Friday, May 9, 2008

Teaching-a radical idea

Take a bunch of kids.

Make a list of what they need to learn in school every year.

Get rid of school.

Take them to a museum instead. Not just any museum though. We’re going to take them to a museum specifically tailored to their education. All of the exhibits in this museum are going to be part of the curriculum, and the classroom is going to be the entire place. Students will still have a teacher, and project rooms inside the museum that can be requested for room. There will be a consortium of museums that work together so that exhibits don’t have to be changed too often. With this, we can have kids shuffle between museums, and get an amazingly hands-on education.

And why is a hands-on education better?

Something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately in light of the educational discussions going on at Olin right now is the right way to learn. Olin preaches a hands-on engineering education. Being thrown into things and figuring them out for yourself, rather than being taught. One drawback to this is that this method of learning can be very discouraging, and when discouraged, if a student doesn’t put the work in to understand some key concepts they can very easily fall behind. Even though this method of learning can be very difficult, it’s the way I’ve always wished I could be taught throughout my high school career. I used to get upset that my teachers told me information, rather than giving me the tools to solve it myself. And I found that when I did do things on my own, I always internalized the concepts much more and retained them. When I arrived at Olin, one of my worst subjects was electronics. One of the things I loved about the way I was taught was that, as long as I put effort into learning and wanted to understand, I had a TA there who would not tell me the answers, but guide me in the right direction. This method of help made learning something difficult easier than it ever had been.

Because of the supportive environment at Olin, this method does a pretty good job of ensuring that people actually don’t fall behind. I think it’s a pretty different idea, and even though it’s probably not going to happen in museums, this idea could open up a lot of questions about education as it is now.

Why do kids have the curriculum they do? Is learning in a classroom actually effective? If it is, why do we try to incorporate so many hands-on activities for kids? And why don’t we have different stimulants for kids every day, rather than bringing them to the exact same place, with almost the same lesson..?

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