In researching this article, I noticed stats about economics and education. Yes, we know that the higher the education we have, the more money we make. This doesn't address the VALUE OF EDUCATION TO THE STUDENT.
Education must hold value for students, whether this be getting an education to get a high paying job, ranking first in our class, feeling the satisfaction of learning, enlightening ourselves, pleasing our families. Value is personal, and we all invest in what has value on our own terms.
When we are young, especially, we need the guidance of our mentors, including educators, family, friends, society and media, any of which can lead us well or not. If we are taught that the most important thing is to spend 15 hours a day studying, we may believe it. If we are taught that education doesn't matter because the salary per hour of slinging crack depends upon how much time we spend out of school, we still have a good chance of realizing that this is a bad lesson. If we are given a creative array of lessons that will affect how we value education, we have a better shot at building a foundation and understanding the positive nature of education for ourselves than if we are taught rote, unrelated facts.
I recall a running debate I had with a friend about responsibility and teaching. Was it the teacher's job to do whatever it took to impart the lesson to the student who didn't understand it the first time along with the others, or was it the student's responsibility to study to the ends of the earth to understand the lesson?
I was raised in a progressive, nurturing household where learning was pleasurable, and I never felt fear in asking questions, in not understanding a lesson. I just said I needed help and got it. My opposing friend in this debate was raised by foreign parents. His father (by U.S. standards) oppressed him and brought fear to his heart that shook him should he not be first in the class. In this case, it looks like environment had a lot to do with our various sides.
I believe teachers should be willing to morph their methods in such a way that the lesson is understood by each student, also creating an atmosphere where the student loves the knowledge, doesn't fear failure and blossoms because of it. My opposing friend was sure that any student who could not understand the lesson was not trying hard enough and had on her/his shoulders the responsibility of figuring out the lesson alone. He saw this as the only mark of a true student. He also expected to be physically reprimanded.
What I see is that the best learning comes out of cooperative education and out of creative learning environments where the lesson integrates with life lessons, builds social stature and touches upon current trends.
Here are nine sample lessons that could fit into the technological and creative pace of our current world.
1. Have students make individual videos or one group video showing a segment of history. This leaves the subject matter open and stimulates the imagination. An example of this is to film an ant walking up the building, the falling of a leaf in autumn from tree to ground or some group project that is more involved. If no equipment is available, students can act out the material and record it on paper. Or call a local law firm and ask them to donate or let you borrow a video camera.
2. Take students on a photographic field trip. If there is no means for bus transportation, the field trip can be as far as around the building or on the school grounds. The theme can be about measurement, for example, if it is a math lesson. The photos would show the angles of bridges, the slope of a roof, the uprightness of a telephone pole, the angle of twigs in a bird's nest. The photos would then be exhibited in a photo gallery where each student would get to invite parents or other meaningful adults. Inviting "others" insures there is a support system so that the event is not traumatic for students whose families don't usually participate or do not exist. The presence of other significant adults, including other teachers, coaches, clergy, social workers, tutors, would allow for each student to be supported and for no one to feel alone. If there are no cameras available, a local camera store might be willing to provide a loan. Or Canon might participate with a loan or a gift to enhance the lives of your students who could pass on the cameras to every class in the school, if necessary.
3. Create a social issue in the classroom that requires a judge and a jury, such as trying a thief who stole to feed her/his family. Have students act out the parts of each role. Have students take turns being "innocent" and "guilty," judge and jury. Then, take a field trip to the courthouse or local magistrate. Arrange to sit in on a session or, structure prohibiting that, have the magistrate talk about justice and our American way.
4a. Create a mock central market in the classroom where students buy and sell wares and practice their math skills. Have the money they use in this market be based upon tokens that they have earned through a Good Samaritan program in the classroom. Those who help another during the day get a token. The program develops citizenship, planning and math. Then, take the students out on a field trip and give them each a dollar that you get from petty cash or your pocket. No student money should be used. Only the dollar that you give the student. The mission: see who can bring back the most items for one dollar. Thus, we include budgeting as part of the lesson.
4b. Create a mini stock exchange in the classroom. Use large beans to buy and sell shares. Have a professional trader come to explain basic concepts.
5. Have each student write a poem that rhymes. Then call a local rock star or rap star to come in and turn the poem into a song that the whole class learns. Yes, the music teacher could lead this activity, but celebrity sells in business and education and invites the juices of creativity to flow in the classroom, instills confidence and will involve community celebrities in the betterment of education.
6a. Have a drum circle in the classroom. Call a local drummer to come in and lead. Teach three to five messages from old drum communication. Talk about communication through drumming and have each student drum one message that you have taught during this lesson. Have the others interpret the message.
6b. As a follow-up lesson, have a cell phone tech come in and talk about the method of cell tower transmission. Then talk about the differences in social communication between drumming and cell phones.
7. Have each student think up an example of how we use math in the world. Exclude being able to go buy something in a store, online or on the phone. Call a local app maker to donate an app that has the class photo and an individual photo with each student's idea as part of an app that pulls up. Then have the app maker talk about the skills s/he had to acquire to learn app making.
8a. Pick a theme including success, education, happiness, for example. Have students create an abstract painting that represents this theme and have them present it. In-school project only, since some parents are not at home to help and some parents do the project for the student. Film the presentations as well as the creative process. Post the art on the classroom website. If there is no classroom website, call a local web person and ask if s/he will donate putting up (online) a page with the students' presentations.
8b. Go to a local museum or research the art at the museum online and find art that represents the particular theme to each individual person.
9. Have a regular tea time once a week. This will develop unity of community. Call a local tea specialist to start you off with how to have tea and some of the history of tea. This quiet time will give the class a spirit of camaraderie while developing value for quiet reflection and experiencing its benefits.
To summarize, these ideas are samples, for different grades, different social climates. The idea is to give school value to the student, to make the lessons relevant to the life of the student, so that we increase the number of students in school and US educational rankings. How many times do we slack off on a task because it is not pleasing to us? And, yet, we slave away at another task because we like it. I remember working hard for my 6th grade teacher because one of the ways he showed he cared was by letting us get the school piano and wheel it into the classroom on Friday afternoons. Everyone sang; I got to play the piano and sing. This added value to education for everyone.
We even discussed the lyrics, which, I learned 12 years later, getting an M.A. in Music Therapy, had extreme importance in molding us. Which brings us to the next point: how do creative modules such as these fit into the present system? That is a discussion for the article titled Education 2.0: 5 Ways To Make Exceptional Lessons Of Yesterday The Educational Normal Of Today, soon to be published.
The most exhilarating part of teaching comes when the student receives the knowledge. Most of us in the profession enjoy the creativity it takes to teach, motivate and inspire. This is the skill set that builds value in the student.
Singing the education blues won't work. Looking at charts of where we rank in the world education system can motivate but is not the answer: http://xrl.us/guardian2010educrank. We need in-road builders to make these types of lessons the norm, rather than special events. It is one thing to offer an isolated lesson such as the photography trip in number 2. above. It is quite another to build this structure into our current educational infrastructure. Onward, teachers. Now is the time.