This summer I read a great book by George Couros that I particularly enjoyed because it resonates with a number of the thoughts I’ve shared in this space. In the opening pages of The Innovator’s Mindset he writes:
“Inspiration is one of the chief needs of today’s students. Kids walk into schools full of wonder and questions, yet we often ask them to hold their questions for later, so we can ‘get through’ the curriculum. We forget that our responsibility isn’t solely to teach memorization or the mechanics of a task but to spark a curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own. To wonder. To explore. To become leaders. We forget that if students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.”
Education shouldn’t be about hoop-jumping. It should be about passion and inspiration. That isn’t to say that all traditional elements of education should be thrown out the window. I had a fairly traditional schooling, and to be perfectly honest, some of my most inspired moments have come while sitting and listening to a lecture. But if we are allowing our students to go through school passively and to not find passion within our walls, we are doing a major disservice to their creative minds. I want education to mean something to our students, whether it’s a matter of action or character.
One way that we’re trying to foster passion in our high school program at MAK is through providing a regular chance for our students to very tangibly pursue our values of risk-taking, questioning, and collaborating. This year, three times each week, our schedule includes a genuine elective period in which high school students can pursue a passion and explore it.
The beauty of this elective period is that it offers students choice. When we choose to pursue an interest, we don’t have to fake passion. We actually want to ask questions and to take risks, because we’re desperate to know.
Additionally, each of these classes pushes students to think for themselves. As “homework lite” courses, class periods focus on lots of in-class collaboration that emphasizes creation and discussion over practice and memorization. Today I paid a visit to each of these elective classes, and student engagement was fantastic. What was even more encouraging was that in each group teachers were working to “coach” students more than they were to “tell” them, putting student learning truly at the center.
In Ms. Zrinsky’s mixed ensemble course, students worked in sections to hammer out their parts. This allowed for peers to correct each other and individuals to play a leadership role in directing the larger sections. In Ms. Shaffner’s graphic design course, students debated the intentions behind a photojournalist’s image choices. Mrs. Newkirk’s drawing class applied their studies in portraiture by creating self portraits. Students in Speech and Drama worked in groups to map out a performance of a speech from As You Like It, trying to come to a compromise on their differing ideas. Mr. Muir’s Contemporary World Issues course struggled as a group to determine the purpose of a particular tariff, and Ms. Brown’s students in Advanced Creative Writing spent the full period blitz-writing from a prompt. Later in the week they’ll each have the chance to edit, keep, scrap, and edit again until it’s just the way they intended. Finally, students in Mr. McDillon’s robotics class continued their robot construction so that they can begin the adventure of programming them.
Building a learning culture that is driven by genuine curiosity and a demand for meaning is not an easy task. But this year our high school elective courses are taking us one step closer to that goal, one step closer to the heart of the best kind of education – an inspired one.