Thursday, January 14, 2010

Should we force students to learn? or How can we change schools to engage students?

As I was walking back to my room today after making some copies in the office, I glanced into some classrooms. I noticed many students and teachers doing some great things and figured there was some good learning going on. But I also noticed that some students had their heads down, or were looking out the window. There were also a few students wandering the halls. It got me thinking, is forcing every student to take certain classes the right thing to do?

(I had also recently read this blog post over at Teachpaperless which got me thinking.)

I was thinking about students that have no desire to learn about Shakespeare, the French Revolution, atomic bonding, or polynomials. I was thinking that many of them may pass these classes and graduate, but not really have gained anything from the class. They may have a poor outlook on education because they were not excited or engaged by their classes. They may feel that school was a waste of time. How many of these students drop out of high school because they hate school? How many dropouts would stay if they could take classes that they WANTED to take? How do we fix these issues?

I am a firm believer that we need more vocational education in our high schools. "Shop classes" and "industrial arts" have been cut and many schools have minimal classes in these areas. I did a summer externship (through the CBIA) two years ago with local manufacturing companies and they all complained that there are not enough machinists and technicians to meet their needs. They were also seeing a shortage of CAD (computer aided design) technicians in the area. Our schools have a limited number of these types of classes, but they are not enough. The state vocational-technical schools are always facing budget issues. We need more.

Many high school students will not go to college, and that is ok. They need to know basics in English, Math, History, and Science, as well as computer basics, to be informed citizens and to be able to function in a workplace. But, do they really need to struggle in upper level classes? Maybe we need to get them to a certain level and then let them pick the classes they want to take. Why do we have to have so many restrictions and requirements?

We should be offering more vocational classes such as machining, CAD, electrician, carpentry, auto mechanics, culinary arts, computer technician and more. This would prepare non-college bound students for good jobs and careers.

We should also take advantage of technology and use it to truly differentiate student learning experiences. Let's get rid of our very old, stagnated system and come up with something new. Like individualized programs for students. With this, we could accommodate more students in the subjects that they really want to learn. Trade/Vocational programs for non-college bound students and more advanced classes for the students who are bored because the work is too easy.

Project Based Learning, online classes, non-traditional sequences of classes, a greater variety of classes, and some outside-of-the-box thinking can help more of our students succeed in life. Online classes and testing could help some students learn the basics and prove proficiency and then allow them to move onto other classes. Imagine what a school like that could look like! All students engaged because they are learning things that they want to learn. Applying all classes to their future needs, whether that is college or job. Authentic learning that truly engages and prepares students for the future.

I would love to teach in that school.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

There are some very similar discussions going on in right now. Check out these articles too:

Check them all out and join the discussion.


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