What would a high school classroom look like if the students were all like kindergartners, eagerly learning everything they could about the world? What makes this idea seem ludicrous—and why isn’t learning still like this in high schools today?
These questions were asked during the opening keynote session at the Consortium for School Networking’s annual Technology Leadership Conference, held in Washington, D.C. The theme of this year’s conference is “Re-imagine Learning,” and what better way to kick off the event than with Doug Thomas, co-author of the book A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change?
“There’s a new game being played in schools today, especially colleges, and it’s called, ‘What does the teacher want?’ [Students are] not there to learn and expand their minds; they just want to know how to please us to do well,” said Thomas, who is an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. “It’s not our schools that are broken; it’s the theory of learning that’s broken.”
According to Thomas, the current style of learning is too “binary”—learning is either fun, and therefore not serious, or vice versa. However, learning should aim to be both, he said.
“When you see a little child first start to explore the world, everything is interesting to them. There’s no limit to how learning is fun for them. Then, as they start to move to higher grades, you see that passion drain out of them,” he said.
“I once had a student who was trying to decide her thesis. She asked me what she should write about and, frankly, I was stunned. It’s not my thesis. So I asked her, ‘Well, what are you passionate about?’ She said, ‘I don’t know. No one’s ever asked me that.’ That means that in 15 years [of education], not one person bothered to ask her about her.”
Thomas explained that part of re-imagining learning involves simply knowing your students and who they are, so you can connect on their level. As an example, he cited the Harry Potter book series.