Maximizing the Potential of Online Classroom Discussions

About a week ago, a group of Twitterers from #stuvoice were discussing the merits and implementation of blogs in the classroom:

 

 

I have a quick point that I’d like to make about this:

Throughout my time in school, I’ve had several teachers assign blogs, discussion boards, or Twitter for a grade, where students would come online and discuss something related to the material we’ve learned in class. Some courses where this has occurred include:

  • English
  • Electricity and Magnetism
  • Leadership
  • Information Systems
  • Social Context of Business
  • Organizational Behaviour

Sometimes this method has been successful, sometimes not so much. And once in a while, our discussions have been truly amazing!

Different grading schemes have used, including:

  • A) As part of the student’s overall in-class participation grade (worth 15%): each post boosts your grade, but posting online is completely optional
  • B) 5% participation grade, segmented as its own assignment: 1% for posting regularly (at least once weekly), 4% on general effort (marked in a very loose manner)
  • C) 5% participation grade, but on a deductive grading scheme: you must post a “thoughtful and well planned-out” comment every week on a new given topic, and if you don’t you lose a mark

Usually the best discussions have occurred when there was a back and forth between 2 or more students, rather than having student just posting new, unrelated thoughts all of the time. Actually, I’d advocate having both: back-and-forth, and new ideas.

This best occurred in scenario B. In fact, I’ve found online classroom discussions  to work best in general under scenario B. And now I wonder, why? Well, there are two factors at play here, when it comes to how the teacher sets up the classroom discussion with respect to the class syllabus:

1. Whether or not the students are required to participate for their marks/

2. How tightly controlled the rules of the discussion are.

Put the two together, and we get this:

So, the “best” scenario corresponds to scenario B (described earlier),  The bottom left is scenario A, and the top right is scenario C.

Online classroom discussions work best, when the assignment is “structured, but not controlling.”

This structured, but not controlling philosophy is one that I believe in (as you’ll continue to see), and it was inspired by the Self-Determination theory that I described earlier. I believe that the structure “gets people going,” brings people together, and motivates them to work, but the autonomy gives people room to “be themselves,” and to remain intrinsically motivated and authentic as well.

And finally, as for the whole idea of doing online classroom discussions, I think it’s wonderful! These are the mediums that the youth of today understand, the tools that our society will be using in the future, and the “language” that we students speak. It allows for written, student-student interaction, rather than just student-teacher interaction.

Thinking points and possibilities:

1. Imagine if the teacher invited a “guest poster” to join the discussion and interact with the students! For instance, a current politician in a poli sci class, or the actual author of the book in an English class. The possibilities are endless!

2. In my experience, classroom discussions have always been kept within the 1 classroom full of students. Imagine if the 2 classes, from different parts of the country, interacted on the same discussion board. Imagine if students from different grade levels participated in the same discussions. Imagine if students continued their discussions even after the course was over, a year or two later.

 

Follow-Up to the Introduction/Conclusion Post

After having read my previous post about the legitimacy of the five-paragraph essay, one of my readers (and good friends) had a rebuttal: while the 5-paragraph essay may not the most applicable writing format for students to learn, it does have its own strengths. For instance, it teaches students to focus their attention on a single topic, and to remain steadfast on that topic as their text progresses. It gets them to outline their arguments, and to be fully aware of what they plan on writing before they go and write it. (In other words, to see the forest through the trees.)

When she brought up this point, I then brought up some counter-points of mine own. But it turns out that we’re actually in full agreement on this issue, and on each others’ points. You see, the 5-paragraph essay actually does provide some valuable lessons for our students. And let’s face it: especially given some of our large class sizes, these essays are the easiest and simplest to correct and teach. (But that hints at a whole ‘nother issue!) But this is the not the only way of teaching those lessons. And this is in no way the only way in which people write. So it would be best to teach this format at the beginning of high school, but only for a few months. Once the students “get the message” about the importance of structure and flow, we can then diversify, show them the other formats for the rest of their years in high school.

In other (but related) news, I just saw this post on answers.yahoo.com:

Notice how whatisan...’s second paragraph about school runs counter to her first paragraph about how “good writers” act! I find this striking (no less because of the juxtaposition of these arguments!) This, to me, shows how there’s this organizational culture at school that emphasizes following the rules, and getting a good grade, over doing the right thing.

