I started out in education as a high school history teacher. Indulge me for a moment and forgive some negativity – there’s a silver lining soon – but one aspect that stood out to me was how disinterested many teenagers were in school.
After three years I became a K-12 technology coordinator. I taught elementary schoolers how to search and present, and middle schoolers how to design. I saw a whole other side to school – a wonderment for seemingly mundane things (geology!) in elementary, and a dazzling passion for life in the first years of middle school (We get to do our own mini TED talks?!?!).
What changes as students get older? Developmentally and culturally, of course, students begin to conform themselves to the world instead of the world to themselves. So should we as schools be trying to maintain that sense of wonderment and passion; the curiosity and creativity?
Absolutely. It should be at the root of what we do.
It’s sad that “curiosity” and “passion” aren’t measured. They aren’t quantifiable. Nevertheless, we teachers need to enable curiosity as the bedrock of lifelong learning. Curiosity is the spark that ignites the tinderbox of latent potential; it pushes us to achieve great things just because we can. For all that pundits deride technology as only a distraction, there is no better time than now for schools to fan our students’ curiosity. Wondering what Paris is like? Tour it in Google Street View. Want to know the cultural practices of Dogon Tribes in northern Mali? Get your students to do a Hangout with mine – they can tell you.
And then consider passion. When you see a student engage with a lesson, they produce remarkable work. Last month I watched a 3rd grader give a 20-minute presentation on fossils. Then consider the limitless ways that technology helps us express that passion. Students can record their own songs, produce their own movies, design their own solutions. They no longer need to perform for an audience of one (their teacher), but an audience of tens, hundreds, thousands.
The point, then, is not the standards and curricula. They are important and necessary. But they are but crude attempts to capture the infinitely more important, and commensurately less quantifiable, capacity of human beings to learn for its own sake, and to achieve great things because they can.