This week in class, we discussed several items in a list of transdisciplinary categories for conceptual learning. Since I hope to be teaching fourth grade, for my blog post this week I will be relating these categories to an elementary level classroom, in various subjects.
One category is cause and effect; what is the action, the change, or the condition that is happening? In an elementary classroom, we might be reading the book Tuck Everlasting. Once the unit is over, not only do I want the kids to enjoy the story (though I do) and be able to identify the main elements, but I want them to understand what the story is saying. What is it’s underlying meaning? In order for them to be thinking critically about the story, I could ask questions about the town’s reactions to the Tuck family; why did they fear the Tucks? What happened for them to change their minds, and was that something immediately obvious? If it’s not one explicit thing that angered the villagers, then what was it? How did the villagers or the Tucks feel about each other, and did that change? I think these questions are important for encouraging critical thought in a reading lesson.
In a science lesson, cycles and change have much to offer. Is this effect repeated over time? In the 4th grade classroom I tutor, they are learning about precipitation cycles. They have a heat lamp in the corner, and under it each table group has a wide, shallow bucket of “land”. Above it is a sheet of clear plastic that collects the water as it evaporates (more or less). When the “sun” is turned off, the water trickles back down into the ground, and when the sun is turned back on, it evaporates again. This cycle can be repeated often (with some water replenishment, but it’s actually pretty effective). The kids not only get to explore for themselves in a contained environment how the precipitation cycle works on a basic level, but they get to ask themselves important questions about how frequently this occurs. Is it always the same? Would location change the cycle? Elevation? Time of day or month or year? These questions are ones that the kids can ask and investigate on their own, with direction from the teacher as is needed.
I think the most important thing to be gained from our lesson this week is about how students should be able to learn something on their terms. A teacher is a guide, and is there to show new strategies and help the students consider new ideas and knowledge, but ultimately, if the students are learning the way they want to, they are learning the way that is probably best for them. They aren’t just being told things to absorb like a sponge, but they are making discoveries and coming to conclusions on their own, and I think that that is the true power of a good teacher.