Learning Cells for a Month

You know, about 3 years ago, I had a vision for a school program that would expose students to all sorts of different topics and engaging learning opportunities. Held in the month of September, it would (hopefully) get them excited to start the new school year. It was like a month long “conference”, where a whole bunch of learning opportunities (I called each of them “Learning Cells”) were presented to students all throughout the day: workshops, group projects, field trips, guest speakers, silent reading areas, round table discussions, even meditation rooms.

While some cells were come-and-go-as-you-please (such as the silent reading area), most of them had schedules, in order to bring students of common interests together at the same time and location. e.g. “Indian cooking class today, from 1:00-2:30 PM!” Many of the cells would have longer term schedules e.g. “The physics of bridges: each Monday this fall, from 10:00-11:00 AM”

Students were free to roam around, and partake in whichever learning cells they choose. They could visit several cells, and leave if they didn’t find it was relevant to them. And they could take breaks from time to time, whenever they wanted, as long as they did not do it excessively. In other words, no pre-scheduled 15-min recess blocks.

But there were certain restrictions. I feel like people work best with autonomy and structure. For instance, for the structure part, at the end of the day, students would write a journal (or a blog or forum post) in order to reflect on what they learned that day. And each student was placed in a “homeroom” group (I never chose a name for this though), where they would share their experiences, and get to know one of their teachers the best… their Learning Mentor, who could give them more personalized attention. Students stay with their Mentor for several years at a time in order for their relationship to grow. Pretty much like they do in the Danish “Folkeskole” system.

And as is the case in the Big Brothers and Big Sisters foundation, the matching between student and mentor would be done with great care and planning. And if the relationship was no longer working, the student would be paired with a new mentor. Students would also be required to complete a Personal Project of sorts, like they do in the International Baccalaureate program. A long-term project of their choosing where they really develop their skills in order to accomplish something worthwhile to them (and then share their results with their peers).

Throughout the month, teachers and peers would give the students feedback on their projects (and the work they created in the learning cells), but the emphasis would remain on discovery, rather than evaluating the students. That evaluation part could come later, once the regular term starts.

At the time, I thought my idea was “radical” as well, and I thought I was the only one thinking this way. But little did I know, people are actually making this a reality! As the Innovative Educator blog reports, there are already several schools in existence that are creating these more natural learning environment for students. And finally, there’s a movement called unschooling/deschooling where students do this kind of learning year-round in even more flexible and personalized environments. I’m definitely going to have to research them further.

Developing Our Multiple “Faculties of Knowing”

Last year, I took a course called “Cognition,” where we learned about the different “faculties of knowing.” (e.g. imagery, problem-solving, language, etc.) It was an introductory/survey course, so each week covered a different faculty. Each chapter of our textbook also covers 1 faculty, so we pretty much read 1 chapter / week, and the course flowed quite nicely.

Here are the topics we learned about:

Cognitive Neuroscience
Perception
Attention
Memory
Imagery
Language
Problem-Solving
Reasoning, Judgement, and Choice
Intelligence and Creativity
Applied Cognitive Psychology
Autism (as a “bonus” topic for the last week of class, after our class voted on it)

The kicker? We learned all about of these different, and amazing ways of thinking, and yet the only way we were tested was through our memory.  All we did were multiple choice questions based on the lectures and the textbook. So even though we learned how to improve our perception, imagery, and memory, the only skill we developed in practice was our memory. I see this as a huge missed opportunity.

 

The point of this post is not to criticize this course in particular. In fact, I’m very grateful to have taken this course, as it has opened my eyes to the many ways in which people think. Many of which we could develop in our students (of all ages!)

How necessary is an introduction and a conclusion, really?

As I woke up this morning, I looked through the instructions of a philosophy essay. I read the following: “In addition, do not waste space on general introductory or concluding paragraphs which do not contribute to your argument or interpretation.” Mind blowing!

The professor and the course were obviously quite traditionalist, and yet in even in such a context, she disobeyed one of the biggest assumptions we’ve all acquired in high school English class: that you always need a introduction which explains what you are going to write about, and that you always need a conclusion that summarizes what you have just written about. In other words, the “say what you’ll say, say it, say what you said” model.

Thank goodness for idiosyncratic credits

It reminded me of the time in CÉGEP when I wrote a humanities essay, and I was debating as to whether I should include an introductory thesis or not, as per the instructions. I decided to omit it, because I felt like (and still believe) that doing so gives the reader a better and more engaging reading experience. You see, my paper starts off with a general, yet organized and flowing analysis. And then, near the end of it, BAM!, a new realization is made. All of the arguments fall into a neworder, proving my initial point. (In a brilliant fashion, if I might add!) It keeps the reader in suspense, and then leaves with an exciting “ah ha!” moment.

