Saturday, June 15, 2013

Make Education More Relevant!

"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it"
          - George Bernard Shaw

I couldn't take it any more.  

Students would repeatedly ask me, "Why are we writing and reading so much in here?  This is science class not literacy".  

They would say "Why are we doing math in here, this is science class, not math". 

They really do not get it.  We have created a major problem in education in which students view subject areas as specific classes that are isolated and unrelated to the other classes.  This is sad. Real life is filled with science, literacy, math, social studies, art, music, business, technology and more, all wrapped up into one.  Why don't students understand this?  Whose fault is this?

My first instinct was to blame the students.  They were not putting enough effort forward and were not attempting to see a connection that to adults, seems obvious.   I was so frustrated that one day I asked students to take out a piece of paper because we were taking a "pop quiz".  I asked them to write down the question...."What is Science?"  The class peered up with blank stares and waited for me to say that I was just kidding.....but I wasn't.  They struggled.  They struggled mightily.  I then asked them to answer the question, "What is Math?"  Again, blank stares.  That night, when looking over those quizzes, the most popular answer that I came across was that they "were classes that they had to take at school".  This is sad. These are topics they needed to combine in order to survive in the real world.  Why don't students understand this?  Whose fault is this?

It hit me:  WE ARE DOING THIS TO THEM.  These students (7th and 8th graders) were legally not able to vote, drive, drink alcohol, or smoke tobacco because we have determined they are still physically developing and not mature or wise enough to make the right choices.  Yet, we were quick to put the blame on them for not understanding how subject areas in school relate to real life, for not understanding how these topics are interconnected, and for not understanding their relevance.  I do not blame them!!!  They are supposed to believe in us.  They are supposed to follow our lead, and assume that we will help them understand everything they need to know.  We have let them down.  Our subject areas have become so isolated and our content so irrelevant that students do not know what to do and they are shutting down.

I couldn't take it anymore.

I was fortunate enough to fall into an opportunity to collaborate and innovate with some of the best teachers that I have ever been around in Rick Leib, Brad Weber, and Julie Dumke (look them up and follow them!).  With the support of some wonderful administrators and an innovative school board, we were granted an opportunity to start an interdisciplinary program at our local high school in which students would study "themes" and concepts.  Within these themes they would do projects in which they would have autonomy in developing learning experiences that were real-life, relevant, and rigorous.  It was an opportunity to have students for a 3-hour block and pretend that they were in the class of "life", instead of science .....switch ......literacy ......switch studies .....switch.   We were able to teach a plethora of 21st century skills because our students were collaborating with the community.  Each project was designed to work with community partners in an attempt to involve students in altruistic, meaningful learning experiences that helped to improve the community.

Our culminating events for the units were essays which were published in magazines, TED Talks done by the students, websites which the students created, and more.  The students would speak using the content language and explain concepts such as elections, war, sustainability, and human disease.  The students would speak about collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills they had learned.   About halfway through the school year I could feel the culture changing.  They didn't seem to act as if they were in "science" or "literacy" or "social studies'.......they were in the game of life.

Please check us out!  Communities at Oshkosh North High School.
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Keep in touch.  Share your stories.  We should collaborate and help provide students across the world with these opportunities.

Oliver Schinkten
Twitter:  @schink10

Com-Passion Based Learning -

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