Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What's wrong with superfun, interactive classrooms? (That's not a rhetorical question.)

First, let me state that I am a teacher.  Not a bad teacher, either.  I've even got a few plaques, and a couple of former students exist who would say that I was not the worst teacher they ever had.  

I want to clarify that because a lot of people have a lot of things to say about education and what's wrong with it and what teachers could do to make it better, and a lot of those people are not teachers.  When I speak to teaching, I want you to know that I am speaking as a teacher with a few years of experience in an actual, real classroom with actual, real human being students from actual, real, and very diverse homes.

Here's something that I'd hazard a guess the majority of those students have in common.  They like games.  Video games in particular.  

Frankly, I don't blame them.  I like games too.  Video games in particular.  In fact, I'm a big fan of technology in general because I believe that technology is just the sort of tool that could bring about a revolution in the way we live.  

Saleem Kassim at Policymic, cites the Arab Spring of 2010 as an example:

Being capable of sharing an immense amount of uncensored and accurate information throughout social networking sites has contributed to the cause of many Arab Spring activists. Through social networking sites, Arab Spring activists have not only gained the power to overthrow powerful dictatorship, but also helped Arab civilians become aware of the underground communities that exist and are made up of their brothers, and others willing to listen to their stories.

Technology did that.  Technology in the hands of people with ideas.  Twitter, which is not allowed in most American classrooms, allowed folks living under oppressive regimes to share their truths unfiltered by government censorship.  

Then there's Foldit, a website designed to give gamers the opportunity to solve puzzles for science.  Guess who used one of the games on the site to create a model of an AIDs-related enzyme that had stumped scientists for decades.  Gamers.  

So when I come across a well-meaning spokesperson for education who bemoans the fall of the illustrious American academic legacy to the coming technology apocalypse, I get a little peeved.  

Today I read an opinion piece in the New York Times Sunday Review that set me off.  It set me off to such an extent that no tweet could contain my irritation.  I needed lots of space for words because I have a lot to say on the matter.  

I'm going to break the piece down point by irritating point here, and so that I do not overwhelm anyone who may choose to read this, I'm going to spread my irritation over several days.  You're welcome.

Point 1:

The concepts of work and play have become farcically reversed: schoolwork is meant to be superfun; play, like homework, is meant to teach. There’s an underlying fear that if we don’t add interactive elements to lower school curriculums, children won’t be able to handle fractions or develop scientific hypotheses — concepts children learned quite well in school before television.

First of all, why the hell shouldn't schoolwork be superfun?  Can we only learn if we're bored to tears? Can someone please show me evidence of that?  Because I don't learn when I'm bored!  I fall asleep.  So do my students!  (Disclaimer: On occasion I've been forced by the powers that be to be boring against my will, and on those occasions I've felt it my duty to put the poor children out of their misery by lulling them to sleep with a monotone droning of boring statistics.)

How is it a farce if students enjoy coming to school and want to learn more because they're having so much freaking fun?

If we don't add interactive elements?  What?  Since all other children in history have had to learn by lecture without contributing anything of their own, today's children should have to do the same?  Here's what's interesting to me.  Kids in the past had to be passive sponges absorbing data to be successful so that they could passively absorb the data fed to them by their bosses in their factory jobs or their cubicles. Guess who passively absorbs data today.  Computers!  We don't need a zombie horde of non-interactive people absorbing data anymore.  We need interactive, collaborative people who can think for themselves and solve problems independently.  

As a teacher, yes.  I am terrified of classrooms with no interactive elements.  I don't want a bunch of potato-eyed sponge zombies drooling on my desks.  I want students in groups asking questions, building things, challenging me.  Yes, me!  If they're afraid to challenge me today, god help us when they have to vote tomorrow.

zombie classroom by velvetphotography

Point Two.  Yes, there's more:

In a 2012 survey of elementary and middle school teachers by Common Sense Media, 71 percent of teachers say entertainment media use has hurt students’ attention spans “a lot” or “somewhat.” 

I have a whole lot to say about this, but I'm going to save it.  I may not ever be this inspired again, and I want to make it last.  Tomorrow I'll tell you exactly what I think about that 71%.

No comments:

Post a Comment