Piecing Together Forever Learning

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“Remember that time in 8th-grade science class when Mr. Oetting blew into the pig’s lungs?”

“Oh, man! I haven’t thought about that in years. Yes! That was so cool!”

Has this ever happened to you? Have you suddenly remembered something that one would think would be unforgettable? Something that once seemed really important or interesting? How can that happen? I think it’s because many events that could serve as a catalyst for further inquiry are only a momentary focal point before we have to hurriedly move on to another focus. And unfortunately, this happens all too often in our fast-paced world and the modern classroom. It is something like, “Goodbye pig’s lungs, hello respiratory system.”

But what if families were intentional about discovering and feeding their child’s interests from the cradle onward? Then, when the child enters school, teachers could continue to nurture those interests and offer children models of deep inquiry into what they love all the way through to graduation. And families and teachers together could provide a consistent invitation and generous permission to students to read and learn about what they find intriguing.Into it

From an education perspective, this may sound difficult to achieve since we’ve chopped the curriculum into subjects for the sake of teaching convenience. But when put together, all school lessons should be an interlocking puzzle of life in our culture.

Subject focused lessons also could provide students opportunities to identify what interests them. Things kids will absolutely remember because of the gravity of its personal importance.

I’m not suggesting that individually driven inquiry monopolize the entire curriculum, but for every child, there could be a period of time every day when they are invited to find and use new and expanding resources from each school subject which has some personal fascination. Part of any lesson could be dedicated to connecting the day’s focus with various ongoing kid inquiries.

Talk about maximizing individual engagement!

Talk about memorable lessons!

Then, young adults who have spent time regularly engaged in personal inquiry will effectively own a lifetime of personally valued learning. It will be in their blood.

When the school doors close at the end of their last day they will be positioned to remember every skill, embody every attitude and articulate every concept that will allow them henceforth to pursue those personal learning goals full time.

If we can help students develop a habit of daily inquiry that includes reading and conversation about their own interests and talents, then we will succeed in supporting lifelong learning.

That’s what educated people should be capable of doing and it would be a truly comprehensive way to deliver an education that never stops and lasts a lifetime.

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6 Responses to “Piecing Together Forever Learning”

  1. Kevin Condon July 28, 2016 at 6:21 pm #

    One afternoon Mr. Oetting (the same) had assembled a makeshift barometer from a galvanized washtub and some glass tubes. He intended to show the accuracy of his device by getting a pressure reading close to expected. As he stood in front of the window facilitating us as his measurements came up very short, he didn’t see what we saw. The wind whipped trees and greenish air were followed by blowing cardboard boxes and tree limbs. His pressure measurements were actually right. Raytown that day was setting a record for low barometric pressure right behind him. The roar of the wind finally got his attention as the tornado sirens sounded. What a great teacher he was! I’m certain everyone in that class will never forget our lesson. I didn’t.

    • Mark Condon July 29, 2016 at 6:56 am #

      …and being in Raytown, Missouri (suburb of Kansas City) the sound of tornado sirens was familiar enough that it failed to overshadow a terrific lesson in weather. The writer of this blog (I happen to know) went on to get his PhD in Geography from the University of Kansas where the study of weather and climate were a natural focus. Thanks for enhancing the legend of a great teacher, Kevin.

  2. Milton Taylor August 2, 2016 at 7:32 am #

    Thanks for your informative article. I think that showing the results of a lesson first generates more interest in the “how is it done?” Or, better stated, show a completed task or activity, then deconstruct to teach. Of course, this works better with STEM related activities. Language related activities are a greater challenge.

    • Mark Condon August 2, 2016 at 7:41 am #

      I really like your deconstruction idea, Milton. It starts with a whole and complete, which always makes the easiest sense to children. Then it goes for analysis, which is high level thinking. Literature and the arts actually do offer similar opportunities to STEM subjects in this regard. They are more subtle, perhaps. For example, Writing with the Best is a technique for teaching children to emulate the writing strategies of accomplished authors by inviting kids to add their own created text to published writing in ways that others can’t tell it was written by a classmate. The dynamics you suggest operate just as you say.

  3. Sasha Roberts-Levi August 3, 2016 at 6:22 pm #

    Dear Mark, Thanks for your article! Are you familiar with the EL Schools (formally Expeditionary Learning) Model of learning and teaching http://eleducation.org/? It is based on inquiry-based, constructivist, democratic pedagogy (and more). Recently, I have learned about forest schools with one fresh in my mind as a place I would love to send my kids and to join the teaching staff http://berkeleyforestschool.org/about.html.

    However, in my opinion, as long as we have high stakes standardized tests and for profit educational management companies the focus will not be on individuals and the inherent potential in all of them (because that would be too expensive and personally valued education can’t be “measured” (and therefore can’t be used to quantitatively “evaluate teacher performance.”

    I agree with your comment to Milton. I think what you are describing could be used across the curriculum with real world connections that matter to the very people who will inherit that world (that is not manifested yet).

    • Mark Condon August 6, 2016 at 9:17 am #

      Thanks for your insights, Sasha. With Jean Anne Clyde, I wrote a book in 1999 called GET REAL!: Bringing Kids’ Learning Lives into the Classroom (Stenhouse). The contents of that book still seem to echo through everything I do, even after all these years. Meanwhile, the world has moved under our feet in that direction (No credit due to to us, Ha!) with every child potentially carrying the contents of all the world’s libraries in her pocket. There will be more EL-like schools in our future. But naturally, the children who can’t afford them will spend their formative years being marched through curricula that were out of date decades ago.