March 19, 2013 / AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
March 19, 2013
March is upon us which means most of the nation will be tracking their NCAA tournament brackets, hoping to take home this year’s office pool. The athletes have been preparing for this moment their whole lives—shooting thousands of free throws, running hundreds of liners, and spending countless hours lifting weights. Coaches have guided and mentored them along the way, from AAU through high school, and now in the colligate ranks these student-athletes can shoot a ball into a hoop 10 feet above the ground better than 99.9% of the world.
To perform at such a level is an incredible study in physical development of a skill. Before a player walks onto the court for the Final Four, he or she has already done so hundreds of times before, and most hope to continue their athletic career far beyond their college days. But as the state, almost all student-athletes end up going pro in something other than sports. If our system of coaching can prepare athletes so well for the court, how can our schools better prepare students for the real world?
In the classroom teachers are the coaches, enhancing students’ intellectual abilities, developing interests, and preparing them to solve big problems post their graduation. In today’s world, what helps individuals, communities, and nations succeed is their ability to think, and most importantly, to ask why. Students need to learn how to analyze a situation, think through several approaches, make a decision, and take appropriate steps to achieve their goal. To get students’ brain muscles flexing, they must practice looking at problems on a deeper level and expressing their thoughts both on paper and in conversation.
The struggle that has plagued schools for so long is how to scale these kinds of classroom lessons to the outside world. How valuable is basic arithmetic when answers are only a calculator away? How important is correct spelling when all computers have spell check? The baseline skills of reading and writing are easy to quantify and have long been the measure of academic accomplishment, thereby becoming the barometer for educational success. Standardized testing continues to drive the teaching curriculum such that the minimal qualifications are based on students reading ability at a specific grade level, or being able to solve 18 arithmetic problems in a given time frame. State standards, which are the core driver of curriculum formatting, require accomplishments such as writing a five-paragraph essay. When given these standards, educators develop lessons accordingly, and with limited time, they are forced to focus solely on teaching the core skills. This is the basketball equivalent to measuring a team’s success by shooting only static 3-point shots with no defenders. Of course the basic ability to shoot is important, but the players will be unprepared for an actual game against real opponents. Students must learn how to utilize their basic education in a way that prepares them to play in the game of life.
The most exciting element for the current education system is the proliferation of charter and alternative schools pushing this kind of curriculum. But this paradigm is changing for the better in public schools as well where over 90% of students actually attend. For the first time ever, the standards are changing to require students to think through and interpret information at a greater depth than what is asked on your typical standardized test. (For more information on the new standards. In the 45 states that have adopted the new standards, students will be required to participate in conversations with question and answer sessions using tools like the Socratic Method. The State Boards of Education are essentially letting the kids “play ball” and enabling teachers to prepare the young minds of America for the future.
Coming from a family of educators, this kind of shift is one that is long overdue and will allow teachers everywhere to move away from rote memorization to the heart and soul of education, encouraging life-long learners and empowering students to ask why.
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