“I’m never gonna need algebra, I’m gonna be a (fill in the blank)!”
“Why do I have to know history? It has nothing to do with me.”
These were the statements most commonly heard from my generation (early 70’s) in school.
And this is why: Students were taught to memorize a chart, apply formulas, listen to a lecture, take notes, and try to memorize and understand it before the next test. Your only motivation was to not fail.
This is how it was when I was in school. While I did well grade-wise in school, I never felt I really understood the work until “later” – when enough of the pieces came together.
I could memorize, and I luckily recalled most of what I read, so I could regurgitate information.
But really, most learning wasn’t fun. Until I discovered the magic of an inspired teacher.
For me it was Miss Savish, my 5th and 6th Grade Science and Homeroom teacher.
Miss Savish was a rebel. In a private elementary school of 400 students in Grades 1 – 8, with less than half of teachers laypeople, Miss Savish came to my school and shook the system by its roots! In her first week, she sent home a note to parents asking for any clean, large chunks of carpeting. Because “not all projects could be done sitting at a desk”, she decided to put the desks in a circle so all students could face each other. She also created a science lending library within our classroom that held 10 years of National Geographic magazines and other items for students who were finished with their tests or projects early to read and learn from. This was rebelliousness at its core for 1972!
And as students we LOVED IT. Not because it was rebellious (though that probably didn’t hurt), but because it gave us a chance to be involved with our own learning. To cheer each other on and to discuss the science we were learning.
She soon inspired other teachers in the school. She and our Social Studies teacher worked together to combine learning about yeast and molds with lessons on the American pioneers and how they lived…which ended in dried apple pies in a sourdough crust one Friday afternoon. We cultured the sourdough and dried the apples in the classroom, and Miss Savish then turned them into pies for the class to share. (YUM!) Miss Savish was a pioneer in her own way.
Experiential and project lessons, motivating students through an understanding of how this could impact them in the “real world”, engaging students through real life involvement, this is what made school fun!
More importantly though, we really learned. Long after the memorized formulas were forgotten, the hands-on experience remains.
A few years ago I ran in to an old classmate from back then, and talk turned to Miss Savish and how well we learned our science in those years; how she inspired us to continue to learn and engage our world. She inspired us to treat our lives as an ongoing experiment. Create a theory, take action, observe, and review our results. In other words, she inspired us to develop a “growth” mindset.
Today as we start to understand the myriad different ways people learn, more schools and teachers are turning toward project-based, experiential learning.
It’s clear that it’s time has come. When we have a computer in our hand that allows us to look up virtually any bit of information, it becomes more important that we know how to USE that information, rather than have it memorized.
I applaud schools and teachers today who are taking on the task of rewriting what school looks like. And my wish is for every student to have the experience of a Miss Savish kind of teacher. It’s a gift every child should receive.
Henry Van Nostrand ExtraordinaryED Store Manager & Play Professional