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You get to redesign school as we know it from the ground up. Will you do away with reading, writing, and arithmetic? What skills and knowledge will your school focus on imparting to young minds?

My favorite teaching job was an eight year stint at a school for the gifted and talented. I was a teacher for middle grade students in computer/technology. We did a lot of neat things, far different than you would find in a normal middle school.

Kids are never too young for programming at an appropriate level. There is a lot of material out there for teaching children in a fun and interesting way, so they can actually begin with pre-programming material as early as first grade. Programming in itself is wonderful training in logical thinking and attention to detail. When the kids do a task right, they have great results to look at, demonstrate to others, or even play as a game.

In 6-8 grades, we taught: advanced Microsoft Office (including Excel with advanced functions), HTML coding, Adobe Illustrator and PhotoShop, Robotics using programming written by Carnegie Mellon in conjunction with Lego Robotics, C++ programming for 8th graders to program their advanced robotics, Java, and Visual Basic. Yes, they CAN do it.

Robotics beautifully blends programming, engineering, design, and math. Kids were also asked to keep a journal (as they would in science) to keep track of their efforts and what worked and what didn’t. The students worked in pairs, and it was great to see that they contributed different talents to each robotic exercise — so they learned from each other as well as from the teaching staff.

Using HTML, students built web pages using Illustrator and PhotoShop to add artistic elements to their pages. The content is entirely up to the teacher, even though the exercises to learn how to code were the same for everyone. We saw children using this knowledge for other classes.

Using Java or Visual Basic, after learning the basics, besides some games, students could make multiple choice quizzes which immediately corrected. So, again, the subject matter is up to a teacher or student.

One time students made a jeopardy game board containing information about rocks and minerals that operated pretty much like the real game! They had to do the research, then supply the questions and answers. The kids worked in about 4-5 teams in each class, and then quizzed the other group. Great fun.

The point of all this, is that if a curriculum were set up so it was more project-oriented, kids would get more involved in what they’re doing. I think a lot of teachers try to do some of this already, but there is no reason it can’t be further integrated so that teachers get together to see how much of the various core subjects can be used to complete a project.

Take for instance preparing a blended project based on Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. The ten Boom family helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during the second World War. It’s a great book, and pulls students into learning more about the causes and effects of the Second World War. Perhaps after reading the book, students could all contribute to a blog on various specific part of the book or the historical context. Obviously each teach would guide students along the way to in their respective areas of expertise, but the planning beforehand would be necessary to truly integrate the subject. It would even be possible to drawn in math to compare the various prisoner camps and their populations; or the number of Jew in various cities in Europe before the war and perhaps in 1950. Even art could be considered, since so much great art was confiscated from Jewish families during the war, some of which has never been recovered.

There is no way to get away from students from learning grammar and usage, increasing their vocabulary (which is well done by reading a lot), math operations in a sequential manner, and the basics of science. Integrated learning is a great way to reinforce what kids know or what they’re learning.

One of the themes in education at the moment is appealing to different learning styles, and providing differentiation in education. A project approach allows each student to shine in his or her own way.

 

 

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