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Active Learning

I was browsing through Alfie Kohn’s article about Progressive Education and revisited the concept of Active Learning vs. Memorization. Read this conversation that he cited in his article. Check out the highlighted last paragraph.

“A friend of mine, who is a teacher-educator, had a daughter in fifth grade at the time of this story. She came home, he wrote me, with a worksheet on simple machines—ball bearings, inclined planes, pulleys, that sort of thing. As he came home from work, she said, “Dad, test me, test me!”

“Well,” my friend said, “Why don’t you just tell me what you’ve been learning about?”

“OK, but first ask me what these things are!”

“OK, if you insist. What is a ball bearing?”

“OK, easy dad! A ball bearing is blah blah blah.” A verbatim repetition of the definition she had learned from the teacher.

My friend said, “But Rachel, what is a ball bearing?”

“I told you, Dad. A ball bearing is a blah blah blah blah.”

To make a long story short, he continues, “I turned over the ottoman, which is on wheels, and showed her the ball bearings, and her eyes got wide.

“‘Cooool! That’s what a ball bearing is? How does it work? Can we take apart the ottoman? Oh, I get it. Why didn’t Mrs. Lambert just tell us this is what it was? Can you buy these at the store? Where do they sell these things anyway? Hey, wanna help me make something that rotates? Hey, cool, watch what happens if I hold one of these things and try to spin this thing. What would happen to this thing if the balls were really big? Would the wheels go faster?’”

A progressive school is not about memorizing the definition of ball bearings, or the date at which an event happened in history, or the difference between a simile and a metaphor. That’s not to say that these topics aren’t covered. It’s to say that questions that kids have drive the education.

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