Late last night as I was watching TV my son appeared from outside. When I questioned him as to where he had been, he replied, “I was building stuff.” He then proceeded to show me an elaborate potato gun he had constructed and explain to me how it would work. He also made sure I knew that he did the best with the materials he could find in our shed. (Not his ideal materials apparently) The potato gun was something that he had seen at a conservation camp he had attended recently sponsored by the Estevan Wildlife Association.
Many times I have been amazed at the learning attitude that my son Nate has. He sees himself capable of many things. He can picture how something will go together, how he can make things, even how he can mix chemicals to create elaborate fireworks displays for friends and family. (I know, I know… who lets their 15-year-old do that?) If he does not know how to do something, he will “Google it” or “You Tube it” to clarify. He never sees limits in what he can learn and accomplish when he is busy with his passions. He will construct, test, and reconstruct, test over and over again to create the exact chemical reaction he is seeking in a firework.
I am amazed by him.
The flip side of this story though, is that my son has struggled in school since he started kindergarten. He had trouble learning his letters, then he did not learn to read until after most of his classmates were well on their way. He still struggles to find the motivation to memorize things and apply them in the school setting. He hates chemistry, not because he does not understand chemicals and their reactions, but because he is put off by the need to memorize the periodic table and the lack of hands on learning experiences. He is struggling to complete his high school in a setting that does not allow for much flexibility or creativity.
I do not worry about Nate’s success in life, but I do worry about his success in the school setting.
Last night I was watching a video of Tony Wagner speaking on “Play, Passion, Purpose” thinking about my son and other students surviving their education. Dr. Wagner speaks of the antiquated education system and gives many examples and reasons why we need to change our teaching and learning. He talks about allowing students to play, to explore their passions and to find purpose for their learning.
At times, change in our educational system seems so slow it is hard to recognize. I realize I need to be part of that change. Meeting the needs of today’s learner is something I am very passionate about and spend quite a bit of time learning and collaborating with others about. Last year I had the opportunity to go back into the classroom after spending 5 years as a Learning Support Teacher and school administrator. It was such a learning experience for me to be “walking my talk” with my staff. One of the things I tried with my grade 6 and 8 students was Genius Hour. It was fun to allow time for students to pursue passions and work together to learn new things and it was such an excellent way to get to know them. When I reflect back on this experience there were many positives, some negatives and, of course, many things I would change.
This summer I read the book “Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom” by A.J. Juliani and have been participating in a book chat on Friday mornings #2k14reads. We will be meeting for two more weeks, so please join us. I plan to do Genius Hour with my students again this year, using some ideas from the book and things that were shared by the many wise teachers in the book chat. One of the things I realized last year was that I did not front load my students enough about what passions really are. Students are not used to having free time to pursue the types of learning they do outside of the school day. They need to see themselves as learners and realize that learning does not have to be teacher driven.
I hope that I can encourage others to work toward project based learning, driven by students. We need our young people to have the intrinsic motivation to learn from mistakes, such as the learning I see in my son when he is chasing his passions.