Friday, December 17, 2010

How tutoring strengthened my belief that content is not king!

I've been teaching for 20 years this year and I am a firm believer that there is too much emphasis on content.  I see students and my own children often wondering, fighting, and resisting that the information that they are required to learn is unimportant or does not apply to them.  Which then leads to parents and educators struggling to defend the status quo when students ask the following: Why is this important?  How does this impact me? Or how is this helpful?

These questions prompted me to reflect upon a blog post on memorization back in December of 2008: Education 2.0: Never Memorize Again? If you haven't read this blog and you are interested in stirring up the pot in the faculty room, leave a couple of copies by the coffee maker or stack of holiday treats.

So what is prompting this post?  A couple of things come to mind.  A recent question from a student on how to calculate the angle between the hands of an analog clock and my latest experiences tutoring chemistry.

The geometry question is a classic anachronism. The student who was struggling with the concept asked how many analog clocks do you think I see in day?  Now I'm not saying that the concept itself is not valid but the question does appear to be out of sync with the student experience.

With respects to tutoring HS chemistry, it's been a wonderful opportunity to take a step back and look at the vast quantities of info students are required to learn just in this course.  I couldn't help but empathize with my student's musings about why is she learning this. What I found most disconcerting were the follow up questions. What do I need to know? Is there a pattern, a mnemonic, some quick fix to assist her learn the material?

Now I couldn't help but feel sorry for her because so many students are in her shoes. I love science.  I actually would rather watch the Discovery Channel than most sporting events but it seems like she's already ruled out chemistry as anything but interesting and more of an obstacle.

This is far from a unique observation but if I had a magic curricular wand, I would probably cut close to 50% of the curriculum in chemistry and approach the learning through integration with Environmental Science, Biology, and Physics and include experimental design/project based learning and hands on activities that are more topical.  I would stop asking students to memorize the periodic table but ask them to use the info that it stores.  Learn by doing, constructing, and making connections.

I'm not saying that memorization should not be utilized or is not valuable.  I am however hoping more teachers will stop using memorization as a crutch in order to crank through content. It's time to develop new activities, simulations, and opportunities that use the concepts students need to know without forcing them to memorize on a regular basis.  Leverage Tech to assist with learning and with the right balance, the content objectives will be mastered because the affective objectives were emphasized a bit more.

1 comment:

Wm Chamberlain said...

I tweeted this yesterday:

Content isn't king. Context isn't king. Understanding, sharing, and living is king! #educationrevolution

Nice to have confirmation of my thinking.