Monday, March 27, 2006

Closing Down a Charter School

Major Sacramento newspaper columnist and blogger Dan Weintraub wrote a few paragraphs about a charter school in Oakland that's getting shut down due to poor performance. I'll ignore the fact that if poor performance is the standard, just about every school in Oakland could be closed down.

Anyway, the principal is a firm believer in "experiential" learning, and says that, for example, learning about the parts of plants is best accomplished by planting and growing real plants rather than learning about them from a classroom slide. Weintraub's comment is, as the British would say, spot on:

You would think that students who master the parts of plants by experiencing them in the world would be able to answer simple multiple-choice questions about those plant parts on a test, perhaps even better than students who try to memorize the material from worksheets and chalkboard notes.

Of course they would. In fact, the test questions should be a breeze if the experiential learning was genuine and not time-filling, feel-good, non-academic nonsense.


Anonymous said...

Field trips were always a welcome diversion but I never got much out of them academically. It was just a bunch of kids getting out and about, shuffling through one exhibit or another. It was a huge disconnect. Real science was something you did in a classroom with books and labs and stuff. All the space camp, planetarium or natural history museum visits in the world won't make Johnnie a scientist if he isn't learning the basics.

Didn't Bill Gates open a "discovery learning" school to, with just about the same results?

Darren said...

I don't know about Bill Gates' discovery learning school, but I know I try to take my son on some field trips. Read about our Gettysburg trip and our visit to a nearby Spanish mission in these two posts:

Would he gotten as much of an education had those been school field trips? Probably not. There's only so much you can do "on site" with 30+ kids. One-on-one, though, and it's awesome. That's a definite advantage for the homeschoolers.

KDeRosa said...

When pitted against direct instruction, discovery learning always loses. Discovery learning is just not an efficient way to teach.

There are a few good studies using a direct instruction videodisc science program and your typical discovery leraning lab science class. The DI program consisted of students who had failed science class previously and special ed kids. The traditional class was taken by AP students. In most cases, the lower half of the DI class outperformed the upper half of the traditional class. It doesn't get much more lopsided than that.

Anonymous said...

I think it would be awesome to go to a sporting event, and apply parabolas, hyperbolas, elipses, and circles to it. Perhaps a baseball game...

Chris T

Darren said...

I'd go to the game for the fun of it--and apply the math and physics analyses afterwards! I mean, who can deal with parabolas when they're balancing a large coke, a hot dog, *and* an ice cream cone?

What might be just as fun/interesting would be to play with a car headlight and try to find the focal point experimentally, then calculate the equation of the parabola based on measurements of the headlight. And then find out how much math actually went into a headlight's design. Or measure a Dish Network antenna and see if the receiver is truly located at the focus.

But back to your suggestion--it might be a fun exercise to find ways to apply math to various situations we don't deal with every day (sailing, perhaps) and then try to work that experience into a lesson somehow....