Hands On Science Not Keyboards

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“Outside In” a permanent hands on children’s exhibit at The Academy of Natural Science of Drexel University

When I hear anyone say that computer skills are necessary in life, so we must prepare our children early….I cringe.

There is not a computer program that exists now or that will EVER be created that will trump the kind of learning that happens in the real world. Children need to touch to understand. Sure the computer is a great resource for research and it supports discovery, but let’s get it straight that a YouTube video is a poor replacement for experience.

We are members of the The Academy of Natural Science of Drexel University pictured above. Every time I set foot in that room (only a small portion is pictured above), I think, “This is what schools should look like.” The wood floors are clean and attractive as is the wall color and design. Books are a centerpiece not an afterthought. Technology is hands on and supports inquiry-based learning, rather than testing objectives. (My husband is helping the kids examine various objects under a microscope that is hooked up to a television display.)

A few parents I have chatted with in the past few weeks have mentioned to me that they thought about refusing the PARCC test, but decided that it is good practice. In fact, many administrators have taken to saying this to parents in one-on-one conferences to discourage opt outs. Pearson is slated to take over the SAT and the ACT, so why not get our kids ready now?

I wanted to scream.

School should not be about getting kids ready for a test….any test….not even the SAT or ACT. For with a solid education, any student can read a test prep book or take a prep class in their junior year and score well. (Heck, I managed a respectable score without doing either of those things.)  A solid education is what will prepare our children for life and above that a love of learning will take them even farther.

Recently, I organized a Science Fair at my sons’ elementary school. It was hard work, but I had run them before and knew the payoff was worth every bit of effort. But what struck me the most was the contrast between the type of thinking and writing my kindergartener and second grader were doing while working on their projects compared to the majority of the homework and the worksheets that come home completed from school. (Granted that as a teacher I know that most of their best writing is saved at school for portfolios, which is another issue I will tackle one day.)

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My second grader’s teacher was quick to say, “Of course,” when I asked that he hand in his reading comprehension packet on Monday instead of Friday, because he was working on his project. Even though she assigned the packet, the fact that the work we were doing was more valuable was a given to her. So, if teachers know what quality work looks like, why should they feel forced into assigning work that falls so short of enriching, student-centered education?

If the goal is to prepare kids for tests, I still contend that the best way is inquiry-based learning not typing practice or SMART Board games and videos or endless skills-based worksheets and computer programs.

We as parents need to demand this, because I know for a fact that the overwhelming majority teachers would support spending more time planning guided inquiry assignments than wasting time on test prep activities and racing to ensure that all of the tested skills are covered in time.

And if we demand and the powers that be comply (Ha!), you can call me if your kid bombs the SAT or ACT and hold me accountable!

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