Monday, February 23, 2015

Stripping, romance... and learning in context.

Must be a good book if there are already this many post it notes!

Yesterday I ended my blog post (about maths being taught through yoga) with a question I feel is not examined enough in schools - How much of the 'content' that is so valued in schools, has actually lost all its romance because we have stripped it from its context? 

I am currently reading Jane Gilbert's brilliant book, Catching the Knowledge Wave? The Knowledge Society and the future of education. One of the questions she asks is about how we might put academic knowledge and applied knowledge back together. I can access almost the sum of all human knowledge from the pink smartphone in my pocket. So naturally, it won't be enough to just regurgitate facts anymore. It now matters, what we create with it, how as a group we adapt, apply and repurpose the knowledge. Hence, there is a serious need to put the ideas of academic knowledge and applied knowledge back together, purely as a means of coping with the new way that information is disseminated and used in our society today. 

As a sixteen year old, I distinctly remember being puzzled by the intense focus and mental energy boys my age could put into remembering stuff about cars. They could rattle off facts and figures, and would often do so, endlessly. I remember being bored in conversations about GT somethings, quarter miles and more. Yet, I wonder, did these boys ever get a chance to talk about quarter miles in the classroom? Rates, ratios, speed, velocity... These would have been highly relevant in the age of the first Fast and the Furious movies. Graphs comparing the speeds at which the cars from the Fast and the Furious were travelling sounds far more exciting to me than the little wooden toy car that we used in the science lab. We could have used these to make predictions about the accuracy of the movie!

In the hope of scaffolding students through learning by only giving them small amounts of information at a time, I worry that we have stripped back the wrong stuff. The numerous times that students everywhere ask 'why are we learning this?' should be a flashing neon warning light that the context, the purpose, and perhaps even the romance is being lost! Context matters.