In the end, the teacher decided not to penalize me for not sticking to the instructions, but only because some of the other aspects of the essay were “so good” that she had those marks spillover” o the organization criteria. And she gave me a fair warning about it.

When “real life” rolls in

These two experiences have got me thinking: is it really necessary to have an introduction and a conclusion? Do we actually do this in real life? In what contexts do we do this, and in which contexts do we not? And every time I think of a context – e.g. writing a script for a play, writing an instruction manual, etc. – I’ve noticed that it only requires a the “say what you’ll say, say it, say what you said” model if it’s in the world of academia.

e.g.
writing emails –> no
writing lab reports –> yes
writing advertisements –> no
writing an information pamphlet –> no etc.

The only nonacademic one I could think of was newspaper articles, but even then, often only the title and subtitle are summarizing; the article goes off on its own track. For example, some newspaper articles go as follows:
- What happened
- How does person A react to this event
- How does person B rebut person A’s opinion
- The implications: where do we go from here?

In the newspaper articles’ first paragraph, the writer usually spends the entire paragraph just describing what happened. Other arguments are brought in naturally and sequentially, not hijacked into the first paragraph. So there’s no 5-paragraph prescription following; no obligation to “say what you’ll say.”

Maybe I’m wrong, though. Maybe I just haven’t thought up of any contradictory examples yet. That where you all come in. Any thoughts?

Coherence, or summarizing?

I think it’s important to for students to understand the difference between having a beginning, middle, and end vs having an introduction and a conclusion. Because the former happens way more often than the latter. And even when a writer uses an intro and conclusion, there are a multitude of ways to going about doing it. The 5-paragraph essay version is just one of them.

At the moment, the value of a beginning, middle, and end is only taught implicitly in English class, under the guise of the 5-paragraph essay. I say, let’s make it more explicit to students, and essentially “pull it out from underneath the rug.”  Let’s have students learn communication skills for all aspects of life. Or at the very least, more. As many as we reasonably can.

For me, the 5-paragraph essay is an example of the world of academia carving out a little world of its own, with its own set of rules and norms, and then self-reinforcing its ways of behaving. I hate to say it, but I find it’s an example of the ivory tower mentality. Let’s break down that mentality, and have our English classes reconnect with reality. Let’s have it be, more multidimensional!

Further reading

Here’s an article that takes a critical look at the 5-paragraph essay format, if you’re interested in seeing a teacher’s perspective: www.chicagonow.com/white-rhino/2012/05/if-you-teach-or-write-5-paragraph-essays-stop-it/

And here’s another article that was Tweeted to me today, about a slightly less relevant, but interesting topic nonetheless: http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/07/blogging-is-the-new-persuasive-essay/

Update:

Looking back on my post here, I notice that I “came to a conclusion” but I didn’t “write the conclusion.” I didn’t restate the arguments I made in the rest of the article. Also, I didn’t reveal this last argument in either the introductory paragraph, nor in the paragraph where I wrote my main argument/”thesis.” I hope it didn’t detract from your reading experience! ;)

On another note, this article was in no way meant to poo-poo on English teachers themselves. I personally have had amazing English teachers throughout my time in high school and CEGEP! I’m pretty sure that they’re only doing this because they’ve been forced to by their higher-ups, who often don’t know any better, and who never had this cross their minds. I don’t want want to play the blame game here, but just in case you thought I was, just to make it clear, I’m not here to blame the teachers!)

It’s not just a PIS-A cake

Unfortunately, when people want to “prove” that Finnish students are doing better than their counterparts (which in many senses, I believe they are) all they have available is PISA scores from the OECD.

When I was 15, I was actually one of the student participants in the 2006 study. I remember they tested us on science, math, and reading comprehension. By themselves, these aren’t exactly bad things to measure, but they leave much to be desired. They do not give a comprehensive picture of how well our students are succeeding.

I believe we need more, better, and more well-rounded ways to compare our educational systems the world over. No one test can do all of that, so we need to have a multitude of tests that serve as checks and balances for one another.

Do any of you feel the same way? Do any of you know of any other international studies which have compared students from one country to another?

A new way to go about interdisciplinary learning

Currently, under the traditional education system, the vast majority of a students’ schooling takes place in classes divided by academic discipline:

English, Math, Geography, Science, etc.

