Friday, November 29, 2013

Parents Save Your Children: Support Innovation Education

I'm becoming impatient... Truth be told, patience is not my biggest strength! There are so many educators out there who truly care about changing education for the better. Why can't we make it happen NOW? I know, I know, there are all kinds of reasons: high-stakes testing, APPR, SAT's, ACT's and AP's. I hear it all the time. Teachers can't take time to go in depth in an area, because students and parents expect that they will "cover" everything that might be on a test. Thus, they teach year after year in the same way: the way they were taught.

I asked a science teacher recently: why don't you use project based learning to teach the material? Why not ask an open-ended question and let the students figure it out? The answer was, 'I haven't taught that way. I don't even begin to know how.' And, actually, if the way they are teaching helps kids perform on the tests and, thus, get into great colleges, then why change? With so much pressure coming from parents (and students) to gain admittance to top-level schools, and needing almost perfect scores to do it, no wonder teachers do what they feel they have to...

So in every problem there is a pivotal moment when enough people have seen the solution and they can start to sway the majority. This "tipping point" is upon us. Parents at the elementary level understand that tests are taking away the joy of school and learning for their kids. They see the purpose of play, of tinkering, and trying to figure out answers to open-ended questions. Parents of young children know that creative confidence is important. These parents, as their children move up through the grades, need to hold onto those ideals and not get sucked into the college process-where their children become only the sum of their test scores and college resumes. They need to continue to encourage their children's passions and enable them to have time and space to pursue them.

Parents, find your voices. Take up the call. Your children's lives are at stake. Don't allow testing and content heavy education to take away their joy and excitement in learning. Talk to your school's teachers and administrators. Vote for Board of Education members who are like-minded. Write letters and make phone calls to state legislators. Support your children's pursuit of passion. Give them space, time and materials. Help them find mentors. And help your schools. There are many, many teachers and administrators out there who get it. But we can't do this alone. We need parents.

All Kinds of Thinkers Needed

As I talked with students about creating a Hacker club at my school, I asked them what hacking meant to them and what they would do in that club. Techie kids wanted to solve problems through technology, create apps and explore programming problems. I asked, how will you use technology to solve problems and what problems will you solve? They know how to use technology, but in the words of one techie kid: "I just don't know how to identify problems that need to be solved. Once I have a problem, I can solve it and that's the part I like." The part that interests most of these kids is the solving-not the identification of the problem. Here's the good news: there are many kids out there who know how to find the problems and identify them, but don't know the technology with which to solve them! These sets of kids have different interests and skill sets. The techie kids are great at figuring out how to solve the problems. The big thinker kids are great at figuring out what problems to solve. Solution: put the two sets of kids together and let them work on projects.

There are all kinds of thinkers in the world: big picture people, detail people, techie people, and many many other types. If they work in isolation, they only get so far. If they get put together in one place, they can help one another. Problem identified, brainstorming done, solutions found and presented! Now, how can schools get all these types of kids together? Well, look at your average classroom. We don't take all the aural learners or visual learners and put them in one section of science. Every class is mixed in terms of learning styles. If we asked students to solve real world problems that exist in their own communities, then we could take this mixed population of different thinkers and help them solve these problems. The big thinker kids would help identify the problems. The empathetic kids would help the others understand the problem. The creative thinking kids could brainstorm solutions. The crafty kids, or makers, could make prototypes out of real materials. And the techie kids could create technological solutions. And in the process, they would all learn by observing the other types of thinkers in the group, while maintaining their own individual strengths. Seems like a great solution to preparing our students for the real world and solving real world problems.