In 20 years of work at college-prep schools, I have grown used to students who are “good at school.” Many know how to highlight a text, take notes in class, follow instructions, study for a test, and grind away until all the vocabulary is memorized, the formulas are mastered, and homework is completed. Their path to success is linear and competitive. Time management means maximum efficiency in slogging through a to-do list. Learning ends up being another checkbox task on that list.
Although these skills allow students to move forward in their schooling, it is not what I want for my students in their learning.
I want my students to think of ‘challenge,’ ‘growth,’ and ‘learning’ as synonymous and exciting experiences, not as discrete and dreadful ones. I want them to relish the intellectual freedom of such a project, not fret as to whether they are “doing it right.” I want them to see that figuring out the velocity of that rocket is going to be hard because there is a multitude of ways to go about it, and no one is going to tell them what is right for their team. I want them to be excited about the possibilities of coming up with their own unique solutions. I want my students to experience, viscerally, that learning feels a little unsafe because it happens when one is engaged in tasks just beyond one’s demonstrated capacity. I want them to listen to and debate with each other, ask questions of themselves and others, rather than asking for “the answer.” I want my students to understand that learning comes through collaboration, not isolation. I want them to genuinely believe that the process is more important than the product—that how they go about finding v0 is more important than the final numerical result. I want them to know that problem solving is about bold, creative, disciplined thinking and not solely about arriving at a correct answer. For the launch velocity of a pneumatic rocket—as in much in science and life—there is no single right or wrong answer…but there are better and worse ways to arrive at some answer. I want my students to see physics problems as puzzles all around them, rather than as the end-of-chapter questions to be completed. I want them to leave my course with a robust set of thinking tools, core understandings, and enduring habits of mind, not with a bag of equations. I want my students to see that showing what they know can take a lot of different forms (not solely tests), and that there is no conflict between diverse solutions and clear expectations for quality work.
In short, I want my students to be great at learning, not merely good at school. This is why I give them rockets and teammates and challenges and support. This is why I grant them some freedom to find their own path to reach the goal. This is why I ask them to give me more than the right answer on something other than a piece of paper.
“Carden is super happy with the course. I like that we have switched direction a bit and Meera was able to adapt to that. Her assignments appear well thought out and easy to follow which is great because that is typically a source of frustration with distance learning. So she is actually making sure he has the knowledge base before giving homework.”
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