Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Hip Science Teacher

A while back I wrote about the apparent mismatch between the experience and savviness of the next generation of teachers and the archaic system they find themselves teaching in. Today Gwen sent me a link to wockerjabby, the blog of another hip young teacher who's starting to bang her head into the wall of curriculum:
"I don't yet (and I may never) know exactly what I think of standards and their progeny, the prescribed unit plans and bubble sheet tests and workshop models, but the more I see of curricula, the more I become convinced that they need to be dramatically reduced if not eliminated altogether. where is the joy in visiting each of nearly two hundred destinations on a map for only forty-five minutes each?

in my classroom we have a policy that any question about science may be asked at any time, and depending on a number of factors we will either save it for later, when it can get the attention it properly deserves, or I will derail the entire class so that we can talk about something else that we are deeply interested in. the curriculum says I have to visit each of several dozen topics in turn. but I want my kids to ask questions, to explore, to pick up the rocks and sift through the mud below, to really get their hands dirty"
This is the kind of teacher I want for my daughters. She's an advocate for kids who is obviously passionate about teaching, she's web-savvy and writes wonderfully, and I'm sure she makes the best of a difficult situation in New York's public school system.

But I can't help but try a little utopian thought experiment. Imagine her in the opposite learning environment of where she is right now -- set her loose for three or four months with:
  • a dozen interested kids of different ages
  • no curriculum except a flexible focus on science as an organizing principle
  • the freedom to explore interesting places and environments where science can be experienced and seen in action
  • no pressure to switch topics or disciplines every hour
  • the freedom to follow ideas and trains of thought as far as they're interesting
  • access to great equipment and technology, letting her kids reflect and learn as part of a network of interested people
  • license to have fun
Those 12 kids would emerge with a completely different type of knowledge than 12 kids who had spent the term in school. They wouldn't do well attempting to regurgitate information on standardized tests, but they'd know a lot of information about a few things in context. And they'd go way beyond information -- they'd understand how to do science, how to recognize and pursue interesting questions, how to work through projects with their peers, and most importantly, they'd be engaged.

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