Thursday, January 24, 2013

Engaging Students

It's a long held and simple truth that it's difficult if not impossible to teach something effectively to someone that just isn't interested or engaged in the learning process. The future of education relies on finding new ways to engage students into wanting to learn on their own. I will say I've spent probably 3 or 4x as much time on places like wikipedia or searching the internet than I did in highschool all spent learning what I'm interested in. Imagine then how much a student would learn if you could make it so they want to learn it to the point they're doing homework over summer because they want to not because they have to.

Right now we waste absurd amounts of time with repetition making sure students have memorized answers rather than teaching them methods and critical thinking skills. We should focus more on teaching them how to answer questions than having them remember the answers. Facts like this are only made worse when you consider the large gap in quality of education from school to school. In some schools they're teaching 3rd graders the same algebra I did in college and in some colleges they're teaching the same english I learned in highschool.  Then there's how long it takes for changing facts to trickle down the education system particularly in science and biology.

The real problem though is finding ways to help the students connect with the subject material in ways that make them want to know more. One of the more simplistic concepts of this was when I was in an advanced class towards the end of elementary and my teachers gave the class checkbooks and the better you did in class the more fake money you earned to bid on real items in an auction they'd hold each week. The items weren't worth much but when you're young they're just cool and there's that feeling of power and sense of reward. While it's not the best tactic you can't really argue with the results as I had a perfect grade that whole year and put extra effort to make sure I understood everything as did most of the rest of the class. At the end of the year there was even a somewhat larger auction for things like a bicycle and the whole experience taught us a lot in addition to what we then wanted to learn in class. While a reward system is effective it doesn't stick once the reward disappears and thus I would have to still suggest an alternative.

It's not for me to say what the best alternative is however I will say that there are people out there doing research and many of them have great ideas worth giving a proper try even if on a small scale. It's clear the current system is in need of an upgrade and it's important to all of us to help that happen as quickly as possible. Even if it's just something simple like another idea I was reading where they extend the day by a couple extra hours and in return the students get friday off which ended up with a reduced cost to the school and higher grades on average by giving each class some extra time with the students. Other ideas I've reviewed that seemed interesting included keeping the same teacher all day, the teachers swapping rooms rather than the students so the same class is always together, teaching only one subject per day for the whole day so your class schedule works out daily rather than hourly, and various other ideas all of which seem like they could have some equally great results. I particularly like the idea of students staying together with the same teacher so that way there's real bonds formed and students help each other and the teachers know just how to help the students. It's not like you need a specialized teacher for a subject prior to college given the simplistic nature of the materials given that it's considered general knowledge that most people know by the time they leave highschool. Though perhaps that would change and we would start teaching more advanced material then requiring specialized teachers in which case I would still suggest keeping a class together for the same reasons even if the teachers move around.

What ideas have you read about that you would like to see given a chance?

1 comment:

  1. Honestly? Now that I'm older (and hopefully wiser) I'd rather be out doing than sitting there reading.

    I've really underestimating the value of real-world experience over that of a textbook.