This and that…

January 23, 2009

It is an amazing week to be a teacher…

Filed under: education,Post-secondary,Technology,Uncategorized,Vermont Tech — learningspecialist @ 4:35 pm

Tuesday’s inauguration of President Obama left me with a positive buzz that is bubbling like champagne. It is a remarkable thing.  For the first time in months, I feel as though things really could move in a different and better direction.

I am finishing the new book by Thomas Friedman called Hot, Flat and Crowded.  I read it for a course, on the heels of finishing Charles Van Doren’s  book A History of Knowledge, so I was really primed for the energy in the inaugural address.  I had a class (Freshman Orientation for students who begin college in the spring semester)  at 4:00 that afternoon, and I was so pumped that I tossed my lesson plans- an introduction to the Master Notebook, for a conversation about what it all means. My poor students must have thought I had gone completely over the edge, but they were very patient 🙂 And it was completely worthwhile.

I began by articulating the issues we face as Friedman has done: decreasing biodiversity, energy poverty, the need for and supply of readily available power, climate change and petro-dictatorship. I posed a question (Harry if you read this I am aware that I was shamefully ripping off the question in the syllabus- I gave you credit in class:))-

What do schools need to do to prepare students to live in this world and find solutions that will allow us to continue to meet the needs of our planet and populations in a reasonable way? What do YOU as engineering students need to be taught? What do our rising high school and elementary students need to know?

We wrote individual reflections, and then shared those reflections in small groups.  When some coherence had been established, the smaller groups reported back to the large group.

One group talked extensively about making more efficient use of our waste. They ranged from recycling to methane and garbage burning with scrubbers and caps to incentivising the whole process through grants and tax breaks.  Another group focused on economic literacy and understanding history- not just on a personal level but the whole concept of supply and demand and the impact of economy on culture and an awareness of what has gone before. They also discussed relevance- and felt pretty strongly that our current system does not of a good job of  helping students see the relevance of what they are taught to what they might be doing later.  Algebra took a big hit here as did the current iteration of technical education- which was particularly interesting because this was an older group (one Australian student, one Iraq veteran and one student in his mid twenties, all in engineering programs). The last group also focused on literacy- but technological literacy. They felt that in a flat world,being unable to mediate the technology is unacceptable.  The education system needs to catch up if we are to prepare people capable of creative problem solving.

For students from wildly diverse backgrounds, ages and levels of experience, in their first semester of school,  with minimal preparation, their insight was amazing. I left class completely charged.  Days like this are why I became a teacher.

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