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One Moment Please... Challenging conventional wisdom


Fri, Mar 1st, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

I tend to gravitate toward non-fiction, informational reading and multimedia content, and I have recently taken an interest in articles and videos about organizational culture and education systems. This past week seemed to be a mixture of both.

Chess Club

In late 2012, I found out that the Fillmore Central Chess Club needed some coordinators to keep the momentum moving forward for the sake of developing young minds. Well, I grew up playing chess, learning from a grade school friend who would some day become the best man in my wedding. So, I volunteered to be one of the instructors.

My reasons for wanting to be involved in coordinating the Fillmore Central Chess Club revolved around my own children. I have played chess against my daughter, so she has known how each piece moves on the board. But, I felt that if she could play against other children that would be a greater challenge. And it was.

We had 15 children in the Fillmore Central Chess Club this year, ranging from Kindergarten to sixth grade. So, every week, there were opportunities for younger kids to learn from older kids, beginners learning from more experienced players. To me, it really wasn’t about whether they won the game. It was more about learning the game. And, really, just like many things in life, it’s all about trial and error. The more games each student plays, the more they will learn.

And, I should mention that the co-coordinator for this year’s Fillmore Central Chess Club was Tyler Grundman, who is also the sharpest web developer in Fillmore County. He happens to work for SMG Web Design, an affiliate of the Fillmore County Journal. With my sporadic schedule bouncing back and forth from Preston to Rochester, we were fortunate to have Tyler leading the way in my absence a number of times.

In short, the children amazed me with how they grasped the game and excelled week after week.

Conferences

This same week in which the three month long Fillmore Central Chess Club season came to an end, my wife and I attended parent-teacher conferences for our children, Olivia and Landon.

With conferences, I am always interested in learning about how our children compare to standardized testing benchmarks. And, of course, I am curious about social interactions and behavior.

As I observed the testing requirements for our teachers and what they need to focus on to help our children achieve certain metrics, I started to realize how challenging their job must be. Teachers can only do so much.

What if a parent isn’t reading books with their child each night? What if a parent isn’t practicing math flash cards with their child each night? What if the parents are not truly engaged in the learning process? There is a reason kids have schoolwork and homework -- to keep the brain churning. Well, I will get off of my parental responsibility soapbox for a moment. Trust me. My kids are not perfect, and neither am I. But, parents need to support giving their child the best chance at success. Sorry, I got on the soapbox again. I’m off now. But, parents play just as much of a role as do teachers in the learning process.

Cursive?

As an adult, how often do you use cursive? I pretty much only use it when I have to. My handwriting is horrible. And, the biggest reason my handwriting is so bad is because I type on a keyboard more often than I pick up a calligraphy pen. I remember starting to learn keyboarding in 10th grade. Today, my daughter is in second grade and she is learning basic keyboarding. She’s already eight years ahead of me in that regard.

In 2012, the Kansas State Board of Education questioned whether cursive should continue to be taught in our schools. Is cursive a lost art form or a lost cause?

From what I see quite often, we are all writing more like doctors. How many signatures can you distinguish and translate correctly?

I’m not saying I have the answer to these questions. I am just saying that we are learning things that we use less and less as we become adults and join the workforce. Maybe handwriting will be taught as an elective language arts class some day? I’m not saying that I want to see cursive fall to the wayside. But, I do think we need to look at what our workplace demands for skills and talents, and work backwards in the education process to determine what is best suited to support that outcome. It is definitely a paradigm shift.

Beyond the numbers

I recently watched two compelling videos. One was titled “We Need Schools... Not Factories,” in which educator, scientist, and professor Sugata Mitra spoke to an audience at TED 2013, an annual event dedicated to sparking ideas worth spreading.

“We need a pedagogy free from fear and focused on the magic of children’s innate quest for information and understanding,” shared Mitra. With a large captive audience, Mitra talked about how children used to learn versus how they learn today. He even talked about how teachers used to teach, and now children seek information via the Internet.

For example, how excited do children get about learning how to calculate tangent angles? I know I wasn’t too excited back in the day. However, ask children a question of relevance and they will seek to find the answer. “There is a meteor heading towards Earth. Where will it land? How close will it land to were you live?” This is one of the questions Mitra posed to children, and they went into personal discovery mode. If you search the Internet for “We Need Schools... Not Factories,” you’ll find the article and video associated with Sugata Mitra’s presentation.

In another video, I saw interviews with Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and a cast of recognizable Silicon Valley tech savvy leaders. What all of the leaders in the industry pointed to was the fact that technology is not about binary code, diodes and capacitors. It’s all about serving the needs of humans. In this video titled “What most schools don’t teach,” they talked about learning how to write code. There is more demand for programming than there are people to fill the positions. What a great problem to have if you are a techie. While my daughter is taking keyboarding today in second grade, my future grandchildren may some day be learning how to write code in second grade.

Yes, our world is changing. What’s most interesting to me is the conflicting messages between our changing world and how our education plays a role in our personal development to best equip us for the future.

Maybe our view of education needs to change. We have established a metrics-based system. Everything relates to points. Now, I have to say that I am always fine with change as long as it doesn’t affect me. That’s a joke (kind of). But, seriously, who likes change that challenges our conventional wisdom?

What’s next?

I don’t know. I really don’t know. Those MCA test scores have literally consumed my brain. For the sake of our readers, I have crunched numbers for every grade in every school in both Fillmore County and Olmsted County. Based on memory, I can pretty much tell you which grades in each school are doing well per MCA-tested subject compared to their local peer schools and the state averages.

But, education isn’t strictly about numbers. Sure, we need to have benchmarks. But, we need to also inspire innovation and teach children how to seek answers on their own.

I’m not saying we (as a society) don’t do a great job. I think our teachers are wonderful, and I am grateful for all that our school system has to offer. I am just wondering if our entire education system is keeping pace with the changing world around us. And, I say all of this while not wanting to necessarily compromise conventional wisdom.

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