Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stop Filling the Pail and Start Lighting the Fire

campfire clipart

I recently returned from the 2011 TIES Conference in Minneapolis. TIES is an organization made up of a large number of Minnesota school districts that exists to advocate, enable, and empower teachers to increase student engagement through the integration of technology. This is the second year I have been able to attend the conference. I love the learning that happens at TIES because there is a great mix of hands on, applicable tools and tips that can be immediately used in a variety of classrooms, and challenging discussions of broader topics relating to student engagement and the very meaning of what education should look like and consist of in the 21st century. I always come away invigorated, challenged, and with a major headache!

One of the most interesting sessions I attended this year was called I-Imagine: Waking a Generation to Their Own Greatness. The content of the session was great but what really struck me was a statistic. It said that of all of the knowledge in the world, in a 13 year academic career (kindergarten through 12th grade) a teacher could only ever cover .0000001% of it. Whoa. Now, before you call the statistics police, I am fully aware that such a statistic is very difficult to believe, impossible to verify, and in all likelihood, completely made up. But don't get hung up on the number. There is a fundamental truth in there. There is so much knowledge and information in the world, there is no way we could ever hope to cover all of it in 13 years. Not. Even. Close.

One of my favorite educational quotes is: "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." It is attributed to the poet W.B. Yeats. That quote immediately came to mind when I heard the previously mentioned statistic. If our goal in education is to pour as much knowledge as possible into the heads of our young people as we can before their 18th birthday, we are doing it wrong and we are doing them a disservice. We could pour facts and figures into them all day, every day, and not even cover one iota of the available knowledge in the world. So why do we try? In the meantime national statistics show a majority of students say school is boring, uninteresting, and irrelevant and we live in a world where anything you can memorize can also be Googled in .05 seconds on any computer, ipad, or cell phone.

When we think of education in these terms, it seems to me that we need to spend less time trying to fill the pails and more time trying to light the fires. Teach skills in context. Identify student passions and connect them to their learning. Light the fire of curiosity and rekindle a love of learning. Stop filling pails. Light the fires instead.

Make the day GREAT!


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