And this pattern continues on from ~Grade 3, all the way to university. So, for instance, most management students take the following “core courses”:

Finance, Marketing, Operations, Human Resources, etc.

And then go on to study 1-3 academic disciplines. In one of my previous posts, I described how schools need to show students the meaningful connections between the different things they’re learning in school. Well, our students rarely ever get a chance to make connections between these subjects. It’s as if they’re living double lives, (or rather, 5-9 “lives” at a time)! Each subject is taught in separate classrooms, separate teachers, separate material, and often with different sets of classmates.

So far, there have been good efforts to promote interdisciplinary learning. These efforts are great, and should be promoted in our schools. For instance,

1) Some teachers so try to incorporate material from other disciplines. For instance, when a poli sci prof includes a bit of sociological network theory in 1 or 2 of their social movements lectures. (In particular, the teachers who do this, tend to be the ones who have some autonomy to determine the content they teach, rather than being restricted by government mandates, departmental rules, and the like.)

2) Many schools are trying to help students integrate their learning by introducing multidisciplinary courses, and “integrative/capstone project” courses.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe these methods are great, and should be promoted. But I just don’t think they go far enough for at least 2 reasons:

1) Often times, a topic which spans over multiple disciplines is explored, but no perspective taking is ever quite achieved. What do I mean by that? Well, picture you and a friend sitting in a room, and one of you holds up a sculpture (by some famous artist) between the two of you. If each of you is asked to describe the sculpture, the two of you will most likely come up with similar but different answers, because each of you is viewing the object from a different perspective. Now, to use the example I brought up earlier, picture political science being one of you, and sociology being the other. Often what happens when a teacher introduces an interdisciplinary topic, they are still viewing it from their disciplines’ perspective. The interdisciplinary learning then becomes relatively superficial in nature.

2) At most, students take 1-2 interdisciplinary courses out of several years of schooling. It’s like learning to professionally sing using karaoke rather than a music coach. They don’t cut to the heart of the matter. To “go further” with interdisciplinary learning, we need to challenge our assumption that students’ learning always has to be organized  by discipline.

MBA Program Cores

Many leading-edge business schools are already starting to approach education from the perspective of issues, rather than disciplines. Take the Yale School of Management, for instance. Their MBA core is structured by “Organizational Perspectives.” Students take courses such as:

Competitor
Customer
Investor
Sourcing and Managing Funds
State and Society
Employee
Innovator
etc.

As Yale describes it,
“Today, managerial careers cross functions, organizations, and industries, as well as cultural and political boundaries. Yale SOM teaches management fundamentals in an integrated way — the way successful managers must function every day. [...] This focus on organizational role, instead of disciplinary topic, creates a richer, more relevant context for students to learn the concepts they need to succeed as leaders.”

These courses form a coherent narrative, which is, what our brains are actually looking for. This method of structuring is more realistic, because this is what people normally do. People don’t wake up in the morning and think, “what kind of geography am I going to do today?”, they think, “how am I going to solve this problem of mine?” and then draw from whatever disciplines/schools of thought that are necessary to solve the problem. Of course, some jobs are very specialized, but many others are ones where people have to build bridges between different kinds of information.

But who says that you need to wait 15 years to get to your Master’s level to get this kind of interdisciplinary schooling? And who says that you need to become a management student to do so? My recommendation here is to bring this kind of structuring to more schools, and to more subjects, and to have it trickle down to the undergrad, and high school levels. But remember, this is not to replace traditional disciplines, but to complement them. Students should feel free to pick some courses that are organized around traditional disciplines, and some others that are not.

Multiple ways of conveying information

Just now, browsing around in this library, I picked up a large book called History: The Definitive Visual Guide, by Dorling Kindersley. It’s an amazing textbook which brings history to life. Captioned pictures, diagrams, maps, and timelines abound in this book. Each double page is a “capsule” which gives an overview of one topic in history (e.g. Cleopatra, the Napoleonic Wars, The Slave Trade, etc.) which the reader can research further if they’re interested.

The value of images

Having lots of pictures in textbooks is currently viewed as a sort of crutch. That it helps to pique students’ interest, but is ultimately a lesser form of knowledge than text. So as one moves up in the educational system, texts become accompanied with less and less pictures, and students become increasingly discouraged (or at the very least, less encouraged) from including pictures in their schoolwork. To the point where many academic papers contain nothing but text at all. As if pictures are to be associated with weakness, immaturity, and childhood.

