Wednesday, March 21, 2012
by David Gentile
Every child begins their life with a natural curiosity about the world around them. This innate quality results in a learner who is essentially a sponge. Did you know that 90% of a child's brain develops during the first five years of life? I have been fascinated by early childhood brain development and consequently read more on this single topic than is probably healthy. In my own children, my wife and I began reading while they were in utero because a baby's brain begins development in the early embryo when cell division proliferates into millions of neurons in the brain. We continued to embrace their natural interest in virtually everything around them. Although taking the time to explain, show, and reexplain every phenomenon can be overwhelming. You have likely heard a child ask their series of "why" questions. You have also likely experienced, as I have, a "why" question that causes you to be at a loss for the answer. Such as, "why doesn't the sun burn out? or why don't we fall off the Earth since it is spinning?"Most of us would dismiss these questions with answers like "because" or "gravity" but if you have ever been in a debate with a four year old you know that will not do. As such, my wife and I came up with our unique answer, "why don't we research to find out why". This allows us to encourage their curiosity while also buying much needed wikipedia time. My eldest child, David, will turn 7 in October 2012 and my youngest, Grace, will turn 3 in April 2012. David began reading fluently before his 5th birthday and my daughter is well on her way. So far, both of their "Switches" are still on. There appears to be no end to their curiosity and interest in learning. David's Kindergarten teachers have been awesome in feeding his interest in the world around him. Grace's preschool has also fed her curiosity through discovery learning. My wife and I receive fantastic comments from their teachers in support of what a great job we did as parents or your children are so intelligent. We are almost embarrassed and feel compelled to explain that we did nothing extraordinary. We simply kept their "Switch" on and went with their innate need to learn. Every single parent can do what we do. There is nothing exceptional about our children's intelligence.
Currently the policy makers state that all students must graduate high school College and Career Ready. While I support the general concept of preparing students for the "real world" I get a bit hung up in the details of their quest. Utah Governor Jon Huntsman once coined the phrase "sound-bite campaigning". He criticized a fellow GOP candidate for delivering "easy sound bites" rather than serious policy analyses in order to "get an applause line." My concern with the educational policy makers is that they too deliver "sound-bites" that on the surface sound extremely sound. If we get beyond the surface however, we discover that defining College and Career Readiness becomes increasingly difficult with each step backward from current high school seniors down to our current class of 4 year old preschool students. Reflecting back to Mr. Hudson's first grade class for a moment, ask yourself what will these students need to know and be able to do in order to be College and Career Ready? If you find yourself with a quick answer - "DANGER WILL ROBINSON" I fear you are lost in "sound-bite" space. It is impossible to know - scratch that - guess- what the world will require from this future class of 2023. Therefore, I chose to focus on the few things that we do know for sure. First, schools need to engage in "Switchon" learning by allowing students to incorporate their natural curiosity into every learning experience in the classroom. This may mean the use of technology, art, music, physical activity... whatever kids are naturally interested in should be used in the pursuit of learning any concept. We must move away from "drill and test" methods that are designed to prepare kids for high stakes testing. Regardless of whether the policy makers ever get around to creating authentic assessments to gauge student learning. The most inexpensive way to "test" students is the current multiple choice or short answer response assessments that currently define our public schools. We must embrace the use of current technology in our schools regardless of whether or not the grown-ups understand the importance. Think back eleven years when the current class of 2012 was in a first grade classroom and if we actually could have looked into the crystal ball and known that Jack Dorsey would unleash Twitter on the world...what would we have asked our students to know and be able to do? The students in Mr. Hudson's class were using clicker technology that allows the teacher to assess their learning on a 1:1 basis. I problem is shown on the smart board and each student works at their own pace to record their answer on the clicker when finished. No fear of calling out the wrong answer, the students do not have to worry if they are slower than their peers, and the teacher can determine in real time whether each student learned the concept. This sounds like we are preparing them for 2012 as the truth is in eleven years Twitter will be as dated as the first "bag phone" we may remember using for emergencies only. For all of those readers who can't remember a world without smart phones the first "cellular phone" came in a big black bag and plugged into the lighter in your car. It sounded terrible, analog, and was extremely expensive - thus why it was only used in an emergency.
So today's first graders face a world that is unknown, but we can keep their "Switches" on by using their natural curiosity and interest in the world. We need to celebrate teachers like Mr. Hudson and leaders like Dr. Cook who encourage risk taking in the classroom. The safest teaching methods, such as lecture, have their place in the classroom - but they can't be the only method if we hope to keep the light on in each of our students!
Switch On! Parents read to your children in utero and continue to support their interests for as long as you can. Although as parents we may not always "get it" we must consider that we may be raising the next Jack Dorsey.
Try something different today...
Remember, it is not the destination but the journey that matters. College and Career Readiness for the Year 2023 is a complete unknown - but along the journey the final destination becomes a bit clearer. Enjoy the journey-
Follow your interests and dreams...