Tinkering… makerspaces… engineering… design thinking… learning spaces… robotics… coding…
These are all things that are big in my county right now… along with a HUGE push to use technology (all kinds of technologies, in all kinds of ways) and social media tools to connect kids and teachers to the world. Sounds incredibly progressive, right?
Our school board has even said we aren’t supposed to have as our teaching goal to teach to the state tests–that their goal is for kids to succeed with real life skills like our lifelong learner standards–and so we look at tinkering… makerspaces… engineering… design thinking… learning spaces… robotics… coding… and get kudos from our Superintendent and others in Central Office when this is what we spend our time doing.
Not that any of this is bad…if you’re reading that into this post, don’t. I do a lot of this, and help with other pieces of it. In fact, one of my favorite TED videos is
Those of you who have read my writing before know I’ve taught for 30+ years. Was around before the huge “Let’s test everybody all the time” movement, and have seen many things come and go in classrooms in my system and our central office.
What I’m not seeing in the push in my county and in other places as well is the build towards sustainability. The build towards the “WHY?” The build of supporting teachers (and parents and kids and the community) to understand how coding will help the student be a better citizen, be a more productive member of society, be a nicer human being, be smarter, be more “ready” for college and/or the workforce, be …whatever.
AND, beyond the not building, we aren’t sharing and remembering what has come before….building on the community knowledge we have of what came before and what we’ve already tried. We’re not looking back to see what didn’t work in the past to avoid making those same errors. We’re not accessing the “system memory.”
Let me give you an example from another field. Several years ago at the Children’s Engineering Convention in VA I heard Henry Petroski speak. From the field of engineering, he spoke to the feat of designing and building bridges, and he is known for popularizing the theory that a major bridge collapse occurs every 30 years. He says that “bridge collapses happen approximately every 30 years because that’s how long it takes a new generation of engineers to emerge and then ignore the old lessons, to disastrous results.
(The theory first appeared in a 1977 paper in the Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers by civil engineers Paul Sibly and Alastair Walker. They based their theory on observations of the pattern of major bridge collapses: the Dee in 1847 (pdf), the Tay in 1879, the Quebec City in 1907, the Tacoma Narrows in 1940, and the West Gate in 1970.)” http://discovermagazine.com/2007/aug/man-who-predicted-the-bridge-collapse#.UXvvmSt37lM
So how many times have you heard in education, as a new initiative rolls around, “This, too, shall pass…” or “We tried this 20 years ago…” ? Is that because a new generation of administrators is in charge, or a new generation of professors in Ed Schools, or wherever the leaders are that lead the charge? So is that how long it takes us educators to “ignore old lessons” and go down the same or similar roads?
I think, as educators, we need to stop talking change. We need to stop talking revolution, or reform, or transformation, or evolution or any of those other words that basically say what we’re doing isn’t working. We need to set common goals and then use what we know about teaching and learning to reach those goals. It’s not about test scores. It’s not about reading and writing and ‘rithmetic–or coding, or tinkering, or making or technology. It’s about LEARNING… and COMPREHENDING… and ANALYZING… and EVALUATING… and CREATING… and THINKING… and using the habits of mind that support critical thinking, reacting thoughtfully, doing and sharing. It’s about being a thoughtful, productive, responsible member of the society we call the human race. I do believe the race in school should not be towards high test scores, but instead towards this:
Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school.
These are the things I learned:
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life.
Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the plastic cup? The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup — they all die. So do we.
And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: look.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and sane living.
Think what a better world it would be if we all — the whole world — had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and cleaned up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
~ Robert Fulghum ~
If we built our curriculum around helping people be the best they could be, and use the skills of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithemetic to do real tasks and build real things and explore real conundrums and problems and situations, wouldn’t they learn what they need to know to live well? Isn’t THAT what we want?
This post was inspired by a tweet from David Coffey, (@delta_dc) April 27, 2013 in a Twitter chat. RT @delta_dc Part of sustainability is building a system memory: what have we tried; what worked? Sharing!
And, in the interest of full disclosure, I was a Kindergarten teacher for 17 years of my current teaching career.