I guess I did learn something in High school

Watching the film “New Learners for the 21st Century” really struck a few chords with me.  First off, I went to a secondary school that acted quite similarly to a few of those in the film.  I am not from the inner-city, more the outer city.  Very outer city, rural Virginia.  We have our own set of issues that are quite different from those focused on in this film, but we do still have a few schools that pride themselves in teaching using the most up-to-date technology as well as non-traditional teaching styles.  The school I went to was the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School (MRGS).  I am assuming the vast majority of individuals reading my blog are unfamiliar with the Virginia Governor’s School model, so I will do my best to explain it.  I went to MRGS during the morning (6 am until noon) every weekday of my Junior and Senior year of High School.  I took English, Statistics, Environmental Science, and Environmental Biology.  The school focused on getting students together who were excited about learning and teaching us environmental issues facing today’s society.  The greatest thing about MRGS was how we were taught.  Similar to how you get a toddler to eat brussel sprouts, I was so distracted by the fact that we got to go to the river and play around that I didn’t realize how much I was learning about water quality.  My senior year I had a research a country and prepare a presentation and poster on the environmental history and current issues that country was facing.  It was not uncommon for discussion of Irish Sheep and erosion to come up between my friends and I.  Aside from being nostalgic, I guess what I am trying to say is that I went to one of these schools.  It was incredible!  The teachers truly helped me to see what learning was all about, that it is a lifetime passion and something that I have to continue to strive for.  The teachers at MRGS were certainly one of the reasons I have decided to pursue my Ph.D.

Robert Talbert, in ‘Four things Lecture is Good for’ states that a good lecture “does more than convey facts or put problems on the board”, but the issue we are facing today is that is how we define a lecture.  This is what I absolutely loved about MRGS and I am not realizing it until years down the road.  My teachers there did not stand in front of us and speak down to us about topics we have to know for an exam, but they stood with us and facilitated the learning process by allowing us to go deeper into subjects and topics we were interested in and breeze over those that we already had an understanding of.  These schools allow students to understand statistics on a grand scale, a world of trillions of dollars and risk, not of red and blue balls in an urn.  To truly facilitate learning and move away from uninteresting lectures, the education system as a whole needs to begin to shy away from textbook examples and dive into problem based learning because when you show a young person that what they are learning is all around them (math in the stock exchange, physical on the football field) you allow the student to take ownership of their own understanding and they are empowered.

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4 comments

  1. yesimkeskin · September 21, 2015

    Hi Zach, I had a similar experience in my high school, and while reading you post, I realize that it was one of my most meaningful educational experiences that shaped not only my perspective as a student but as a teacher as well. As you mentioned, once the student feels like s/he can relate to the class material, make use of it personally and professionally, the definition of the lecture and how the information is conveyed becomes secondary.. Thanks again, yesim

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  2. A. Nelson · September 23, 2015

    I love the image of you thinking you were playing in the river rather than learning about water quality. Yummy brussel sprouts. I also really like the idea of teachers “standing with us” instead of talking / teaching down to their students.

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  3. zachd1 · September 23, 2015

    Dr. Nelson,

    I know it is a somewhat common approach in Graduate school, but I had never seen it in High schools. Frequently, our teachers would have us research topics and allow us to teach the class about a topic. Since we were never taught using a lecture approach, our techniques really had to change and this forced us to truly learn and understand the topics because we couldn’t stand in front of the class and define key terms for 50 minutes.

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  4. ytaylor9 · September 23, 2015

    That bit you have at the end about getting students out of the textbook learning and relating what they’re learning in a “lecture” is important in the real world is such a great point. It reminds me of when my parents used to hide medicine in my food so I would eat it without noticing. Had I known the stuff was in there I probably would have resisted (aka being taught information), but since it was wrapped so nicely in applesauce I was all for it (aka information wrapped in an fun, interesting environment). That is really great you had that experience in high school. I feel as if implementing lessons like that wouldn’t be too difficult either. For example, what if for a biology class in high school you went to a nearby park and had to write down every living thing you see and then spend the rest of the time trying to relate them all (i.e. how a squirrel eats a walnut that fell from a tree that has to grow by getting energy from the sun and have access to water etc…) to get the students to see how life functions and how living things have found ways to survive for billions of years. So that probably wasn’t the greatest example, but that was just one I literally came up with as I was typing so I feel as if finding some sort of way to distract students and to keep them from assuming what they’ll be learning is boring is definitely achievable and can be fun for both students and teachers.

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