A hunger for good learning

Take a few minutes to watch Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer) talk about a makeover of the math curriculum in this TedxNYED session. Dan does a brilliant job of explaining why textbooks fail, why they don’t help kids learn, why they should do less.

I particularly like Dan’s deconstruction of textbooks and teaching: be less helpful. His key insight is not to give kids the problem but invite them to consider the problem. Discovery is what engages them in learning. Creating a physical demonstration of filling a container with water trumps words on paper supported by line art.

Dan’s Math Curriculum Makerover made me think of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. (You can watch the Food Revolution program on ABC or view Oliver’s TED Talk. He writes: “I believe that every child in America has the right to fresh, nutritious school meals, and that every family deserves real, honest, wholesome food.”

Here’s how he’s framed the issue of childhood obesity:

  • Kids are not eating good food.
  • They don’t know what good food is because they don’t get good food. They get processed food.
  • They are addicted to processed food.
  • They are served processed food in the school lunchroom and at home.
  • Teach kids to cook.
  • Get school lunchrooms to serve good food.
  • Involve parents so that they know what good food is, why it matters and how they can make it at home.
  • If a community understands that they can choose good food, will they choose to break the addiction to processed food?

Jamie and Dan both have me thinking about a campaign for a child’s right to good learning, which is “real, honest and wholesome.” Textbooks are the equivalent of processed food — they are processed learning. The learning’s all been done for you. As Dan Meyer says, you just have to know how to decode the text and you get the answers easily. If you don’t mind this tedious task, you’ll do well. But it’s not real learning. It’s not what we experience when we learn in real life.

I imagine a Jamie Oliver crusader walking into a classroom and telling kids to pitch the textbooks in a dumpster. He gets them out from behind the desks, gets them off their butts and gets them doing stuff. “We’re natural-born learners,” he might say. “Learning is something that all of us do so well — we are doing it all the time. All of us are hungry to learn.”

What Dan is talking about is giving kids the opportunity to learn: they explore and discover; they see problems and want to solve them; they want to develop and use tools to learn. This is how they become engaged. They naturally want to do these things for themselves because it is part of them making sense of the world and who they are. That’s what Dan says math can do for you and that’s what good learning is all about.

That’s also why I get excited about organizing Maker Faire, now in its fifth year. It’s an especially intensive learning opportunity created by a community of people who are sharing what they are doing. Maker Faire offers a feast for people of all ages who love good learning: it’s authentic, inspiring and satisfying. One day, perhaps, we’ll see a Maker Revolution that changes what we’re trying to do in our schools and our communities, replacing education with good learning.

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