This is 'Iolani School

This is 'Iolani School

Monday, September 12, 2016

Reflections On "Old School" As We Start A New School Year

As the new school year starts I can't help but think back to school years gone by. As a student, I did my Kdg-12th grade from 1965-1978 in the South Orangetown School District in NY.  The early years aren't real clear anymore, but I remember a lot of playing, both inside and outside the school. In my middle and high school years, we had all the regular classes (science, math, language arts, social studies) but also had metal shop, wood shop, photography, home economics, drafting, auto shop, etc. But no matter what class it was, I remember making stuff. In LA I had to make an interactive poster explaining the lyrics to as song of our choice (I went with American Pie). In Science I went to the local water treatment plant and came back to make a model of it that I used for my presentation. In wood shop I made a storage box for my model rocket stuff. Sure there were "lecture" classes but there was also always discussion, always something to engage the students. The only standardized test we had to worry about was the PSAT our junior year and the SAT our senior year (and people seldom took it twice). We did take the CAT (California Achievement Test) every year, but there was no emphasis placed on it other then it was something we had to do to see how well we knew "stuff" and how we compared to the rest of the USA. Scores were never posted in the paper and teachers didn't get financial incentives if their class did well. My memories of those 13 years of education are filled with making, doing,socializing and yes, learning.

As I looked at higher education possibilities, I decided to go into education and become a teacher. In 1984 I went to grad school to study curriculum and teaching, and there had wonderful professors as well as great “student” teaching placements. Our classes required us to create teaching centers for various subjects and various grades, some classes (like science methodology) included weekly lab classes where we did took the role of a learner and did experiments. In my teaching placements, I was with teachers that had the kids doing things: grinding corn into meal to make corn bread, creating books to share with the younger students, making cities with blocks, etc.

When I got my first teaching job in 1986, I knew how I wanted to run my class. I created units that were interactive and would engage my students. They were also on topics that I was interested in. One example was from teaching 3rd grade. I developed a whole unit on flight; we made airplanes, kites and rockets; we wrote letters to kite companies; we collected data on how far our planes flew; we used math to measure, not only the thing we were making but did a little advanced geometry to figure out how high something was. In other years I taught kindergarten (by far my favorite grade). We had centers everywhere, as a matter of fact, I don’t remember “teaching” subjects. I could teach math in the writing center, Lego center, home center, art center, etc. I taught language in those same centers too. We taught through doing stuff. Yes we had a scope and sequence, but finding that “teachable moment” by getting kids to enjoy learning, was how I taught the curriculum.

In “Invent To Learn” Stager & Marintez say, “The Piagetian idea that ‘to understand is to invent’ (Piaget, 1976) shaped how teachers taught and how children learned” through the mid-1980s.” I imagine if you look back to how teachers were taught in the 1940’’s and 50s, it was much the same way...those were my teachers in the 1960s and 70s...the ones that allowed me to be creative in class.

So what did “we” children learn by going through an education system that let us learn by doing? What came out of the minds of the kids that were encouraged to imagine, create, and improve?

Personal computers, mobile phones, electric cars, flat-screen TV, and the World Wide Web to name a few.

Those things were created by people who learned by doing. People who made things, who often failed but who were given the chance to try again, learning from their mistakes. What about the kids in schools now? Standardized tests, state and national mandated curriculum, and very little “learning by doing” seems to be the way of the world now. What will this generation of students create if we don’t give them the opportunity to “Learn by doing”?

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