Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Not So Ready for the Summer...If It Means No Math!

David and I were driving to school today, peering out at the snow blowing about and singing Lisa Loeb's "Are You Ready for the Summer?" at the top of our lungs. The song was revving into "No more math and history/summer time has set us free!"when David stopped singing, looked at me and said "No more math? AWWWWWWW! No fair!"

I nearly fell over laughing.  Here is my 6.5 year old kid pining away for the sun and the thing that he thinks of first in being "freed" from school is the idea that he won't be able to work in his math book.

The kid. loves. his. school.

I walked inside still chuckling and told Susan Carpenter about the exchange in the car. She confided that when the kids in her class are chatting a little too much, she shakes her head and says "hey guys, you're cutting into math time", to which the kids respond with an "oh no!" and get back with their work.

Her kids. love. math. (and spelling too...all sorts of things, actually)

It's still so amazing to me to watch kids zoom into school, excited to learn, feeling that what they do is fun and enjoyable, not arduous and boring.

Recently I read a paper written by a researcher at the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota that was describing what they call "Authentic Intellectual Work", work that "requires high-level cognitive performance (i.e., rigorous, in-depth understanding instead of only superficial acquaintance with memorized bits of knowledge) and it results in personally, aesthetically or socially useful products and services, instead of completed exercises that were contrived only for the purpose showing of competence or to please teachers." (Avery, Patricia G. Authentic Student Performance, Assessment Tasks, and Instruction)

Now, they don't talk about fun here, and they don't talk about missing your math book in the summer or wanting to take your spelling list out on the playground, but they do talk about work that is personally meaningful. Work that resonates with children beyond simply showing what they know or scoring well on a test.

The paper demonstrated two assignments given to two different 8th grade geography classes in Minnesota.

The first thing that struck me was that the Figure 2 assignment is a (somewhat simplified) variation of the kind of experiences that our K-5th graders have every day at S-K.

The second thing was the contrast in the depth of learning that each assignment enabled.

The third thing was that our S-K project would integrate art, music, food and culture into the assignment. Children would be working in groups to discover and synthesize the information. Each would bring his/her own talents to the team. They would learn together and work to the best end as a team.

Imagine what information a child holds in his or her mind after a textbook-based assignment like Figure 1 versus a project-based learning experience like Figure 2.

The article concluded with some excellent questions designed to spark thinking about the quality of learning experiences for students:

1) To what extent does the task require students to organize, synthesize, interpret, explain, or evaluate complex information? (Student Construction or Knowledge)  
2) To what extent does the task require students to use methods of inquiry, research or communication characteristic of an academic or professional discipline? (Disciplinary Content and Process)    

3) To what extent does the task require students to address a question, issue or problem similar to one they have encountered, or are likely to encounter, in life beyond the classroom? (Value Beyond the Classroom)

Peel through the layers of the teachers' blogs and see how the projects they do in class ignite and excite the learning mind and how they stack up to those questions. As the authors of another paper note, "Participation in authentic intellectual activity appears to motivate students to invest in the hard work that learning requires, including learning the basics, more so than traditional schooling. Teachers report that authentic work is often more interesting and meaningful to students than repeated drill aimed at disconnected knowledge and skills. Research also indicates that students exposed to authentic intellectual challenges are more engaged in their schoolwork than students exposed to more conventional schoolwork." (Avery, 1999; Kane et al., 1997; Marks (in press); Newmann & Associates, 1996).

Our classrooms abound with amazing learning that leads children to stretch their inquisitive minds and become critical thinkers and creative problem solvers as adults. And budding math nerds who sigh that summer means the loss of math time even in the deepest winter snow. :)

Hopefully the weather will clear and permit us to gather together this Thursday for our S-K Community Meeting. I look forward to seeing you all there.

P.S. In case your own kids aren't ready to give up math for the summer, be sure to check out S-K's amazing assortment of math, language, science and creative arts programming for summer camp.  Brochures are available at the sign-in desk and hurry to register as there are indications that the camps will be in high demand this year.

No comments:

Post a Comment