“I never commit to memory anything that can easily be looked up in a book.” Albert Einstein
I was sitting in a school library today talking to a fellow “product of” turned “teacher in” Albemarle County Public Schools about making school worth remembering. What will the kids remember from having laptops assigned to them 24/7 as 6th graders? Will they remember loosing them for the last month of school so they could be used for state testing? Will they remember spending hours playing with screen savers and downloading virus ridden software from the web? Will they remember doing electronic worksheets and on-line quizzes? Will they remember having the “research and present” cycle be technology enriched? Will they remember teaching their teachers how use some of the tools? Will they remember revising their five paragraph essays a dozen times to make them perfect for publishing on the web? Will they remember their teachers oscillating from being one step ahead to two steps behind the kids but coming back the next day to do it again? Will they remember using technology to learn and share about compassion? What will they remember? Will they remember the experiment favorably? How do we use this experience to manage the memories of the next group of kids who are empowered by these resources?
Then, I remembered that this colleague is about the same age as I am and I asked, “Do you remember M.A.C.O.S.?” She said, “Oh yeah, the Netsilik Eskimos!” Then, we spent 20 minutes sharing very specific stories about class activities. Occasionally, one of us would look to a younger colleague sitting with us who didn’t experience M.A.C.O.S. and provide a little more detail. We had very similar experiences 34 and 36 years ago in two different middle schools in Albemarle with two different teachers and those experiences were so rich and meaningful we were easily taken back and pushed to recall details that were hung on masterfully designed concept-based experiences.
How can we make school memorable, M.A.C.O.S.-like memorable, in this day and age? What role does the stuff vs the substance play in that? How can we compete with the rest of the world for precious space in the memory banks of adolescents? How can school compete with Facebook and iTunes and RPG’s when it comes to the bandwidth kids will allocate to “school” or not? How do we rethink we what expect to be memorized as factoids and shift to what we hope will be remembered as being deeply connected? While I was easily able to find M.A.C.O.S. resources all over the web, I remember the activities because they were connected to big ideas in meaningful ways. We laughed at the games of the Eskimo kids and we studied the games we played and how they reflected our own cultures. How do we provide for similar experiences and opportunities for students to dig deeply in to matters that matter and not simply settle for prepping students for low-level recall of factoids that are not worthy of remembering 34 hours or days later, much less 34 years?
Note: Each of the M.A.C.O.S. (Man a Course of Study) links in this post leads to a different resource.