Slow Learning

Over on Blog Sisters (where I can feel comfortable posting and commenting now because I resigned from the job of Registrar that I was doing badly and feeling guilty about), Betsy Devine calls attention to a post on Seth Godin’s blog asking what are the thousand things that every third grader should start learning and know before she graduates high school. The discussion is carried on over at Joi Ito’s blog as well.
Before I retired from the NY State Education Department, I worked as part of groups that developed a variety of the state’s “Learning Standards” (pdf document) — what kids should learn, know, and be able to do in various subject areas by the time they graduate high school. [Seth, these kinds of standards exist in just about every state education department. You should find out what your state has as theirs.]
In all of that jargon, no where does it say that the funamental thing that kids should learn is to love to learn, to find it interesting and fun and exciting to discover and track down facts they didn’t know before. Kids who learn the pleasures of investigating, discussing, analyzing, theorizing, creating, and sharing can’t be stopped from learning. (b!X is a fine example of this; he had little use for the regimentation of the public school system, but learning to him was and is the same as breathing.) Kids who have never had the mentoring and encouragement and example necessary to develop a love of learning often refuse to learn despite the best efforts of teachers who keep their noses to the learning standards grindstone. Kids who are excited by learning naturally want to communcate what they learned and so they also are more interested in developing communication skills.
One of the things that always bothered me (as a teacher of junior high kids and later as a not-always-successful “change-agent” on the state level in education) is that kids never really are given the “big picture.” What they get in school are the bits and pieces of history, literature, technologies etc. — the specific skills they need to function — without enough of an understanding of how humanity got to the point we’re at today where those skills are important.
For example, with all of the computer technology we have today, why doesn’t some educational-tools company come up with animated maps of the world that show each of the various theories of where the early homo sapiens began to establish communities some 2.5 million years ago and how they migrated to other parts of the world. Something like this or this or this gives some of the facts, but to today’s visually sophisticated kids, it’s boring and doesn’t easily give a sense of the scope and interrelated movement of the planet and its people.
I can imagine animated maps of the land and water masses of the planet evolving through time and the theories about the location and migration of homo sapiens groups superimposed on those maps. You’d need an animated map for for each designated time period as it relates to each theory. And even — not that I subscribe to the benefit of doing this — there can even be an animated map reflecting the “Adam and Eve” biblical theory.
Being able to visualize the migration across the planet of the human species over all of those millennia would be a giant step in giving young children a true understanding of how we all have common roots.
It would help them understand how slowly but clearly nations and cultures began to branch away from the early human communities, to understand that we have more in common with each other as humans than we have differences.
These kinds of animated and layered maps could be created to show how climate influenced culture, economics, and national identity; how the borders of countries changed over time as a result of wars and oppression.
Kids today understand just what a small world it is. The Internet makes it all small and immediate. Kids need a place to get the big picture, a sense of their place in the geological, geographical, and historical saga of our planetary evolution.
The little picture provides immediate, close satisfaction. The big picture offers wonder and expanded horizons.
Now, does anyone know how I can go about copyrighting my idea for this kind of educational software CD so that I can sell it to an educational software developer??? Since I blogged the concept here on December 25, 2004, does it become my intellectual property??

3 thoughts on “Slow Learning

  1. Maybe talk to someone who works at a place that produces computer games…like Hasbro maybe? The legal question’s another matter. Talk to a lawyer you might know. All in all, I think you’ve got a fine idea.

  2. Elaine, I’ve seen bits and pieces of what you are talking about in classrooms at the university level, for anthropology, natural history, etc., but not so much of the “big picture” all-encompassing that you are talking about, from the beginning of the movement of plates and upright walkers, full animation that would include all history — not on a child’s level. That would be fantastic!
    And yes, I do believe self-publishing your idea here is protected, but you could ask Blog Sister and attorney Catherine Berlin about that, as I think this is her specialty.

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