Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Best Way To Learn (In MY Opinion)

In traditional education settings, the curriculum is divided into the various categories. In America we typically have Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, Art, Music, and P.E. In high school some of those subjects are more specified, and you add foreign language to the mix.

Children and teens learn each subject at specified times.

When I decided to become a teacher, I went to Graduate School at the Bank Street College of Education. Bank Street's all into the progressive education movement.

One of the components of progressive education is an integrated curriculum. Instead of dividing subjects into categories, the class studies a particular theme for several weeks. They learn the various school subjects by studying the theme. For example, I remember seeing one classroom doing a long-term study on birds. Through their study of birds, the kids did math, science, social studies, art, science, and maybe more. I don't think EVERYTHING they learned was bird-related. But birds were the main focus of the curriculum.

I like the integrated curriculum idea because it makes learning seem more authentic. In real life, we don't have math time, reading time, science time, etc. Instead we have....life. And while living, we learn and work out various problems. For example, when we bake cookies we do math and chemistry...and maybe social studies if we're making a recipe from another country.

My only concern about the integrated curriculum is the fact that not all kids are going to interested in the selected subject. What if you don't care that much about spiders? What if the subject of oceanography is incredibly boring to you? Can you imagine going to school everyday, and spending almost six hours learning about something that you don't care about? I think it might be pretty awful.

I believe being INTERESTED in a subject is an essential factor in making educational successful.

Now there ARE teachers who can take a subject, and make it interesting to almost everyone. But I think they're one in a thousand. I think you're more likely to encounter the opposite...teachers who take a fascinating subject, and totally ruin it.

We all have our own interests, and I think education would work out much better if we could learn by pursuing those subjects.

I was reading an unschooling blog today, and a mom responds to a critic by saying, You wrote that by allowing Jerry to focus on the interests he already has (video games, animation, computers, etc.) he wouldn’t be exposed to other subjects and ideas. What's amazing is how all of the things he's interested in somehow link to ideas, concepts and subjects that are totally unrelated.

It reminds me so much my interest in Australia, and the learning that happens for me.

Yes, I learn mostly about Australia. But in learning about Australia, I learn about other stuff.

Here's a recent example. I've been visiting the Australian Screen website everyday, watching clips of various movies. This afternoon, I watched some scenes from a movie called Noise. The movie involves tinnitus (ringing in the ears). They have the ringing in the movie, and I recognized it as something I hear sometimes. My curiosity was sparked, and I did a visit with Lord Wiki on the subject. Things like this happen to me everyday....often multiple times a day.

Both within the subject of Australia, and in my various tangents, I learn a huge variety of subjects....government, geography, nature, literature, film, drama, music, business, economics, psychology, history, medical stuff, etc.

I was going to say I don't learn any math, really. But that's not true. A few days ago, I read Damien Broderick's book (because he's Australian) about the scientific study of psychic ability. There was talk of statistics in that. I can't say I LEARNED math, but I was exposed to it, and reminded that I've forgotten so much from my college statistics classes.

And now that I think of it, I've had more math encounters in my Australia studying. For example, I've compared the population of Australia to America and Texas. I've compared the population of Launceston (where my friend lives) to the population of Fort Worth. Oh! And when we visit Australia, Tim and I have to do math to figure out how much things would cost in American dollars. Things look horribly expensive to us, but when we do calculations, we realize, with the exchange rate, it's not as bad as we think.

Speaking of traveling....

I'm not sure how to go about education on our trip to London. I can't say Jack's much interested in going. I mean he's not against the trip, but he's not exactly excited. He doesn't really care. Is it best to teach him about London, and hope an interest builds, so it's more meaningful to him? Or should we hope going to London will spark his interest, and then he'll want to learn more?

I really don't know. In my PERSONAL experience, if I'm not interested in a place, forcing myself to learn about it, doesn't do much for me. I try to read, and end up daydreaming about something else. I think Jack is the same way, probably. He seems intolerant of being taught stuff that doesn't already interest him.

On the other hand, we went to Hawaii...and I can't say I learned much about Hawaii while there. There were all these great nonfiction Hawaii books in our rental house. I felt I SHOULD read them, but I'd read a few pages, and then lose interest. Actually though...having some kind of focus helps a bit. I mean MY focus was a bit superficial. I was interested in the filming locations of Lost. But in researching that, I learned a bit about the island.

There were also instances of encountering something that made me want to learn more. We saw this big centipede. Later, when we got home...I googled it. I also googled for information regarding these bumble bees we saw.

But I couldn't bring myself to care that much about the history of the islands.

You know, I think with London I'll try a variety of tactics. I won't bombard Jack with huge long lessons on London. But maybe I'll give him some facts here and there. Gruesome and weird facts usually work the best. Hopefully, he'll develop a little bit of an interest before the trip, and some more interest within the trip. If not....no big deal. He might not become an expert on London history and culture, but I'm sure he'll learn SOMETHING while we're on our adventure.