What do I need to know?


In my family when the males are together, the conversation topic quickly turns to football, Big Ten football, er Ohio State football.  From the great Buckeye State, that is the focus athletics.  Folks support the Reds, Indians, Bengals, Browns and Cavaliers, but the real sport is Ohio State football.  A recent conversation quickly turned to the possibility of adding more teams to the Big Ten and it brought me to the notion what I read in educational technology blogs:  What do students need to know?

How is football related to what students should know?  What do students need to know when they can look up the answers?  Do they need to know the capital of Idaho?  Do they need to know the Constitution when they can look it up on the Internet?  Is there fundamental knowledge that everybody needs, or is the next generation of children the “Lookup Generation?”  They don’t need to know anything except how to use Google or Bing.  (So as we start the next decade, although I never start counting at zero, will it be called the the Lookup Decade or the kids known as Gen Lookup?)

To the contrary, fundamental knowledge is significant and necessary.  Students should learn their state capitals, know the Constitution. 

Back to the football conversation.  How did we know enough to talk about the topic?  Never learned about the Big Ten in school, except for my 7th grade music teacher who taught us the fight songs of the Big Ten.  From what I remember about the Ohio State Band — All Brass, All Boys, and All Ohio, although the last two requirements have been changed over the years.   Still no clarinets!

So we learned about this informally, through an interest that was home grown.  How do we cultivate the interest?  With all the money spent on technology in schools and on the myriad of reform efforts, kids still sit in rows and have to raise their hands to participate.  Group work becomes a dudgery of non-participation and conflict between participants.  Outside school, at home, on the playing fields, we work and play in groups.  Yep, it’s drudgery at times; yet in schools rows and and raised hands are the rule.   Yes, certain work and learning are not always pleasant, but we do little to personalize learning, and so everybody is in a row with a raised hand.

Make the learning interesting, problem based and personlized.  Ask real world questions, appropriate for the age level, that allow students to think, develop understandings and factual foundations.  Personalize learning so that students can progress at their own rate.  Does it matter if a student completes third grade in 18 months and fifth grade in 6 months?  Encourage individual achievement and the importance of group work from a young age.  Get the kids out of rows with raised hands!

The football conversation was clarified by references to facts found on a smartphone or two.  Conversations during work references the web through a search or two, but that is not the foundation of the conversation.  Searching for information clarifies and sharpens the focus, not forms the foundation.

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