Education is once again changing. I am a retired teacher and have suffered through many education systems that were all said to save our public education system. Some of these include the open classroom (at which time I taught the entire school chemistry), differentiated learning (as if we weren’t doing that before), no child left behind (when would any teacher leave any student behind), and now the beginning and end of common core. Yes, you guessed it; I am old. When I began teaching the Carnegie System had subject over process. This had been in place since the beginning of public education. I clearly understand this is no longer viable in our technological global society.
I taught for close to 40 years and retired a few years ago. I still keep my mind in this important profession by substituting at the local schools. I still see teachers who are compassionate and dedicated to what they do. In fact, I’ve never met a teacher whose primary task was not the success of their kids. Yes, I did say their kids because that is exactly what they are.
I’ve been reading many experts of education put forth their concepts of our once again new system of education. I’ve been to many of these types of conferences when I listened to the experts tell me what works in the classroom. My first question to the speaker is how much time they spent in a classroom and if they were ever responsible for the success of children throughout the year. Usually, in fact most of the time, they tell me they never taught in the classroom but spent many years if not decades studying the subject. I sat and thought if they would choose a surgeon to save their lives with little to no experience who read the books well.
Betsy DeVos leads the United States Department of Education. She believes in school voucher systems that allocate federal dollars for the opportunity to attend private and religious institutions. Basically what this does is take money away from our public schools and give it to privatized schools. Other than this position I’ve heard little about how our children should be taught and thus learn. I assume she is more concerned as to where they are taught. But, this is another subject.
As a teacher I believe the best system of education has to include concepts of collaboration between our students because most industries use this model in their business philosophies. I am thrilled to state many of our schools have given out computers to their students in order to make them comfortable with the new technologies even though they usually know more about these systems than I ever did. The problem is having students’ who use their own computers have a tendency to isolate. Most use these laptops to complete and report their tasks but I observe few instances of combining their use as collaboration teams. In other words, students shouldn’t report their work separately but as a combined account.
OK, sounds easy. Actually it can be. Let me attempt an example:
As I stated before I am a retired teacher. My subject is chemistry. Every time I tell someone it is like I have some sort of deadly disease. Many times they look alarmed. I tell them chemistry is easy and not only is it easy but it is fun. They never believe me. Lets talk about the study of atoms to gas laws. We can also discuss how a teacher can use the concepts of accuracy and precision. Add in use of dimensional analysis and both qualitative and quantitative work and you can build an understanding of chemistry by using collaboration techniques to involve large groups of students. The size would depend on how many students and the size of the classroom. I guess I do understand why people are afraid of me.
You would introduce this work after your students have knowledge of what these subjects are. Yes, lecturing still works. After this group your students into collaborative units ignoring the concepts of friends. Also make this decision gender free. I’ve done this by using numbers instead of names. Now have these students go to a table that contains multiple pieces of equipment. This could also include books, reference materials, and computers. This material does not all have to be useful. It will be up to the group to decide what they need to accomplish their task and then report their findings to the teacher. Also, don’t make the end results all the same. In fact, attempt to use different equipment and substances so the groups won’t look to other groups to see if they are doing their work correctly.
I am not going to bore you with details of this technique. All I know is when I used this practice it produced excitement for my students. For decades I never had a lunch break in the infamous ‘teacher room’, and spent many free periods with my students working in collaboration with their peers. It would be more correct to describe them as colleagues.
I am a retired teacher and have suffered through many education systems that were said to save our public education system. This system of collaboration has always worked.
Jim Fabiano is a retired teacher and writer living in York, Maine
He is the recipient of the Theodore William Richards Award for excellence in teaching of secondary school chemistry in 2007 from the New England Chapter of the American Chemical Society.
You can contact Jim at: email@example.com