Monday, July 16, 2007

Making education come alive

Why can't education be interesting?!

In elementary, high school, and college, Science and History were my two least favorite subjects.

My favorite part of high school history class was when Mr. Farmer...yes, that really was his name...would send my friend and I to opposite corners in the back of the room for talking (this happened on a regular basis). Being in the back of the room allowed us to communicate through paperwads thrown back and forth. We could do this because the entire 50 minute class was spent with his back to us, writing notes on the blackboard (in very small print) that we were supposed to copy and study. By the end of the class the entire blackboard, wall to wall, was covered in notes. It wasn't a method that really brought history alive for me.

However, once I learned about the Civil Rights Movement in college...thanks to a professor showing a piece of the documentary, Eyes on the Prize...I began understanding how the movement affected real people. Since then, I have gained a thirst for new information and I am always trying to make new connections about how history affects the decisions, laws, and practices we have today.

Science wasn't much better. Reading a science book and trying to remember all of the technical terms wasn't exactly my cup of tea. However, I do remember my mom purchasing a chemistry kit for me at a garage sale and, though I didn't exactly know what I was doing, I remember sitting outside, reading the instructions, and trying to make carmel with the little vials and burners that came with the kit. Though I never achieved edible carmel (I'm not sure the kit was meant to create edible carmel, but that was my goal), the chemistry kept me occupied for hours.

So why is education in our schools so boring?

Why is learning so disconnected from real life?!

We seem to be on a pendulum. Learning is categorized and departmentalized and single subjects are taught depending on what the political climate deems as necessary. As a result, a child in school focuses on reading OR math OR science OR history...but rarely do these subjects get applied to real life. Over the past few years, because our mandated testing has been on reading and writing, teachers and schools often leave out the other subjects. I have had more than one kid tell me that the reason they have a 100% in Social Studies on their report card is because they don't do Social Studies (the teacher just gives them a grade to fill in the blank).

Over the last several years, the colleges and businesses have noticed the downward trend in students interest in Science and Engineering. To make up for that, mandatory testing has added Science so teachers would be sure to teach it. But that doesn't mean it will be interesting. Actually, it means quite the opposite. Now teachers will have to ensure kids get certain facts down about science.

Maybe instead of "teaching" everything, subject by subject, we should focus on kids "experiencing" things. If we set up our classrooms in a way that kids could explore, create, and experience, I wonder if we'd be surprised by the way kids responded to education...and be surprised at how many subjects are covered.

This week, we start our 4-week summer program on Health and Nutrition at Turner Courts. We have field trips set up to Central Market, UTA's fitness center, Samuell Farm, and the Farmer's Market to stimulate their creativity. We have speakers who will teach about nutrition and health...some who are parents, some who are fitness instructors, some who work at places like Southwestern Medical Center. We will be teaching the kids how to blog and podcast as well.

But the most exciting part is that we have time for the kids to create. The kids will be writing on the blog (you can keep up with it at, taking pictures, interviewing people, creating a practical fitness center that could work in their own home, and creating the menus for our evening meals. The activities and projects they do will incoporate reading, writing, math, art, history, health, science, and so much more.

I admit I am a little nervous. It's hard to think outside of the traditional education box. It is a little scary to wonder what we will do and how we will guide the kids during the "unstructured" time. It puts the burden on those of us who are setting up the program to really listen to the kids and hear what they are saying so that it can inform our approach on a daily basis.

I'll keep you updated on the progress.
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