Thursday, December 30, 2010

6. Take Care of Myself

A lot of these Essentials of Education seem like no brainers, and this one definitely is in that family.  However, we have to teach kids overtly to take care of themselves.  Unfortunately, a lot of the aspects of our modern lifestyle lend themselves to an unhealthy life.  Ironically, technological improvements may have made some parts of our lives more convenient, but not more healthy.  We have instant fast food (but packaged food does not give us fresh food or the essential nutrients), instant access to information (so we don't have to get off our duffs to find out things, and instant action, (video games instead of exercise).

I'm not going to get into a debate here about the role of the family here.  It is just a fact of today that schools must teach children to make healthy choices and to teach them to take care of themselves.  This includes eating right, making safe and positive choices, exercising, knowing how to relax, managing stress, etc.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

5. Manage Information

Number 5 (of the essential things in education) is to learn to manage information
We get so much information and we have to learn what to do with it. 
Where can you find the information you need?
Is this the right information, and do you trust what you found out?
Is it accurate and reliable?  Does it make sense to you?
How do you record it so you'll remember it for later?
How can you retrieve the information you recorded?
How can I share what I found out?  What is the most effective way?

This aspect of education has really changed in my lifetime. 
In my school days, we had to memorize a lot of information because we did not have the same access to information that we have today.  Unfortunately, some of the information I learned was outdated, biased, or just plain wrong, (e.g.  You will never be able to fit a computer in your home, much less afford one.  Africa is a country. etc.).  We thought that teachers (and our parents)  knew everything, or at least hoped they did because they were our big sources of how the world worked.

Not so today.  What Google can pull up in a second exceeds what all my teachers knew in a lifetime.  If kids want to know about something, they can pull out their phones or ipads or laptops and Wikipedia or some other site will tell them. 

But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts
What kids get on the internet is just data, and lots of it.  They still need to learn to sift out what is accurate, what is true, and what makes sense.  That is what the role of teachers should be: not to pour facts into students' heads to be memorized, but to teach them to find information they need and then to show them to look at that data with a critical eye.  Students need to know about perspective and bias.  They need to know that information can be gathered from a variety of sources including experiences, media, and from other people.  Great teachers help students gather, sift, and analyze.

It's all about Perspective
I heard this really interesting documentary on CBC radio.  It talked about how we tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people because it was just immediately easier on ourselves.  The internet opens us up to a multitude of different perspectives, and yet if we look at our Facebook or Twitter accounts, we hook up with people who are like us or think like us.  However, if we want to be truly creative, we need to be open to different points of view.  On the program, one guy noticed this effect when he looked at his own Twitter account, and then to reverse this, he started following a random stranger from a totally different demographic.  He said that it really opened his eyes to a different point of view and brought to light things that he never thought of before.   

Idea Building
The big idea is to help kids attach new information or new experiences with their view of the world.  When I was a student, getting information was like sculpting.  I chiseled away until I got to the newly formed idea.  As my teacher gave me new information, I used it to make my idea smaller and more defined.  Now getting information is more like pottery.  We add new bits of moldable clay to a base that seems to get bigger and bigger, and the shape seems to change with each new bit.  Some bits we discard and throw away, but mostly we seem to add on to what is already there. 

Having said all of this, I use Google to look up quick, recent facts or bits of trivia, but for the really tough answers, I still ask my parents.