During class this week, one of the topics we discussed was “Educational Means”. The one I felt was the most important (at least to me), was the idea of “Observance of Sacred Festivals.” We discussed powerful ways to impact students in our classes, aside from just learning about a subject. This is important to me, because as a child (and even as an adult), I struggled remembering the things I was supposed to remember about one subject or another unless I interacted with it. As a teacher, I want to bring education to my students in a way that they find accessible and fun, so that not only do they remember what they are learning, but they do so in a way that a deep sense of how and why are instilled in them. I want my teaching to be meaningful, and not just another check in a box of things they should be taught.
We discussed examples of holidays that are required to be taught in school; for example, Martin Luther King Jr. day, and Veteran’s day. These two holidays in particular are holidays I never particularly cared about. We had assemblies, I got the days off, and that was it. But as I got older, I came to appreciate the meaning of these holidays a little more, and I wish that my younger self could appreciate them as well. Ways we discussed to make these more meaningful were to have candlelit ceremonies for active duty military, which the kids bring in; or have the kids put on the assembly. These activities have the students doing the planning and explaining and learning.
I think the same thing could be said for other holidays as well. Thanksgiving is a major American holiday that most people associate with food, turkeys, and pumpkin pie. But why? It is one thing to say that Thanksgiving is about bounty and sharing, being grateful and kind. It is another thing entirely to bring this holiday to life with joy journals (a record of things that brought you happiness every day for a few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving), compliment posters for each student in class (from the other students to show why they are grateful to each other), or having a day of outreach where the entire class goes on a field trip to bring their pre-made thank-you cards to a community member, or even just people within the school. These kinds of activities where students participate in their own learning are what create meaningful thoughts, values, and learning.
Are holidays the only things we can celebrate in this fashion? Personally I believe that everything can be taught this way. A lesson about alpine meadows can be compounded by a field trip into the mountains, or a science lesson on force can be accompanied by the class building a trebuchet. My high school was conducted in this way, actually. We took field trips to museums, the Port of Seattle, our local city hall (during elections), the waste water treatment facility, the mountains to see glaciers and take soil samples. We built machines, created biodiesel (which we then presented to the school board as an alternative fuel source for our buses), volunteered and did job shadows. A large part of what we did was finding primary sources, so we also did a lot of contacting people who worked in a specific area of inquiry to find answers, opinions, and information we weren’t even looking for. These experiences not only helped shape my learning, but they also prepared me for much of what I had to deal with in the world outside of school. When I do have my own classroom, this is the kind of teacher I would like to be; one who provides interactive experiences, and allows her students to design their own learning (while subtly directing it). I think the best way to learn something is to discover it yourself, and while memorizing multiplication tables is also very important, I think supplementing teaching with hands-on experiences is what makes a quality teacher.