In the article introducing the contest, "The 21st Century Classroom: American classrooms are outdated. Slate seeks your great ideas for how to modernize them," Linda Perlstein gives a nice explanation as to why we need to redesign classrooms, and lays out the basic parameters of the contest. The goal of the contest is to come up with a design for a fifth grade classroom that reshapes education and an explanation of how it does so.
My response for that goes toward how I'd love to see climate science, and, well, I guess most other things, taught. It's admittedly a fantasy for now, but the winner of the contest stands a chance of getting their proposal made, and it does connect to what I wrote last week, so I figured I could get away with using it for this week's post.
If you like it, cast your vote. Here's the link, and I've pasted in the text, plus a slightly different version of the graphic below. Reading the article linked above (and here) will give you some helpful background information.
The Wonder Wander Bus
Instead of making schools better, or making better schools, we need to make something better than schools. We're so stuck in the paradigm of schools that we can't see that schooling itself is insane. Putting 2,000 teenagers in one building? Crazy. Asking kids to sit in rows and listen to somebody talk about the Battle of Hastings for 45 minutes and then move down the hall and listen to somebody else talk about parabolas for an exactly equal period of time? Loony. That we expect them to do this hour after hour after hour, day after day after day for years on end is the craziest thing of all.
Schools aren't broken. They just do something fundamentally different than what we pretend they're for. What do you understand most deeply? Chances are you didn't learn it primarily by sitting and listening to someone talk about it. You actively engaged in doing things. What you do is what you learn.
How can we engage kids in doing things that matter? We should realize that such places wouldn't be much like the schools we've had for generations. They also don't need to be homogeneous by age, but I'll use 10 as an average age.
If the classroom is to be a single room, it ought to be a room with wheels; a school bus refurbished by the kids themselves. The image shown is one possible layout. The bus's interior has rows of seats in the front and a lab/studio in the back. Painting the bus will build understanding of art as well as chemistry, craftsmanship, and manufacturing. Use an old diesel bus and engage the kids in the conversion to make it run on waste oil from restaurant fryers. Engage them in the design and construction. Put solar panels on the roof.
The kids will write about everything to educate the community about the hows and whys of the project. Ample storage is needed to haul camping equipment when that's appropriate and supplies for each expedition. Expeditions will initially be day trips, but as the years pass, longer expeditions will be taken. The average age won't go up by much, but it will creep beyond 10. As older kids move on, younger ones will take their place. Older kids will deepen their knowledge of themselves, their world and their bus as they teach the younger kids.
Of course, the bus is equipped with lab equipment, computers, an artist's studio, and Internet connectivity. The kids will be scientists, journalists, historians, and artists who are teaching their community about themselves, the social and natural environment, and their place in that world. Quantitative analysis will be infused into much of what they do, and they'll write about everything.
With this bus, kids can go into the world and begin to figure out what the world is like, how it came to be that way, and why it matters that the world is the way it is. They will also engage in way to change the things that are out of whack in their community and their world.
So, that's my fantasy setting for teaching kids about the world. Next week, in Part 3 of this series, I'll return to reality and try to offer some more concrete ideas about how to actually bring climate and climate change education to the current high school curriculum.