Learning to learn
In a school with no name…
A boy stirs restlessly in his chair. He is 8 years old and has a sharp, penetrating look. He attends a rural school in a small town. It could be almost anywhere in the world.
Our friend’s name is David, but that is not too important. What is important in this story is that he loves daydreaming, even if he sometimes gets into trouble for doing it too often. On a warm spring afternoon, in the middle of a lesson, the child leaves his imagination fly and wonders if all schools in the world will be similar to his.
In his class there are over thirty boys and girls of different ages sharing a teacher. Every child has different skills and abilities, also their own characteristics and problems. The teacher is a strict young man, with old-fashioned ideas about education and little patience. Children find his classes boring. Everyday he reads a lesson in his book, asks children questions about it, gives them the answers to be remembered for the tests and gives them some homework to do at home.
David gets bored. The lesson of the textbook and the related teacher’s explanations seem to be the same every day. Those contents are not interesting for him.
One autumn day David gets a visit from the school director, who lets a bombshell fall in the class: the teacher has fallen ill and will not be able to come to school for a while. A new teacher will replace him. This news fills the kids with excitement: finally something different!
The new teacher enters the classroom, smiles and introduces herself. She has a great energy and from the very beginning David realizes that things will not be the same from now on.
She treats children and engages with them in a very different way to what they have known until now. She does not think that teaching is just transmitting knowledge to others in a continuous monologue. She breaks the schemes and tells them that learning is a partnership. The kids watch her in amazement.
She explains to them that education can happen anytime, anywhere. She asks questions like: what would you think if I tell you that education can happen even when you “lose” your time?
She tells them that we all have the ability to learn and to teach, to create. What we learn, we learn by creating, in a process of continuous communication.
One day the new teacher tells them a story:
“At the beginning of time, when man could barely be called by this name (possibly even earlier) learning was based on everyday life´s experiences. Knowledge was acquired through contact with others and repetition, through observation, by watching, copying and imitating. Our brain is ready to collect information from the environment, process it and store it, having it ready for when it is needed.
But in a place called Sumeria, 4,000 years ago (in 2000 BC!) something happened that changed the history of mankind: the written and read word took over. From there onwards real experiences stopped underlying in learning: the experience of former individuals did. That often had little to do with reality.
We know now that knowledge is everywhere and we, teachers have become mere mediators, guides. Our primary role is to help students ask the right questions, rather than to communicate the correct answers. We teach that collaborative work is based much on the evolution of man as a species.”
The teacher calls this new teaching method Expanded Education.
From then onwards going to school every day became a party for David. One day the teacher asks the kids to draw a map of the little town and walk all over the streets looking for clues related to the history of the area. On another occasion she takes them out to the countryside to take pictures and talk about everything that comes up to their minds related to the environment. Another day they form groups and discuss about the essentials to survive on a desert island … they talk about chemistry, mathematics, history … The children are given the tools to learn and research further, creativity becomes the engine of the classes. The teacher transmits them her enthusiasm, giving value to each child for what they are individually. All of them feel important in the group, they have become the main characters in their own story.
David begins to create, participate, interact and above all, to share knowledge. All children put something into the group and strive to help those who have a harder time understanding some concepts. They feel able to teach and contribute in a direct way to the group.
David discovers for the first time how much you can enjoy learning, he feels a strange pleasure finding new answers to questions and this causes him a huge desire to learn more and more.
Playing has become for him the basis of knowledge, but not only that: a way of managing his relationships with other students. He has changed his attitude and is no longer a passive spectator but an active part of the class.
The teacher encourages students to bring their mobile devices to class, both for producing and sharing information. She wants to try new forms of education adapted to the new social structures; wants to change the way children build and share knowledge. She focuses on teaching emotional skills to solve conflicts. She offers children the tools to be trained as more cooperative, responsible and creative individuals.
One day the school principal announces the return of their former master, he has recovered satisfactorily from his illness.
One winter afternoon, with the monotonous sound of the teacher’s voice playing in the background, David allows his imagination once again to fly for a while.
And he dreams of an expanded school. A school where teachers do not rely exclusively on books and homework. Where mathematics and history can be mixed in a class. A school in which participation and creativity are applauded, and where every child can participate in their own learning.
After thinking about this for a while, David raises his hand. The teacher interrupts his monologue and asks him what the matter is. All children look at David profoundly surprised.
-” Teacher … Have you ever heard about the expanded education?”