Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thinking Big

I was running errands at the weekend with my kids when, from the back seat, my daughter asked, “Mom, do you believe in aliens?” With my head bulging with grocery lists, holiday shopping and dreaded laundry requirements, it would have been easy to say no. Instead, I asked why. “Well, we’ve been learning about space and how every star is a sun.There’s so many stars, doesn’t it make sense that at least one of them has a solar system like ours?Shouldn’t there be at least one other planet with some kind of life?” Not bad for a nine year old!
A rich and interesting conversation followed and when we got home we set about Erin’s homework. It was a sheet of basic math facts.It was like watching an elastic band that had been stretched to it’s limit snap back to its original shape.Don’t get me wrong, I’m a math teacher and I too demand that my students know their basic facts, but I was reminded of my favorite education quote:
"Education Is Not the Filling of a Pail, But the Lighting of a Fire" William Butler Yeats (Poet, 1865-1939).
I had to wonder how many times as a teacher, I’ve filled buckets so that my students can fill in bubbles on a multiple choice test.Content, curriculum and standardized tests are all important, but isn’t it also important for teachers to stretch the minds of students above and beyond the curriculum?
At the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum in Washington last month, David Christian presented Big History, a project he’s developed collaboratively with Bill Gates.With great passion, David explained that the goals of this project are to foster a love of learning amongst students and to highlight for them the many links between scientific disciplines and the humanities.Course themes include origin stories embracing 14 billion years of history, interdisciplinary knowledge from astronomy, geology, biology and history, and understanding differing scales in time and space from atoms to galaxies.Being online, this class will allow 9th graders from all around the world to engage in conversations about life, the universe, our reason for being. Now that’s thinking big!!
The questions is, how do we get students thinking big before 9th grade? I’m not suggesting we start asking fifth graders about the meaning of life but we can challenge them beyond core content, can’t we? I recently learned about an activity that one of my colleagues, Leon Braisted, does with seventh graders.After studying great leaders,and covering required content in depth, the students are asked to go one step further by answering the question : “Whose face should be the fifth to be placed on Mount Rushmore?”
Working in collaborative groups students wrestle to find the “correct” answer, citing all of the knowledge they have acquired about great leaders and employing 21st century learning skills such as creativity, effective communication and flexible thinking.Check out the whole project by clicking on the photo-a product of the activity!
Mount Rushmore
I look at my students just a little differently now.What exactly are they capable of thinking about and consequentially achieving?Which one of them will find the cure for cancer?Which one of their faces will be the fifth on Mount Rushmore? Which one of them will find the other life sustaining planet that my daughter is so convinced exists and more importantly, what’s my role in helping them get there?
How do you help your students to Think Big? I can’t wait to find out.

1 comment:

  1. When we get kids to think more systemically and see patterns in thought and behavior, the world gets very small while at the same time broadening students' perspectives. Access to the real world should always be the central focus of our instruction.