Should teachers make their students suffer? Let’s not show them how to do it.


Scott McLeod shares this video from Michael Pershan in his post ‘A Japanese approach to Khan Academy’.  Michael raises the question: why do US students lag behind their peers in many other countries?’ It seems that the US and Australian teaching styles – showing students how to do something and then getting them to practice over and over – is not the best way to teach. The video shows a Japanese teacher giving students maths problems and leaving them to work out how to solve them. Listen to the video, it’s very interesting. So all is not well with Khan Academy for this very reason, and it’s interesting to project the possibility of Japanese educators’ version of Khan Academy. Problem solving, not practising ad nauseam according to a prescribed model, is the suggested alternative. It would obviously work with numeracy but also with literacy. If our students are disengaged in our classes, this might be one of the reasons. Don’t you think? And while we’re at it, why not give our students real world problems? How involved can they be in something that doesn’t matter to anybody.

Diane Curtis’ post about project-based learning quotes Seymour Papert on the reason why students are turned off by school:

“We teach numbers, then algebra, then calculus, then physics. Wrong!” exclaims the Massachusetts Institute of Technology mathematician, a pioneer in artificial intelligence. “Start with engineering, and from that abstract out physics, and from that abstract out ideas of calculus, and eventually separate off pure mathematics. So much better to have the first-grade kid or kindergarten kid doing engineering and leave it to the older ones to do pure mathematics than to do it the other way around.”

I know what I would prefer – being challenged with real-world problems rather than work from textbooks which are predictable and uninspiring. Recently our year 9s and 10s received iPads – as I’ve mentioned before – and sadly the focus has been on the technology rather than how teachers and students can use these mobile devices to teach and learn differently. So far it’s been more about learning how to use the iPads to do what we already do, and throwing in a couple of apps. Hmmm…. No wonder the general consensus from staff is not overly positive. My favourite aspect of one-to-one devices is the possibility of connecting with others. If iPads are mobile devices then we should be using them to reorganise the classroom or even take it outside. Why don’t we connect with others outside the classroom, perhaps globally? Sharing ideas, opinions, photos and created multimedia is surely more engaging than practising skills in a theoretical situation.

What do you think?

7 thoughts on “Should teachers make their students suffer? Let’s not show them how to do it.”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with you about using the 1to1 devices for connecting. But then I teach English as a foreign language, where connecting globally is a natural way of learning. That is, if you give up the uninspiring textbook that ties you too much and spares no time for anything outside it!
    Many of my colleagues are doing exactly the same as yours. Trying to force their old-style teaching and methods into the new medium, and not really seeing the benefit or extra value in it. Everything just gets frustrating and complicated. Even students keep crying out loud: “Can’t we just use our old paper notebooks instead?!” And with a sigh of relief, teachers abandon the new-fangled technology and carry on business as usual, with the excuse that it doesn’t really suit their particular subject at all.

    1. Sinikka, what is the reaction of your colleagues to your blogging students’ authentic writing voice and collaboration? Surely they can see the difference in quality of writing and engagement?

  2. Quite honestly, sadly there is not a lot of interest in what I do. Most colleagues feel it’s too much work, too challenging, and most of all, it disrupts the hectic force feeding of the textbook material. Oh well, at least I and the students are more engaged and get a buzz in learning like this. So thank you so much for sharing this unique chance with us!

    1. It is sad, but it must be the same everywhere. The question is, do we accept it and just go on with what we are doing, as you say, getting our own buzz in learning like this, or do we keep trying new ways to convince others? Sometimes it gets me down and makes me lose my passion to do anything. Not for long, and then something spurs me on again.

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