Sunday, December 7, 2008

Real Learning

My 11-year-old daughter came home from school several weeks ago all fired up about an idea she and a friend had. They noticed during lunch that the trash can was overflowing with styrofoam lunch trays -- they keep piling up and they aren't biodegradable. So Dana and Claire decided they would DO something about it! They could research the problem, raise money if necessary, change the world -- or at least change the school's use of environmentally unfriendly lunch trays! They discussed it with their teacher, who said she'd get them an appointment to see the principal about it. So far, nothing has happened. Every so often I talk with Dana about her and Claire's idea. As the weeks go by, I can see the spark of passion fade, buoyant determination replaced by dull resignation.

Meanwhile, the Challenge group Dana and Claire participate in is investigating environmental issues. They walk the neighborhood looking at potential environmental problems and solutions. Last week they discussed vandalism. (Yawn. Shrug.)

This is real learning. Dana and Claire have a topic that interests them a lot. They aren't working on it in school yet. They're learning that changing the world takes some effort. They're seeing that their days (and their teacher's and principal's days) are already full. I hope they will learn that in the real world, unlike on television, making something happen takes effort and persistence. These habits of mind are keys to success in life. I'm hoping their interest and passion will find some expression beyond the idea stage -- maybe the upcoming science fair project, or maybe in a project that happens outside the school day.

I'm learning too. I'm passionate about powerful teaching and learning, and so is a growing cadre of educators in Colorado. For each of us, our days are full. The curricula are set, the CSAPs are coming, and our to-do lists are longer than the work day. It takes effort, action and persistence to change the way we work and learn. It's a work in progress and it couldn't be more important.

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