Students can learn to think, speak, calculate and write more easily through close contact with reality than through confinement and abstract texts.–John Taylor Gatto
I was called this morning to teach 7th grade math when the teacher had a sudden medical emergency. She didn’t leave any work for the kids to do, so I was left to come up with something.
I asked the kids if they had ever heard of Pythagoras. They all said, “No,” they hadn’t. So, I filled them in on who he was, what his current followers believe and the theorum he developed 2500 years ago that all builders have to use when they construct a house, room, addition, fence, etc. Then I placed them into teams of 2 and gave each team 3 pieces of string of 3 different lengths: 3′, 4′ and 5′.
Then, I told them they were building inspectors who were being hired to inspect their school to see if it had been built properly. They would determine this by going about the school and measuring the corners of the rooms, halls, doors, etc., using the strings to find out if these areas had straight corners.
The classes loved roaming the school. Some even asked permission to inspect the Principal’s office.
The students returned to class with their observations. Each student had to give an overall rating of their school from 1-100 and then another student figured out the average score for the school which turned out to be 78. They loved being able to give out a grade for the first time in their school experience.
At lunch today the teachers were giving their typical, daily complaints about their students. One teacher shared that she had stopped her 1st period class and asked them, “What is going on with you all? You are completely disinterested in what you are supposed to be learning. What do you have to say?”
One student answered, “I think we could use our time more wisely than having to learn all this stuff.” You can guess how the teacher reacted to this honest response (a response which had been asked for, by the way). She was not happy. I thought it was pretty astute of the kid, myself.
Anyway, I ran into trouble when some of the kids made too much noise as they wandered around. Some teachers got angry with them and asked what they were doing. A couple of teachers even reported that I had sent these students to do a project, but had not adequately supevised them (which was true). At the end of the day I looked up most of the other teachers and apologized.
When do kids get to learn something that matters?