The same sometimes goes for audio/visual materials as well. They’re seen as lower down on the totem pole to text, in the same sort of mental hierarchical pecking order people give to different disciplines, as Ken Robinson points out in his famous TED talk. (I’ll get to that in a future post!)

But I completely disagree with this notion. Not only are pictures, graphs, flowcharts, maps, and diagrams a motivating factor for visual students such as myself, but they also convey a whole plethora of information. They “complete the picture” (no pun intended!) where text leaves off. They instantly show multiple connections between many concepts where texts struggle to do the same. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words!

Recommendation

Let’s encourage our academic paper writers and textbook editors to include more pictures, flowcharts, and diagrams in their works when they contribute to students’ understanding and mastery of the material.

Study technique for visual learners

On a personal level, here’s a technique I sometimes use to memorize lists of concepts. I draw a simple picture that includes one symbol for each of the items I need to memorize. I make sure to annotate the picture with numbers and arrows connecting each number to its respective symbol on the pic. And during test time, if I’m stuck, I simply redraw the picture. It works like a charm!

4 purposes of history class we can convey to students

After I posted her wonderful TED talk, Adora Svitak responded to my post about future-oriented education. I was very inspired by her response, and the article she wrote and sent me called “Do We Treat History Like a Dead Language?”  So much so, that it spun me into 3 different tangents, which will make up my next 3 posts.

The 2 issues I see with our current version of history class are (1) lack of motivation to learn the subject, and (2) lack of understanding the importance of the subject. One of these issues is to perspective, as the other is to action. As they are very interrelated, often resolving one helps to resolve the other.

In Johnmarshall Reeve’s article, “Teachers as Facilitators: What Autonomy-Supportive Teachers Do and Why Their Students Benefit” one of the things  teachers can do to increase student motivation is to “communicate value and provide rationales.” As he goes on, “when asking students to engage in a requested activity [...] autonomy-supportive teachers make a special effort to identify and explain the use, value, importance, or otherwise hidden personal utility within the undertaking [...] then students understand why they are being asked to invest their attention and effort in a requested activity.”

Anyways, the key here for teachers and textbook writers is to identify the purposes of history education, and then convey those purposes to the students as best they can. This conveying can be both explicit (e.g. make a poster out of this and post it on your chalkboard!) and implicit (e.g. embedded in the lessons.)

Note: Notice both how this quote, and this sentence bridge students’ perspectives and actions. Indeed, wonderful things can happen when one’s attitudes and actions are in alignment.

So what then are the purposes of history class? There are many, but here are 4 major ones that I’ve come up with that can be a guiding force behind all of the lessons:

1. History as a way to collect, record and remember our past.

It is important for humanity to keep recording its past, to preserve it, for continuity’s sake. But this purpose is already well-covered in history classes. My recommendation here is not to eliminate this emphasis, but to reduce it to give way to the other 3…

2. History as a way to answer questions, to better understand ourselves.

I think that a great way to approach some lessons would be to start off with a question, rather than an answer. e.g. When did we decide to live in houses, usually family by family? Who decided to place the leap day on February 29, and who name it February, and after whom? Why did it take so long for the Olympics to come back? Why are the keys on the keyboard arranged that way? etc. Students can supply some of the questions (I hear they’re good at that kind of thing!), and teachers can provide students with questions, in order to keep the class focused on a particular theme.

This is what history is great at: at helping us figure out why we came to be the way we are now. Why we’ve decided to set up our society and institutions in such a fashion. And pursuing these answers can often be more exciting than just receiving facts.

3. History as storytelling.

History is full of stories: life stories of a historical figures, events that lead to other events, and stories of civilizations as they rose and fell. Why not present it as such? The important thing here is to string facts and details together to form narratives. These narratives can be compelling for students read and listen to.

4. History as teaching lessons, as showing linkages between actions and consequences.

One way to prevent this from being cliche is to present the “lessons” in a non-perscriptivist manner. For instance, instead of saying, “Rome fell because they couldn’t manage their money properly, so when you lead groups in the future, remember the bottom line,” you can have students fill out a worksheet with the following questions:
- Why did such-and-such happen?
- How did people react to it?
- What happened as a result of it?
- How could they have reacted differently? What could’ve ended up happening?
- What can we learn from this?
- What are instances in which you can apply this to your life (past, present, or future)?

Conclusion

Reeve says that we need to identify students’ needs, interests, and preferences and create classroom opportunities for students to have these internal states guide their behaviour. Here, I’ve identified 4 principles that relate well to our needs as humans. Hopefully, once teachers convey them to students, students can get excited about learning history, and to see it as a “present, living reality,” as Svitak would say.

