Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Immune Attack and The Dream of Engaged Learning

There is a new software program created by the Federation of American Scientists called Immune Attack. It is designed to supplement the education that happens in the classroom. The program is free for anyone to use but it was specifically designed complement or add value to the classroom experience.

For those school districts that have current 2008 school books, computers and an engaged qualified staff this is a win, win situation. Those kids will do well. But I feel sad. Don't get me wrong. The program is well designed and a lot of thought went into making this an effective teaching support program.

It is just that, well. I think it is an invisible reminder of the digital divide. There are students here in the Los Angeles area that do not have any text books or they have outdated text books in their classes. Yes, high school classes. Even middle school classes don't have the proper books or equipment to run this program. The computer lab might be jammed into a library with two out of ten machines working. The governor has said he will make major deep cuts into education to balance the budget.

No child left behind. No child moving forward either. And student are bored out of their skulls. Wait, you should see this video:

I have limited faith that education happens in school districts no matter the education, economic or social backgrounds of the folks running the system. Not in school systems anyway. Oh, you should know that this is an ingrained highly personal bias of mine. I can grump about this into the midnight hour.

So lets turn my negative into a positive. If I could dream up the perfect system what would it look like? Well, I'd start by recognizing that this is the 21st century. We can take bits that worked in the prior century but here is what I would do:

I'd make sure that there were proper assessment to the child's ability to learn before he or she would step foot in class. Yes, My school would know about the allergies, the HDD, Dyslexia, behavior problems and gifted kids and my school we'd build a curriculum around that child's needs, not crowbar the kid around our limited vision of what we think the child needs to learn. Radical, huh?

Bonnie Bracey Sutton over at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) blog has a full detailed post on what it would take to engage media soaked students. Here is an excerpt:

Engage: Project-Based Learning Students go beyond the textbook to study complex topics based on real-world issues, such as the water quality in their communities or the history of their town, analyzing information from multiple sources, including the Internet and interviews with experts.

Project-based classwork is more demanding than traditional book based instruction, where students may just memorize facts from a single source.

Instead students utilize original documents and data, mastering principles covered in traditional courses but learning them in more meaningful ways. Projects can last weeks; multiple projects can cover entire courses. Student work is presented to audiences beyond the teacher, including parents and community groups.

Yes, you still teach vocabulary and math but you connect those skills with a purpose or a definable outcome. Some of the time in the classroom and part of the time in the field or community. And speaking of vocabulary I'd have my staff, administrators and those that sign the check recite Angela Maiers 26 Keys to Student Engagement

Joy: Children are learning machines and have untold hours of play and joy... until... they are "educated" - educated to behave otherwise. If we want a better class of thinkers and innovators -- people with explosive curiosity and creativity, we need to bring FUN back into our classrooms. We need giggles and laughter, enthusiasm and excitement. School can become a place remembered for the love of learning, if for no other reason than it feels joyous!

I'd start building awareness to career options starting around the fourth or fifth grade. I'd show videos like this one from Cisco Systems so that there would be a generation of boys and girls that knew this career was possible:

Academic or vocational it wouldn't matter. Plumber, Chef, Boxer I'd let my students know about any option that they could dream or think to create for themselves.

Well, the good news is that I'm not the only one dreaming of a better, enriched school experience. I don't think it is impossible. There is a place for traditional studies in a enlightened school. But what if we could get it right this time? What if we realized it isn't just throwing money at school administrators but recognizing that a viable school experience would make the community profitable? Secure.

If you do it right you'd have to drag the kids home. So these are just some ideas. What do you see in your dream school?

Other Resources:

Kim Cofino at Always Learning has a great post about having students create podcast tutorials to help younger students read.

The Active Learning Blog Carnival has a tremendous amount of links on books, ideas for motivation, and what other folks are doing to make their dream schools happen.

This article was also posted at BlogHer

1 comment:

  1. Gena,
    This? Is an amazing post, and one of the reasons that I homeschool. NOT because I don't love schools, I just think they are putting the focus on the wrong things right now. I plan to link to you tomorrow (today?) when I write my Friday wrap-up post full of links (all the best content of the week). VERY well said, and I loved reading your thoughts.

    Thanks for posting on my Blogher piece about going to the conference. I hope I can meet you there!