Alex, a DC student participating in the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, was working on how to cook his favorite food - hamburgers - in space. Marsville, a colony he designed on the fourth planet from the sun, wouldn’t be complete without burgers. In order to solve this problem he began consulting with a British scientist. The scientist told Alex he would soon be visiting DC for a National Science meeting and suggested they do lunch. As Alex told his teacher this he began to cry. When she asked why he was crying he explained that he’d not told the scientist that he was only in the fourth grade and that he didn’t know what “do lunch” meant.
I love this story because it illustrates just how far kids can go when they are given the time and guidance to explore what interests them.
As I state in "What's the Point of School" separating the subjects prevents true conceptual learning. Because school has been structured this way since the 18th century it can be difficult to imagine doing it any other way. However, other methods of teaching have been proved effective and were attempted several times in the past including in the 1920s and the 1970s. In the end they were not implemented because at the time they were too costly to scale. However, with current technology this is no longer a problem. We now have the tools that we need to provide a better way of learning. As the need of economies and industries have changed through the generations, it has also become imperative that we do find a new way to convey information in the educational arena.
Finland, which leads the world in education, just recently announced that they will be headed in this direction for their older students. In addition to subjects, students will study topics, or phenomena, in an interdisciplinary format. For example, the study of World War II will include history, geography, and math. After completing a course called “Working in a Cafe” students will have a body of knowledge having to do with language, economics, and communication.
Students and children will learn literacy and numeracy, but it will be done through deep exploration of interests. In other words, classical "subjects" such as math, reading, science, etc, are byproducts of this kind of education. For example, studying food can include many subjects from health and nutrition to math, biology, chemistry, geology, botany, and anthropology. It is kinesthetic and aesthetic. In addition to science, artistic elements are involved; flavor, texture, balance, color, etc. Culinary Arts is an area of interest that ignites all of the senses.
Shifting to an interest based method will also allow the role of teachers to shift. When schools were initially created, it was one of the very rare places a person could get information. When books were rare and incredibly expensive, lecture was the best format to receive the information. But, as you know, information is abundant and accessible in the 21st century. The question now becomes how do we discern the information we find? With interest based learning the student’s engagement hits a level of self directed learning. The teacher’s role shifts to being a guide. He can help the students plan their process and set goals. She can be collaborative with her students, observe, assist, and suggest. This is one of the keys to creating a more individualized learning process.
Of course students need and will receive the fundamentals. But learning through deep exploration of interests will do more than just that. It fosters curiosity, allows for mastery, it teaches how to learn, instills confidence, allows us to know ourselves well, set goals for ourselves, and creates a growth mindset that will lead to life long learning. In addition to the Five Happy Healthy Elements, this type of learning will create employability skills and life skills needed to navigate a global society and live a life of happiness and fulfillment.