondary education they are seeking (if any).
You MUST keep the students desire to learn alive – that has to be rule one.
Impossible? Not technologically. Will some teachers have a tough time adapting – yes, many others will flourish. Those who are more conventional can provide the subject specific support. Would it cost a lot of money… yesssss. But the private sector could take a lead role in generating that capital and organizing the development. Can this be done on a test-bed basis? Perhaps if you tackled one discipline (maybe basic math).
This does leave some aspects of learning out – having to learn material that you cannot find a way to interest yourself in, dealing with inter-personal conflict, overcoming emotional adversity in dealing with a rigid institution. But the benefits cold be very large indeed.
photo: wwworks / flickr