Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Lesson in "Real Learning" and "True Thinking"

“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think—rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men."
~John Dewey

The days prior to Thanksgiving break always prove interesting in a school- especially in a middle school.  I've learned that 7th and 8th graders know everything.  Everything.  They are experts on every single topic in the entire world.  Just ask them; I'm quite sure they'll confirm.

Therefore, I decided to use the days prior to Thanksgiving break as a lesson of sorts, an opportunity to show them what real learning actually feels like. 

Their task?  To create a German Christmas Star using four precut strips of paper.

So, I gathered the necessary supplies:  paper strips, typed directions- complete with pictures and diagrams,  and computers- with access to the internet.  The students were permitted to work together, share, discuss and help one another- much like in a research setting.

My role was to act as a facilitator, helping the students construct their learning.  I never once told them what they needed to do or how they should approach their task.  Rather, I introduced the activity, gave them with some basic background knowledge and history, provided them with necessary tools and allowed them to explore, experiment, attempt and evaluate.  


The whole concept of "thinking" and "learning" truly baffled them.  They had no interest in trying to figure it out.  Simply put, they wanted me to show them and/or get them started.  Keep in mind that they did indeed have access to the internet, in which they could have watched YouTube videos, accessed Google or searched for alternate directions.  Sadly, they rarely took advantage of their resources.  

At the end of the first day I had 4 students (out of 170ish) who were able to complete the paper-folding, inquiry based task.  

Watching the students struggle and quit so easily didn't really surprise me, as they so rarely have to "think".  They live in a world where they are tested by choosing from among four answer choices.  In my opinion, today's students lack creativity.  As much as I love my students, I wish you could see how poorly they draw and color and use scissors.  It's quite sad, really.

On day two of the lesson I caved in and demonstrated how to complete the activity.  However, the whole inquiry, self-learning and real thinking aspect flopped- hard.  I probably learned the biggest lesson, as I became even more aware of how impatient today's students are.  

In the end, the German Christmas Stars turned out very snazzy and jazzy and ended up in a garland that I strung around our classroom.  

1 comment:

Maria said...

Don't be too downhearted. At least you tried to get them to THINK! The activity sounded pretty cool. And the garland is pretty.

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