How to rekindle a love of learning in school

Thomas described how, although kids are never repeatedly tested on Harry Potter genealogy, geography, characters, or events, most children can tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the series. This is because the series relates to its readers.

“Take a student who is struggling with physics, and I’m a physics teacher. I could just sit him down, go over material with him, but wouldn’t he learn more if I, say, found out that this student liked martial arts? I could ask him to show me some moves and then ask how one movement is better than the other. Then I could say, ‘…Explain to me how these movements are different in physics.’ This student would then be motivated to learn—interested about learning to communicate better with me and to better understand his own passion,” said Thomas.

Another reason why the Harry Potter novels are so popular is because they open up the imagination.

“Where imaginations play, learning happens,” explained Thomas. And this is not limited to preschoolers.

An example of classroom “authorship,” or “creating a world of imagination, rather than limiting it,” said Thomas, is to learn by seeking not answers, but questions.

“I once had a tough quiz to give,” he said. “There was a book I’d had the students read, but I couldn’t decide which questions I really wanted to ask them. So instead, I asked them, ‘If you could ask one question to see if someone understood the main theme of this book, what would it be?’ The students spent the entire class period discussing and coming up with some brilliant answers. Their imagination was at play while they were learning.”

Another way to think of the classroom as its own imaginative world is by creating “collectives,” or using social networking and online communities for part of the class. By opening a space for discussion and sharing ideas, the class becomes its own “culture,” with teachers as mentors rather than sages on the stage.

Of course, that’s not to say re-imagining learning will happen overnight.

Mark Edwards, superintendent of the Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina, and a 2002 winner of eSchool News’ Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards, was part of the morning’s keynote panel to help bring a K-12 perspective to Thomas’ ideas.

“We have a moral imperative to prepare kids for the future, not the past,” he said. “However, there’s always a challenge of finding that balance between innovation and … accountability and responsibilities. There will always be a need for measurable returns on investments.”

One way Edwards suggested to bridge the two needs is by using digital resources and technology in the classroom.

Meris Stansbury

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