Off topic a little bit, but it’s therapeutic for me, and I’m friends with the editor…
Three seemingly unrelated things got my educator wheels spinning yesterday and today. The first was a video shared by a Twitter friend that features Adam Savage (Mythbusters), titled “Permission to Make“. In the video (below), Adam discusses how he has had this lifelong love of building things, testing them out, recreating, and on and on. He references the shortcomings in today’s education system, where kids have scarce (if any) time to make, time to construct and experiment.
The second thing that occurred was that I read a blog post about mobile devices and informal learning today while preparing for an upcoming professional development course. The post referenced a theory by some fellows at Princeton University called the 70/20/10 Model. This model states that roughly 70% of our learning occurs through our daily activities, 20% through social interaction, and a whopping 10% through formal educational experiences. It seems that we are predisposed to learn in natural settings and circumstances more effectively than we are with our backsides on cold plastic aligned carefully into rows so as to give us the best view of the whiteboard.
The third thing actually happened last night, when I downloaded an iPad app that the magical iPad Genius had recommended for me (He or she knows me so well, it’s a bit unnerving.). The app is a game called SimplePhysics. The principle is easy enough–construct a structure that is strong enough to survive some test. Of course, your resources (money) are limited, so keep it cheap. I discovered quickly that my physics knowledge is either very rusty, or the game is just plain out to get me. Not wanting to admit the latter, I pressed the Retry button. I continued to do so until I had successfully conquered a few levels, just enough to restore a little bit of my pride (I won’t reveal exactly how many clicks it took, for fear that tiny bit of pride will be lost again.).
So, what is the common thread of these 3 things? I think it is that schooling needs more building, more experiences, and more Retry buttons. The real world values the ability to make, to break (at times), to solve problems, to think. How much more effective might we be if we radically reset this whole thing and made learning the natural process it is when kids go home? Give them a problem, provide what they want/need to solve it, and stand back. Watch a kid learn to play a new video game. One of the most important features of a game is the ability to backtrack a bit and give it another go…and another… and another. A week later, they’re on level 112 with a #6 world ranking (despite the initiative and determination that “these kids today” just don’t have). Think about the first time they kicked a soccer ball. What if the coach had simply said, “Terrible–you get a C-. Now, on to shooting a basketball.” Kids will stick with games until they get the hang of them, no matter how many missteps they make. Who among us didn’t hit a mailbox or two when we were learning to drive a car? (Anyone…?) We learn best by doing and tinkering and attempting and retrying, not by meditating and memorizing. This is what builds real-world value into learning. Real life learning is filled with Retry buttons. Schools don’t have time for them, though–they have the curriculum to cover.
I saw this in action this week, incidentally. I saw a group of our students who, after a mere 6 days of work, had created a mountain of very high-quality products focused on an awareness campaign for a polluted waterway in the area. It was their first experience with anything resembling project based learning. Teachers and students raved about it. The audience at the school board meeting gave the beaming kids a standing ovation. And, despite the fact that they never shared a single bubble sheet or fill-in-the-blank worksheet, I am completely confident that their knowledge of science, math, technology, social studies, and language arts were all deepened. Most importantly, as they worked to solve the problem, they researched, they experimented, they communicated, they built, they got their feet (quite literally) wet, they made mistakes, they hit the Retry button, and they accomplished something real and valuable. Isn’t that the kind of thing most of us envisioned when we took this gig?