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A Bad Day at School

Posted by Patrick on November 24, 2010

Music and Life [1]

I remember reading an article a few years ago that started with something like this: “There can be learning without teaching but there can also be teaching without learning”.  The author (I forgot who) was trying to illustrate the complexity of the relationships between teaching and learning, which is too often oversimplified by the general public as: better teaching is THE solution to better learning.

The two videos that follow are some of my favourites because they inspire me to be a better teacher.  What they have in common is that they both stress the importance of good teaching for learning.  Sometimes it’s using the right tool, or asking the right questions, or even being less helpful and letting the students figure things out for themselves. I agree with most (if not all) of the arguments: teaching should be engaging, relevant, meaningful, … but … (if you haven’t seen these videos before, take a few minutes to watch them now, you won’t regret it!)

Again, I agree with most (if not all) of the arguments, but I can’t help but feel that what we’re really doing is making education more “entertaining”, not meaningful.  I’m sure the presenters in the videos would disagree, or at least insist that we should be careful not to conflate entertainment with meaningful teaching practices.  But in practice, it seems that’s what happens.

Like most educators, I have good days and not so good days.  On the darker days, I sometime start to wonder if the root cause is not that more and more students are forced into areas of study they simply have no interests in.  It’s a recurring theme in Sir Ken Robinson’s presentations that as a society we give more importance to the subjects that are the most practical, and less importance to subjects like the arts.  I can’t believe that someone could live a fulfilling life without being passionate about at least one thing.  Unfortunately, I think the uniform (and narrow) “education” we are forcing kids through is creating the false notion that if something is not entertaining, it’s boring.

I happen to like pondering abstract math and physics puzzles (most of which I never solve) and I love my job as an educator.  I don’t expect everyone to like that sort of stuff as much as I do, but I would hope that everyone who studies something would be passionate about the hard work they do.  Whatever it is people love to do, it’s usually meaningful and rewarding because it is difficult.  Entertainment isn’t that, and it saddens me when I meet students who have never felt the rewards of mastering something difficult (other than beating a video game maybe).

On my darker days, I feel there’s little I can really do in my classroom other than say: “Dude, you’re in the wrong place, go do something you feel passionate about.” and even that I don’t do.  But I know there are also good days when I do what I can.

Links to the last two videos from TED with subtitles in different languages:

  1. Screenshot of animation of Alan Watts’s talk: Music and Life <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERbvKrH-GC4>
  2. Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover <http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/dan_meyer_math_curriculum_makeover.html>
  3. Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on The Learning Revolution <http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_revolution.html>
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One Response to “A Bad Day at School”

  1. Panda said

    There are many times I have pondered this since leaving a 1:1 laptop school. It seems that giving kids more options in how they research and present their learning can actually provide more levels of engaging kids. Basically, they might not be inspired by the content, but are inspired by the investigation or platform used to show the learning. The question then becomes : as an effective teacher, what can I do in the classroom to provide these choices when technology is not readily available?

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