By: Anthony McHugh
You’re 70 years old sitting in a rocking chair on the beach with a piña colada and a newspaper. You look at the headline and a feeling of pride washes over you as you realize your life’s work has been accomplished. What does the headline read?
I asked my students this question yesterday to prepare them for next week when we will develop the personal educational goals that will make those headlines reality. This spring I am teaching Making the Most of Your Education as part of MIT’s High School Studies Program, which brings students from all over New England to MIT every Saturday for 7 weeks. Each week I get 90 minutes to share with them as we explore theories and experiences with education.
On week 1, I introduced my thoughts about the direction of the class, did a little teaching, got to know my students, and had them tell me what we would learn the next week. In my lesson I lectured on how mental models can be used for scientific concepts such as the atom, or less tangible ideas such as leadership. Then, I changed things up by introducing the socratic method as an opposing educational theory. One of my students shared an experience where he was unimpressed by the leader elected by his boy scout troop, and I asked him question after question guiding him towards acknowledging his role as a follower-leader who took ownership, despite not being given public authority.
On week 2, my students had asked to learn about the history of the American public school system. In response I did a literature search and found the most diverse set of information on the topic that I could find. These articles included Gallup polls of the views of superintendents, academic articles describing the historiography of studying public education, and Jonathan Kozol’s manifesto about Boston’s segregated schools, Death at an Early Age. I may have frustrated my student’s desire to find clarity, but my goal was to demonstrate how interpreting history is not as simple as finding the information.
On week 3, we delved into standardized testing by having a discussion and writing a fable as a class. Our moral was that standardized testing needs to be presented in a way that does not encourage students to equate their own identity and sense of self-worth with the evaluation of their academic skills.
On week 4, I wrote out a task, left my computer open, and walked away. The task was to create an educational model that incorporated power, agency, discipline, and a student-teacher contract. When they finished and presented their work, I described how Sugata Mitra’s TED Talk about the role of discovery was my inspiration for the lesson.
On week 5, I allowed the class to interview me. I challenged them to come up with an educational objective and then use me as an expert to gather the information that they needed. The activity forced them to work together as a group and decide what they were all interested in learning.
Finally this week I asked the question that started this post. My students were paired up during the class and asked to share one lesson that their parents had intentionally taught them. The educational method was to think, share, hear feedback, and then revise their answer. The purpose of the question to explore their personal values, which would help in the visioning and goal-setting process to follow.
I want to acknowledge the incredible students who have joined me in this exploration of education. They have been amazing in humoring my strange style of teaching and thinking, and they continue to show a commitment to learning and developing, which inspires me. I also want to thank everyone who makes ESP happen. ESP is an incredible club, with a fantastic mission to change how people perceive education.
I can’t wait for the 7th and final class next Saturday!