Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Building a SOLE School

SOLE School

Setting up a SOLE school is not for the faint hearted. It requires a belief that education is about more than what we grew up with. It is about recognizing that education is personal and self-driven. Education must follow the interests of the child so that they can develop their skills and ideas to help them become successfully educated people who from childhood are working to fulfill their dreams.

A SOLE school would be a school that would look radically different from other schools. Gone would be desks and lectures and structured lessons. Gone would be the adults making the final decisions. In their place would be the students learning about the things they are interested in. It would be cooperative decision making with adults and students being equals. The adults would provide the guidance and moral reasoning. Teachers would be inserting the curriculum into the learning where it was necessary. Some language arts concepts would be taught through drama, dance, art, music. Laptops and research would be cornerstones in the educational development of the kids. Direct, hands on experience would be integral in their education.
In order to have a SOLE school become a reality it involves hiring the right people for the position. No longer required are the type A, structured, by the book people who now inhabit our classrooms. Required are open minded thinkers who are flexible and adaptable in understanding that curriculum is to be taught within the boundaries established by the children in the room. They must be ready to pursue any angle to help the children grow. Curriculum must be woven into the children’s learning. It should not be the sole basis for their learning.  This must be done from Kindergarten forward as children are capable of doing modified forms of SOLE at the early grade levels. 

As important as all this is students need to be exploring a world in which they live. Their learning should have technology and resources available to facilitate research and hands on learning. There should be an understanding within the community that all students should receive hands on experience where their interests lie. If someone wishes to explore auto mechanics they should have time in a garage and then spend time researching the things they are trying to understand. Along with this students need to understand how speaking, presentation, social skills affect their place and understanding in the world. Students should also have a social conscience. In exploring an area of the human condition and their world they need to see and understand firsthand how their actions and behaviours impact the rest of the world. In the past children would learn trades/jobs from their parents. If your father was a storekeeper you would learn how to run a store. If your father was a farmer you would learn everything you needed to know about farming. As we moved more towards urban centres we have moved away from the concept. We need to revive this concept with SOLE so that kids may explore and understand the world around them.

Teachers and students need to explore ways of self-funding. This teaches the students about handling money and developing their interest and abilities in entrepreneurship which allows them greater freedom to pursue their interests.

I want to stress here that the curriculum will be covered, not just in the way that formal education has seen it done for the last century. If we are simply teaching curriculum for the sake of teaching curriculum we are wasting our time.  The teaching of curriculum must be done in a more practical way that evolves as the child grows. If they need to write a letter they need to be taught letter writing skills. We can no longer afford to teach children skills that they may or may not use in the future. The curriculum is like many government laws. They are added to in order to make them stronger but in so much detail the enforceability is lost. There are too many things in a curriculum to cover satisfactorily. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Some times it works.

Today I had one of those rare but ever pleasing moments in education where everything connected. I have a very shy girl in my class. She does not participate in discussions, calling on her to answer questions is met with silence and when working in groups she is usually very quiet. But today was a different story. She opted to work with a partner for her Rube Goldberg project. He was full of ideas, diagramming and explaining with exuberance. The I hear her voice pipe up, "No that won't work because..." and from there she went on to give a well reasoned and detailed argument as to why it wouldn't work. I sat amazed at this. Then she proceeded to outline and adjust his ideas to make the project stronger explaining her thoughts along the way. The dialogue then went back and forth for a few minutes with both taking and developing ideas. I sat mesmerized watching this development. There was life, there was risk taking, there was discussion and explanation and it felt right. Good for her I thought. A couple of minutes later I talked to her about it. She was just thrilled to be building something. I am glad she feels comfortable enough to take the risk. I am hoping it lasts a long time.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

What is Education?

   Our forefathers knew that a good education was the path to a richer and more fulfilling life. That would be why so many children from wealthy families pursued education with a passion. Parents of poorer students would push but the child was seeing their parents and accepting what life had for them instead of pushing harder. Their help was needed to put food on the table. Today, when a good education is available to everyone, we face the question  what is an education? It is certainly not what it was 40, 50 or 100 years ago. We are no longer filling factory jobs.  Most jobs in good businesses jobs now require skills that are not learned in school.   

   I propose it is time to redefine education. The methods, the thoughts, the attitudes we have towards education must change. No longer can we continue to foster the idea that the only education that is worthwhile is one that involves post secondary education. Education is about so much more than what happens in classroom. It is about the development of a necessary set of skills that help us anywhere our path will go.  No longer can we foster the idea that making a lot of money through education is the only way to go. These days we see millionaires who are younger than the age of 20 because they developed a computer program, an app or some other idea that was useful. Education is no longer about  going to a University or College. It is about what you do with the life you have been given. It is about taking advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you and making the most of it.

    Education starts in the home. It starts the minute a child is born. Parents are the first teachers, those who set the standard by providing the warmth, nourishment and love for the child. The child imitates their behaviours and attitudes, their ways of walking and talking and begins to adopt some of the thoughts that are shared daily. What training do parents have to ensure the best possible life for their child? For centuries it has been based on observances and experiences of those in the home. In some homes this is very successful but in others it is a disaster. We cannot continue to play hit and miss in this area. That is why there is a prevalence of books on the topic of child rearing. Caring people want to know. Often in schools we are facing children who do not have the luxuries of a happy safe, encouraging home life.

    Our present outlook and delivery of curriculum does not reflect the changing times. We are stifling inquisitiveness and the exploratory nature of childhood. We are steering kids away from being curious and following their interests towards following what we deem necessary for them. School is still about providing a set of skilled employees for the labor market. Our programs are set up to force a conformity of thoughts and actions. Educators talk about developing the ‘whole’ child – emotionally, intellectually, creatively. What does that look like and how does it work in the current setting? When we insist on conformity we get what we want instead of what is needed by the students. Students need the ability to seek, to understand and to synthesize information. In short they need to be taught to be creative and innovative as they work together towards solutions to problems or issues. This creates a sense of purpose and challenge. Students need to be learning about a wide variety of topics of interest to them so they can feel like they belong. As they research and analyze information this knowledge will help them to make informed decisions. They should be learning to develop arguments for or against real life situations and be able to support those arguments both verbally and in written form. A textbook education will never be able to do that.

     Schools today is not reflective of the society we want to become. Teachers have long known that when a group of students work together on a project they believe in sparks fly. This is often seen when teachers move on to the next topic of study and dullness sets in. There is no participation. The room is totally quiet with the enthusiasm disappearing. The lifelong pursuit of knowledge should not be onerous or burdensome which leads to self defeating thoughts and actions on the part of the students. It should be a learning experience where one is involved in their growth rather than merely being a by product of it.

    So what is education really about? What is your definition? Let’s redefine education so that everyone has the same definition. Let’s work towards giving each and every child a good chance of finding a fulfilling and satisfying life. Time to stop listening to, “We need more (substitute a job description in here),” and filling their quotas. Let’s make every child’s dream becomes a reality by encouraging them from an early life to explore and question and devise solutions. Only then will education be what it is supposed to be.