cc licensed flickr photo shared by bionicteaching

My son decided to make a slingshot the other day. He disappeared for a while and showed up with this. He’s six. It’s not rocket science and it’s not perfect. That’s not the point. I love the spirit that drove him. He believes he can make things. He thought about the parts he’d need, what they should do and then he just did it1. I’d love for our classrooms to foster that kind of thinking and independence, that ability to make things you’re interested in.

Now we’re going to use it and I’m going to see what changes when he makes on his next slingshot.

1 This can be a little annoying if you care about things that happen to become components but we’ve got those lines fairly well defined now.

Comments on this post

  1. Meghan said on May 12, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Montessori, baby.

  2. xeniuses said on June 7, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    I think that your paintbrush is too broad in the strokes that teachers and education do not foster these venues of learning. Let us not forget the driving forces and the braking forces of classroom exploration… The thought of lawsuits. Did you consider the simplicity of even truly conducting this task in a public school? The paperwork? I understand that this “home” experience is an analogy for self directed learning, but therein lies the difference between the home and the classroom. Teachers stretch as far as they are allowed by the parents of their students. One OK does not implicitly approve all activities for all students, but one naysayer can dampen activities as a safety concern.

  3. Tom said on June 7, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    I don’t think I’m being too broad. We have a system that is set up to deliver content as opposed to encouraging learning. That is how most schools operate because that’s how schools are tested.

    It seems like you’re over specifying on this particular activity. This isn’t about safety. Let’s replace the slingshot with creating a large time line on dinosaurs. You’d hit the same resistance. In a factory system like many schools have become non-standard students are forced into line or squashed. There are other ways to facilitate learning and different roles teachers can play.

    I think we ought to be striving to bring more self-directed learning into our systems. Shrugging and saying “that’s why it’s school” doesn’t cut it for me.

    Additionally, the fact that one naysayer can kill opportunities for every other student in a class seems to indicate a number of other issues in our system.

  4. xeniuses said on June 8, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    The point being that the differences between the envisioned school of teachers let loose to truly teach and public education is that it is controlled by the whims of the public. Many parents cannot see beyond what they learned in school. Beyond the teachers’ techniques that you are hedging in with the “if it worked for me” mentality, your are swimming upstream against a past generation that doesn’t seem to embrace the fact that we have a culture with a “Whole New Mind” (great book). Teachers are not outdated, the system isn’t broken, … the public is blind!

    • Tom said on June 8, 2010 at 7:43 pm

      You seem to be arguing at cross purposes here. On the other post you’re claiming the whole system is broken and here you’re claiming it’s just the public that’s holding back teachers. It seems like you’ve got to pick one or the other.

  5. xeniuses said on June 10, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    You said that my writing is hard to follow, yet I went back to the other comment, and cannot see where I even insinuated that the system is broken. Since I am operating inside the system, and I have children inside the system, I struggle with ever suggesting that it is broken.

    My best claim is that what perceptions the public has for education always seem to contend with what they want to envision education to be.

    As a teacher yourself, what is your response to the fact that the “system is broken” including your classroom? Are you still failing when some states that the system is?

    From the inside, it is a hard struggle to keep ahead of the paperwork, but the classroom experience gets better with age. I know too many teachers working too hard to be better than the perception that the “WHOLE” system is broken!

    Sorry that you seem to be reading that into it.

    • Tom said on June 10, 2010 at 10:40 pm

      I said your writing was hard for me to follow so it makes sense that I misunderstand you. We’ll see if I did better this time around.

      It seemed to me when you said “We should be investing in people, but the people that need the investment are the consumers of education – the students, and they don’t care for it” then that would mean you think our system is broken as investing in teacher training and support is a pretty foundational element of the current system. I’m assuming you’re advocating for a pretty radical change. “My point of the response is that we are seeing money thrown at a culture that is not fazed by our investments or threats. Time for a new tactic.” This certainly seems to say you think what we’re currently doing is failing and needs to a drastic change. I don’t assume you’re trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

      I’d agree that the public seems to be confused in terms of what they want from education. It seems to mirror politics.

      Personally, I’d say there are some pretty drastically broken things in education. My classroom was a pretty prime example. The fact that an alternate school for kids who could not attend regular school exists is pretty much evidence of some severe issues. I think good things happened in my classroom but I had 6th graders who couldn’t read. The fact that I was not allowed to tutor students not “on the bubble” for passing our state test indicates a severe problem. I had fun with my students but what I was required to teach them was pretty useless in the scheme of things. Knowing aspects of the Kwakiutl tribe had very little use in their lives.

      I guess I look at it as a broken system but with many people who do good things in spite of the system.

  6. xeniuses said on June 14, 2010 at 8:55 am

    All right… I’ll let the broken system exist since you are so adamant to back it up. Before I completely prostrate myself to your keen insight to education, might I ask if the break in the system is localized to education? Does our society exist without any vestiges of these imperfections?

    Gangs activity, drugs, illiteracy (McDonald’s keyboards with images rather than words),… If our society caters to the adults in this manner, can’t we expect that this will trickle down into our youth and the “workplace” they exist in for 8 hours a day?

    Go ahead and want a fixed system… Shout into the wind that it is unfair, imperfect,… I see opportunities to grow alongside my learners. I see teachers turning their heads and asking me what I am doing differently. I see changes for the better because I see a positive outcome by making the students more important than the system, and negating the resources. I meet them at the door with a handshake and I try to listen to what they want do do with information they don’t believe they need.

    My system isn’t broken, because I am not broken.

    • Tom said on June 14, 2010 at 9:27 am

      I think you’re probably taking this too personally and there’s no need to get sarcastic. You don’t have to “let” anything exist. Either you believe what I’m saying or you don’t. Either way is fine with me.

      I don’t think that education exists in a vacuum. I think part of what is broken about education in America is the public expectation of it. Education, by itself, cannot fix everything but I think if education weren’t so focused on standardized test scores we could spend more time and energy helping students who need more from us than they’re getting.

      I find it strange you criticize me for wanting a better system, as if recognizing a system is broken prevents me from doing good within it. I think it’s worth analyzing and thinking about our current system to try to improve it. You, apparently, don’t. I do think students are more important than the system. You may very well be making a difference for your students but I don’t think that has anything to do with the system. I can separate my own actions from the system as a whole. I can also analyze whether the system is helping me do what I feel I need to do. I find that many aspects of the system do not help me. You may find otherwise but either way- you are not the system.

  7. xeniuses said on June 14, 2010 at 9:30 am