Whose “Real World” is it Anyway?

This is in response to Aaron Eyler’s blog post “The Classroom Isn’t the ‘Real World'” – http://synthesizingeducation.com/blog/2010/04/25/the-classroom-isnt-the-real-world.

I am interested in your opening paragraph and want to follow with a question – How can schools leverage “the real world” of its students to become less boring?  My blog is named “Calculus of the Classroom” to acknowledge my first encounters with the terms differentiation and integration.  In calculus terms, differentiation is when you break something up in to small parts that make sense and and can easily be described and manipulated – you imagine a circle as being a set of really small triangles with their apex at the center of the circle and their bases as close to the circle itself as possible, for example.  In calculus terms, integration is when you put these simplified pieces back together in a way that comes as close as possible to the reality with which you started.  What if we looked at these terms as they are used in education in the same way?

I like Phil Schlechty’s definition of authenticity (see http://www.schlechtycenter.org/tools/public/sc_pdf_engagement.pdf):
Authenticity, which refers to the possibility of linking learning tasks to things that are of real interest to the student, especially when the student is not interested in learning what adults have determined he or she needs to learn.

I believe the classroom should represent the “Real World” as kids know it, not as the adults know it.  A teacher who cannot teach a kid a subject through topics of their interest teaches subjects not kids.  There is a huge difference in saying “I teach math” and saying “I teach kids math.”  I think Chris Lehmann’s 140 Character Conference Presentation hit this point as well (see http://ow.ly/1BBVE).

Teachers of kids create resonance between what matters to adults (standards, objectives, etc.) and what matters to students (cars, other people, video games, art, music, Harry Potter, etc.)  I know my disciplines (math and physics) so well, I have yet to meet a kid with an interest I could not connect it to.  The question is not whether or not we should go after these connections, but how. 

In a teacher workshop I did several years ago, I asked the question, “How many of you do an ‘interest inventory’ at the beginning of the school year?”  All hands went up.  “Leave your hand up if you actually changed anything you did related to curriculum, assessment, or instruction based on the information you got back from the students.”  All hands went down.  The teachers thought the purpose of an interest inventory was to get to know their kids but they had not yet thought about using that information to change their curriculum, assessment, or instruction.

There are a ton of resources out there for learning how to think this way!  Check out Garth Boomer’s “Negotiating the Curriculum” and Steven Levy’s “Starting from Scratch” as starting points.

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