Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Moon

Let's just do some old-school school ranting, shall we?

You know the moon project? I know you homeschoolers have no idea what I'm talking about, but those of you with first graders, second graders, you know what I mean, don't you? The one where the kid has to keep the moon journal? Where they go out and observe the moon, and then they draw what they see, and write down a description, and then the next day they do it again, and again, and then they forget to do it, and get all stressed out, and you reassure them and help them fake it, and then they have to keep doing it for the rest of your lives? Yeah, that moon project.

Now, here's the thing: the moon project is based on old-fashioned inquiry-based education. The idea is you give the kids some stuff--batteries and bulbs, or seeds and a garden, or the moon--and you have them look at it and poke at it and do stuff with it, whatever the hell they want, and eventually they learn something about it. So with the moon, you observe and observe, and eventually you realize that the moon gets bigger and smaller, and rises later and later, and you put the whole class's observations together, and eventually you understand the moon cycle!

Cool, eh? Maybe even worth all that ghastly moon journaling?

Except that E's teacher (whom we totally adore, really we do, she gets E and gives her lots of nice challenges, and she looks like Barbie, and can quiet the children with a whisper, and really she is the world's most lovely and effective second grade teacher), well, she is a little unclear on the concept. Or, to be more precise, she is just not having the confidence in the inquiry process that you need to make it work. See, inquiry depends on...letting the kids inquire, and having faith that they will figure out what they need to figure out.

Obviously this is totally counter to assessment-based education, in which you figure out what you want the kids to learn, and then you teach it to them. As we all know, assessment-based education is all the rage, and it has its good points, along with its bad, but that's not the point right now. The point is, with inquiry, you need to let go of a specific outcome.

Only E's teacher is clearly not willing to do that, probably because she has a bunch of science standards that must be accomplished for the moon unit. She has the good instincts, toward the inquiry, but she can't just leave it there (or maybe she's not allowed to leave it there--this may be a systemic issue, not an individual issue, but I started with the individual narrative, so I'm going to keep with it). Anyway, she gave the kids a diagram with all the stage of the moon, and their labels, in order (waning gibbous, and all that). And she gave them websites to look up what stage of the moon it is today--or yesterday, or tomorrow, or any day you want. And she told them they could use all this information to help with their moon journals. Like, if it's cloudy, they can look up and see what stage the moon would be if they could see it. Which makes the whole moon endeavour that much more loaded and stressful, and also kinds of takes away what should be fun about it.

Do you get the dissonance happening here? Do you see the clash of educational philosophies? Do you feel bad for these poor children and their sweet little moon journals, trapped by the chaos of adult educational priorities?

I do.


Libby said...

heavy sigh. I suspect its a systemic rather than an individual issue, but that's just me.

kathy said...

This is exactly how education in even the best schools with dedicated teachers is failing children because of our focus on more tests and more tests and more tests. If you could get (grownup)E to come to the class and ask the kids some questions that would show just how intelligent they are, everything would fall into place. The problem is that we don't trust how much teachers and kids know...(I guess I have strong feelings about this!)