worksheets, tedium and a glimmer of hope.

I am a parent of school age children. I am also deeply involved in the development of online courses for adults. I attended public schools as a child. I wanted to offer those bits of information up to preface the comments which follow, knowing full well that I’m treading a path others have been down many times before but that’s never stopped me….

One of the strenghts of the online courses that are developed as part of my worklife is the element of physical engagement learners participate in. While the course itself is conducted online, key elements of the learning process are conducted “in the world”. This method was pioneered by Ken Mudge, here at Cornell, with his online grafting course and the lessons he learned now inform the development we are undertaking. So, by day I spend some time working with people to develop innovative courses that engage users in a blended learning situation. And when the work day is over I go home…

At home, parent of a 4th grader that I am, after dinner comes homework time. And, time and again, it’s worksheet time. There are moments I am deeply puzzled by the inanity and futility of these worksheets. Deadly dull and calling on rote memory. ( Not all the time, but often enough that it makes me frown, grimace and wince). And yes, I know now we have to teach to the tests. All these lovely tests we subject kids too…and is our children learning?

But the point is…finally…Two weeks ago I was a chaperone on a field trip my sons class took to the Ag-stravagnza (Yep, I live in a somewhat rural community once you get outside of town). I know, it’s the end of the school year and kids are excited by any chance to get out and about, but this experience just re-inforced my loathing for worksheets. Kids went from station to station, learning about things like fish farming, sheep shearing, maple Sheep shearingsheep_shearing.jpg sugaring and so on. The kids were engaged, attentive ( with peaks and valleys, of course) and asking questions.
And so you can’t help but speculate….how often does this happen? Knowing what I know about my son’s schedule in school I have to say, not nearly enough. Somewhere along the line, between the early 70’s and the mid-80’s (?) we jumped the track.

As I was boring my way through high-school, back in the mid-nineteen seventies, I read Summerhill and it gave me hope…and then I read more, De-schooling Society and so on…and really felt like things might open up. But now, today, it’s worksheets and teaching for the tests and….it’s depressing.

Where is hope? Where are the opportunities for kids to learn and explore….to engage and create? I know it’s not all bad and there are some genuine instances in every school of this happening, but as a society and a culture, how did we get here?

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worksheets, tedium and a glimmer of hope. by ptreadwell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

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