Saturday, 20 October 2012

Educational Ideals--An Afterword

Seth Godin sums up many of the issues I have addressed on education in recent posts. Since he is more eloquent than I, I have included his TedTalk here.

Of course, the system he addresses is that of the United States, but here in Canada, and also in other parts of the world, there are many features that are similar and need to be addressed.

One thing he speaks about is the "Flipped Classroom". The backlash against this concept is astounding to me, but I think that there are some other things going on here that have contributed. 

For one thing, it assumes internet access. While most people have this, there are still many who do not, and this can put those students at a further disadvantage. 

I have seen so-called "flipped classrooms" where the teacher watches the students all watch the same lecture. For this, I'm not even sure where to start! Certainly this is a huge waste of time and resources. The lectures and resources are supposed to happen away from the teacher; the discussion and application are what the teacher and class are there for during the classroom time.

I also wonder how this can be used in classrooms that are deemed "inclusive" and in which the abilities and needs of the students are extremely diverse. I would argue that both interest and ability groupings may be the most effective way to encourage all students to reach their potential. 

People have criticized Sal Khan for not being a complete resource unto himself. That is as ridiculous as saying that a research paper with only a single source is complete. Life doesn't work that way. Students need to learn to consult varied resources and to consider biases and limitations within those sources as part of learning critical thinking. Khan Academy, TedTalks, MIT Courseware, PI Lectures, and a multitude of other online lectures are now available, as are websites, internet chats, email, and yes, even textbooks. There is no need for a teacher to present this at a single speed to a classroom of students. Where the value of a teacher lies is in generating discussion, and encouraging students to delve deeply and ask questions, to think of things in different ways, make connections and apply these concepts in new ways. Round-robin reading of a textbook is no more than a way to fill in time. Wasting the time of our students is quite possibly the most disrespectful thing we can do as teachers.

I do disagree though that there is no place for textbooks in exciting students to learn. I do think though that they should be treated as reference materials rather than the main or sole source of information, just as we might consult a dictionary on occasion but are unlikely to sit down and read it cover-to-cover.

What are your thoughts on flipped classrooms, and education in general?

Monday, 15 October 2012

Letting Go

I wrote this last Wednesday after dropping off my son at his math program. It's funny how as a parent, you never know when these moments are going to come, when your child suddenly moves beyond your sights and you find yourself not wanting to let go, but knowing that is what you must do. Sometimes it happens when you least expect it.

The little boy with the round face and red-blonde hair broke into a sprint alongside the family car in a race with his dad. My husband was turning the car around to continue with errands after dropping us off at the local university campus.
We walked along through the familiar surroundings and entered the math building, climbing all the way up to the fifth floor, with him waiting patiently for me at the landing. We were early, so we wandered the hallways, delighting at some of the cartoons and signs on the office doors, signs that read "IQC" and promising of cutting-edge research that will no doubt lead to places as yet unimagined.  Bulletin boards advertising seminars on quantum physics, nano particles and various other topics we only barely understood tickled our imaginations.
This was not Squirt's first time coming to the department; last year he attended the grade 7/8 session, which he did not enjoy. He already knew the material, and even with the clever presentations and hands-on games the teachers devised, it failed to challenge him. This year we were back, but under his terms, which is what brought us all the way up to the fifth floor where the high school students were taught.
The professor (the high school groups are taught by university professors) welcomed him warmly and invited him to choose a seat where he'd be able to see the projection screen.
Squirt pulled out his binder and I saw his paper was in upside-down. Normally I would have let it go, but in a rare fit of protectiveness I fussed and fixed it. His eyes told me "enough", so I left.
Eleven years old and he is already forging his own path through life, and I am a spectator on the sidelines who can only begin to comprehend his world.
This isn't the first time I've walked away and left him to fulfill his dreams. He swims competitively and has traveled to other cities with his team and without me; he has attended residential summer camp. But this is different. Tonight felt like a turning point, one where I begin to hand over the reigns of his education to those better equipped to mentor him and meet his needs.
In two hours he will return to me, a happy little boy who will want a snack and another chapter of our novel read aloud to him before bed. I will cuddle with him and we will read together and I will watch him drift off to sleep. But I know these days are numbered, and I am reminded of the words of Kahlil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. 
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. 

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.