- Erica Etelson has an excellent post at Truthout examining the relationship between a toxic myth of meritocracy and our current educational obsession with high-stakes testing. She writes:
Everyone wants children to succeed in school, but schools exist in a society increasingly polarized into haves and have-nots, and the number of haves is shrinking. Therefore, for a student to "succeed" no longer means cultivating a lifelong love of learning and the intrinsic motivation to explore intellectual and artistic pursuits; success, rather, means out-competing peers for a slot in a top college because this is the first and crucial step toward joining the 1% or the 2% or the 20%. Parents and educators may feel virtuous in helping their students participate in this competition but, so long as it's a competition, there will be winners and losers. Mostly losers.
Go take a look at the rest of her ideas on how the idea of running life like an extended round of the Hunger Games and focusing on individual outcomes over collective ones damages students.
- In keeping with the theme from Etelson's post about meritocracy and competition, I was intrigued by this post from Mashable by Lina Paly about pulling her son out of a gifted school when his anxieties about not being able to compete with his peers became too much to bear:
This feeling of peace and satisfaction lasted about three months. Then the kids were broken into spelling groups according to ability. The teachers assured us the children had no idea what the groups meant, but even a five-year-old can figure out that the group with words like “dog” and “boat” is different than the one spelling “ichthyology.” I am not making that up. And I’m not ashamed (I’m totally ashamed) to admit I had to look up that word on Wikipedia.
- ThinkFun!, the game makers responsible for kids' games like Robot Turtles (which I wrote about in terms of educational analogies in the past), has an article by MacKenzie Masten on the rise of hands-on learning.
A lot of these discussions (including the "Maker Faires" highlighted at the end of the article) focus on elementary-aged applications, but I'm interested in seeing how these ideas could also be applied to adult learners. After all, kids aren't the only ones who get bored listening to how things are done rather than getting to do it themselves.
- On a related note, Kentaro Toyama's Chronicle post takes a look at how gamification in higher education (which is a natural off-shoot of hands-on learning) has some philosophical quandaries and potential pitfalls:
The problem is gamification’s premise. It suggests that we should capitulate to a generation of students who supposedly can’t muster interest and curiosity on their own. Though the rhetoric of gamification claims ties to intrinsic motivation, any attempt to cause one behavior (i.e., learning) through other means (i.e., game elements) is the very definition of extrinsic motivation.
At the heart of this debate is a deep philosophical question about whether we should engage students where they are, or expect them to come with a well of intrinsic motivation. Like many questions in education, the answer is not either/or. A good teacher judiciously moves back and forth between tricks to elicit student interest and space for students to motivate themselves, all with the long-term goal of building intrinsic motivation.
So when is gamification used as a positive tool to get students on the right track and when does it become a crutch that prevents them from gaining the intrinsic motivation necessary for life outside of the classroom? To take that one step further, what will life outside of the classroom look like as more and more students who have been trained through gamification move into positions of power in the workforce?
- This Faculty Focus article by Maryellen Weimer mirrors many of the thoughts I have on a regular basis about cell phones in the classroom. Namely, we're making too big of a deal about them:
Are we failing to see that in some ways this isn’t about the devices, but rather about power? When there’s a policy against using phones in class and students use them anyway, that says something about how powerful we are, or in this case, aren’t. It feels like we should be doing something, but we’re justifiably reluctant to make the big power moves that fix the problem when there’s such a high risk of collateral damage.
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