A recipe for a future-oriented curriculum

It’s often said in graduation speeches that “education is the future.” But most of our schooling is based on the past. We read books that were written in the past, discoveries that were made in the past, quotes people said in the past, and so forth. Much of what students do is simply reproducing the culture of the past. The present and the future are still largely neglected, if not completely ignored at the moment.

I think that schooling should show more of a balance between the past, the present, and the future. We should move the notion that “education is the future” from cliché, to reality, as much as we can.

But don’t get me wrong, I think it is also extremely important that students learn about the foundation of knowledge that the humanity before them has laid out for them. So, overall, the majority of the time spent should focus on the past. So if (hypothetically), the percentages are at: 80% past, 15% present, 5% future, we should try to shift it to something like 55% past, 20% present, 25% future.

So while I’ll cover “the present” in a future post (perhaps there are puns intended…), here’s my Recipe for a Future-Oriented Curriculum which can be applied to mostly any subject:

- The future of society: Write papers envisioning what they think the future of our society will be like, or what they hope the future will be like. (Focusing on 1 aspect of it, the topic will vary from course to course.)

- Future leaders of society: Read and talk about leaders in the world today who have a long-term vision, and are trying to bring about that vision on a practical level

- Their future role in society: Write, or talk about how they see themselves being a part of / contributing to this future society. Have them ask themselves, “Am I going to be a part of the problem, or a part of the solution? And how can I remind myself of these commitments in the future?” –> Hopefully, this can contribute to their moral foundation that can guide them later on in life. We see all too often examples of fully grown adults who have clearly forgotten what they learned in kindergarten!

- The future of their personal lives: Have students write about their personal life will be like, to set long term goals for themselves. Ok, so I remember in Grade 8, we actually did something like this. We set short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals. And this is great. But, as with much of what we did in school, there was never any follow up with our goals. My suggestion here is to have students hold on to these plans (or have the teacher hold on to them), and to bring them out twice a year to have student check-up on how they’re doing. To add a sense of continuity to the exercise.

- The future of a body of knowledge: For science, social studies, and other classes, have students try to come up with their own theories, or new insights they can add to the material they’re learning. It can either be a theoretical insight, or an applied one e.g. In biology class, a student can ask what allows plants to stay upright and grow, or how the emotions of animals differs from the emotions of humans (ok, ok, that was something I asked in biology class!) But instead of having it be a passing thought, allow the class to incorporate the student’s suggestions and interests and discoveries.

Not only will implementing this be a virtue in and of itself, but having a future-oriented curriculum, I believe, would actually be very intrinsically motivating for students. Knowing how what they’re learning is going to affect their future gives students an extra sense of purpose and meaning in school.

 

Learning and producing knowledge generally go in that order, but it’s not absolutely necessary that they do. They can also go hand in hand, you know…

The way our system is set up, it is assumed that students have to keep acquiring knowledge until they reach graduate school at around age 22. For two reasons. 1) It’s assumed that only then are they mature enough to start producing new knowledge and have the rest of the world take them seriously. And while I agree that maturity is a factor that shouldn’t be ignored, children and teens offer something special: extra doses creativity and passion. A lot about making a new discovery requires creativity, and children are full of it. Why don’t we leverage that?

2) Our traditional educational model assumes that you need to learn everything that has been researched in an academic field before being able to contribute to it. But I disagree with this notion. I believe students have the capability to come up with insights, knowledge, and new questions to be explored as they spend years exploring the material. Okay, so students at a young age might have all of the experience necessary to write a lit review for their paper, but this is where teachers can help them out. To work with the student, rather than lecture at him or her.

For instance, even in the second year a student learns biology, they are capable of coming up with new hypotheses to be tested. If a student comes up with something novel, their teacher could help explore that topic, by providing them with whatever resources they need, and by offering them with advice. The student should feel free to take a break from their usual schedule of learning, to go into further depth on their topic of choice, on occasion, to conduct real research to a real audience, and then to return to whatever else they were “supposed” to be learning at that time.

This is all about sending the right messages to kids. At the moment, we send the message that society won’t listen to them, and doesn’t really care about that they think until they become an adult. I think it’d great if we started sending them different messages.

PS: If you’re interested in this last topic I brought up, check out this wonderful related TED talk by Adora Svitak:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-bjOJzB7LY&w=560&h=315]