Social Studies - The kiddos just got done with the district assessment on the Classical Civilizations of Greece and Rome. This assessment is a test that has been crafted by us (social studies teachers) and tweaked many times. Greece and Rome are fun subjects to learn about. We watch some cool films, read some great book sections and talk about what made Greece and Rome so spectacular. Then, we test the kids. But at what point does the joy of learning about those cool civilizations yield to the drudgery and panic of memorizing the content for the test?
As I graded the test, I felt worse and worse. "Why on earth do we make kids know these details?" I asked myself. "Is it really important for them to know that Augustus was the first Emperor of Rome?" I wondered. No, it is not. Much of what was on the test is irrelevant to their lives and futures. They will probably never need to be able to recall any of this information. Then why must they cram this content? What good does it do? They are trying to fill their heads with facts that we (the teachers) deem important so they can write responses on the test to satisfy some institutional norm of "accomplishment". I do not feel that this is preparing them for their futures. This type of schooling is preparing them for the next level of an educational system that is already obsolete. This same test could have been and probably was given 30 years ago. Have we made no progress in those 30 years? If I were to give these kids the same test four weeks from now, with no opportunity to cram beforehand, how would they do? Terribly. So...are they really learning? No, they are not. This is not the education that these kids need. I don't believe in it anymore.
It is this traditional learning model, one that I think is a detriment to our kiddos today, that pushed me to reject it in favor of a student-driven model. I like getting into the stories of the great civilizations and the great people of history but I want the kids to learn the lessons of those times, not the minutia. I want them to be able to discern the similarity that made both Cincinnatus and George Washington great leaders; it is the idea behind that similarity that I want them to see and I want them to look for it in more recent leaders (Mandela). The kids do love talking about the great stories of history and we will continue to do so but we will not do it with the intention of testing them on the minutia. We will use the content as a means to discuss the issues and when we assess, we will assess their ability to think through a problem. That is the stuff of learning!
I am supposed to give the district assessment on this unit of study, The Middle Ages, after we have finished the unit. I will do so, but will do it in a way that we get to test the test (more on that later). We can see if the kids are learning the concepts and ideas while bypassing the bits of information that they normally cram. Our new model is an experiment in learning. I think it's the right way to go but we will only know once we've been through it. Our goal remains the same - to prepare kids the best we can for their lives tomorrow!