What inspires us?

I wanted to share two experiences I had as a student.  Let me first explain that I was not a good student, really, ever, until I arrived in University.  Some day I will reflect on that.  Anyway, I have two stories to tell, one elementary and one secondary.  It was that time in elementary schools when “everyone picks a country and does a project.”  “Make sure you have two forms of media”…:).  Anyway, a sidebar to this one before I tell the real story.  I had a friend who not only had been to Australia, but his mother had been born and raised in Australia.  That year, Australia was a popular choice, and more than one kid wanted to do it….so they drew straws, or something, and he drew the short one.  “Pick a different country”, and he did.  I doubt he remembers and I certainly do not, which country was the fallback.  I wonder, if, at that time (late 70’s), the engineers and scientists working on the Space Shuttle program, were collaborating and sharing work towards a goal, or if they were departmentalized?  I think I know the answer.  Anyway, my friend was a good student and I am sure he did well on his project, but I wonder how much more involved would he have been, if he either could have done Australia, or perhaps worked in conjunction with others, or…gasp…allow more than one student to do the same project?  Make them collaborate and ensure that there are different aspects to their approaches…..save us from two identical population pyramids….Again, I digress.  

My project that year was on the Soviet Union.  Lucky for me, no one else wanted it.  Why the Soviet Union?  Because my father and his family had emigrated from Ukraine (which was technically in Poland at the time) in 1928 and I had a great interest in my background.  I was fascinated as I learned a bit about Communism and controlled economies.  Of course, I did not really understand it all, but….I was interested.  If I had lost a draw, and had to choose Peru, as interesting as Peru may be, I would not have been as interested and therefore engaged.

The second experience, was in grade 11 computer class.  Hands up if you remember VIC20 computers?  Hands up if you actually used them….We were learning programming and I was terrible at it….too much structure.  It was, I believe, Fortran, but that means nothing to me now, at all.  However, I wanted to be a rock star….still want to be a rock star, actually.  So, I managed to find a way to write a tiny little program that played musical notes.  It was terribly unsophisticated.  I knew not how to program rhythm, length of notes, time signatures or anything.  It was basically a bunch of notes being held for 4 beats.  I tried to program Mary Had a Little Lamb, and I could get the notes correct, but had not figured out how to program anything else.  In a class I was seriously disinterested in (of which I recognize a great deal of responsibility for), I had a spark that I could work with.  Alas, it was not something that was accepted as worthwhile to work on.  

Now, before everyone thinks I am a school basher, and that I hated my school years, that is far from the truth. I had many great teachers, good experiences and I learned a lot of good skills, but I wanted to isolate two examples I can remember, that highlight my current professional struggle to get kids to engage.  Engagement is everything.  Once anyone wants to learn something, and sees the benefit, whether the benefit is intrinsic, or simply for a skill to move on, it makes all the difference.  Another example I can cite is my own skills in terms of carpentry and building.  They are non-existent, or were non-existent, until I was forced into it.  I say forced into it, because I chose to do some renovating.  I had to learn.  I wanted to learn. I did not want to learn in order to keep doing it ad nauseum, but I wanted to not have to hire someone.   I was terrible at it, but I got better, because I wanted to get better, because I did not want someone coming to my new bathroom, or sauna, or now kitchen and either thinking or saying “wow, its obvious you did this by yourself”…

But the question remains, and it has not been solved since I posed it yesterday.  How do we take this very obvious fact and redesign our teaching around it, so that all learners (including every adult in our buildings) are focused and engaged, but are learning the requisite skills to succeed in our world.  I have intentionally dropped off the word “knowledge”…that is what youtube and wikipedia are for, right?

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