Sunday, May 15, 2011

Does Traditional Schooling Limit Options

My 8th grade United States History class is currently putting together a Civil War museum. They picked a specific area (spies, diseases, strategies, weapons, minorities) and studied the topic in both the American Civil War and another civil war of their choosing. In addition, they made a piece of original art to express the subject. I did this because the California standards stop at Reconstruction, but students always ask about modern history. While many other teachers say this class has quit, I can't get them to leave each period. They love the project and have been working furiously for a couple weeks now. I think a lot of it has to do with the autonomy and freedom they have been given.

One team wanted to build an Andriod app to use as part of their exhibit. I told the person working on this that I would help as much as I could, but it would be a giant learning process for me too. On his own, the student looked into building this app and downloaded all the appropriate software to start writing JAVA code. When he explained all he had done on his own, I was speechless. This student is in 8th grade and taught himself how to code. He got stuck the other day in class and we sat down together to brainstorm a solution. As we learned from our mistakes, the two of us figured out how to write code for a very basic Android app. We did this through online tutorials and videos (this open source learning could be a post in itself). Although all we did was write text on the app, I was proud of how much this student taught me and how gifted he was with this technology. Surely, this student has a future in computer engineering or technology.

Has curriculum changed much? (Via Yale's Digital Commons)

But then I got to thinking. Although this student is brilliant, his "marks" (makes me shiver just mentioning) indicate he is only average to above average. While he can teach adults high level tech, he gets B's in history, english, and math. As he progresses through middle and high school he will be judged on the merits of his grades in these classes.  Let's just say this student applies to a university to go onto computer engineering. Because we limit school to a very specific (some would say outdated list of subjects), his chances of studying computer engineering will hinge on how he does on subjects relatively unrelated to technology. Granted, I think all students should be well rounded and have a basic competency in all subjects, but have we changed the curriculum to address the changes in the modern world? Do we desperately hold on to material that may be outdated? Do we limit student's future options because we concentrate so much on subjects that may not always be transferable to future innovation? The system worked well for me because I did well in reading and writing classes and continued to take these in college. I had a bevy of options as I studied political science and history. But are options open for students who may not excel in traditional areas but could be successful in these "new" subjects.

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