Monday, February 10, 2014

What's the Point?

There is an ongoing debate about what is essential for students to learn.  Do they need a common core of knowledge, a common core of skills, both, or neither?  Our social studies curriculum favors a common core of knowledge but I struggle more with this focus as the years go on.  Certainly it is good for the kids to learn the stories of history but do they need to know all of the details of this history?  I must confess that each year, as I prepare to work with the kids on each of the units we have in social studies, I find myself re-learning some of the details.  So I ask myself, "How important is content knowledge?"

With all due respect to those who taught me when I was a kid, those methods are not appropriate for the world in which we live.  Is it important for a student to know the third emperor of the Roman Empire?  No.  They will survive quite nicely without knowing that fact.  Why, then, do we "teach" it?  If something is "Google-able" then do we need to teach it in class?  Most kids today walk around with a device that has more computing power than the first rocket to the moon had and can, if given thirty seconds, look up those answers.  So what do we do?

Somehow, we must use the stories of history as a backdrop for kids finding their place in the world today.  After all, why should kids care about what happened hundreds or thousands of years ago?  What is the relevance to their lives?  In some cases, the kids' natural curiosity will carry them through a unit of study, but often, it does not.  Making our content relevant to the students' lives is essential.  If students can "own" the content because it is important and relevant to their lives, then they will remember it.  Therein lies the challenge for me.

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