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Back to school in an ideal world?

September 9, 2010

Hands up for all you parents who schlepped your kid(s) back to school this week.  (How many of you felt the urge to actually put your hand up? Darn that behavioural conditioning).  As a parent I was delighted to do it, a home office with bored kids all summer long got on my nerves. 

But, my kids were divided.  The 13 year old, as expected, was dreading it, despite the cool multi-age social responsibility week that her school kicks things off with.  The 9 year old couldn’t wait to get back and even suggested they have a 1/2 a make-up day on Saturday since the first day was so short, but I fear her motivation was to see all her friends, not math curriculum. 

It made me think – wouldn’t it be great if back to school was anticipated for the learning opportunities and connections that were in the future. 

There are so many possibilities for learning in the world, why is our public school system still so caught up in curriculum, class sizes, grades, etc. Why is the drive still to standardize and label?  Where is the joy of learning or serendipity?   

It’s not purely about technology, although it does play a role.  I think it’s about teaching kids how to be in the world, how to take care of the world and conceptualize/fix big world problems.  Problem-solving.  Technology is a tool, this is about mind-set. 

Here are some things that I’m trying to synthesize within my own mind this week:

I read recently about how some schools in our part of the country are using social media, but I was underwhelmed by the original description which focused more on PR.

Sugata Mitra’s TED talk (click image to get to video) has been making the rounds and he describes that in many cases, learning is self-organized (and that educational technology should be provided to the remote areas first) – including: Learning Conversations, Upside Learning, and numerous Twitter RTs.

  • The 21st Century Learner (click image to get to video)- which I found via Don’t Waste Your Time, – which tries to fuse together traditional teaching and new media

This story that appeared in another Canadian newspaper, which calls for caution when leaping into a utopian learner-centred model.

And some harsh reality when I talk to my kids, other parents and educators who are looking for a balance between these dimensions:

  • Structure and flexibility
  • Experience (hands-on) and knowledge (absorb)
  • Self-directed and teacher-directed
  • High tech and high touch

There is no ideal and I recognize that my ideal is not going to be the same as yours, there are just so many factors at play.  Where I live, I think we need to decentralize the system, and others would disagree.  Maybe that is what the kids should do as a back-to-school project.  Redesign the system…like in Sims.  It would appear that I’m not alone: Parent 2.0’s Back to School Dilemma

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