Constructing Knowledge and Playing to Learn: The School Reform We Need

February 14, 2010 at 12:07 am 1 comment

posted by Alisa Algava ‘08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school

“Scientists know that children learn best by putting experiences together in new ways. They construct knowledge; they don’t swallow it…” ~Susan Engel, NYT Op-Ed 2/1/10

Read this article published recently on the Op-Ed page in the New York Times:
www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/opinion/02engel.html

And then just close your eyes and imagine…

♦ Andrew, 6, on Greg’s shoulders building the tallest MagnaTile structure anyone has ever seen. He stretches. Other children hand him brightly colored tiles. The tower reaches towards the ceiling.

♦ Jonathan, 11, sharing his opinion about Native American leadership 250 years ago. “You can’t really know. In some instances, chiefs were named on the spot because the Europeans wanted to have a title for them.” The whole group then asks question after question about the early days of democracy in U.S. history and how the founders and writers of the Constitution figured out what kind of leadership they wanted to have. And then they start reading about Athens and Ancient Greece.

♦ Emmett, 7, interviewing Marcia in the Office for his group’s field guide project. Digital voice recorder in hand, he asks, “What is your favorite animal?” “What kinds of plants do you like?” “Are you excited about our presentation?”

♦ Isaac, 18, emceeing the Something to Say Café at the Beacon Sloop Club that he and the rest of the high school group organize. He confidently introduces the next teenage performer, reminds the adults and children in the audience that their donations at the food table benefit his school, and invites everyone to another event in March.

♦ Sophie, Aliyah, Nina, and Layla, all 3 and 4, welcoming a visiting child into their world of dancing princesses. The shiny red curtain parts, the classical music plays on the radio, they spin and twirl, hold hands and slowly circle around each other, gowns a-shimmering.

♦ Richard, 10, measuring classrooms. He is figuring out the square footage in order to determine how many people can fit in each space.

♦ A group of 3-6 year olds acting out their own play. Isabel, 4, is the Director and welcomes the audience before proceeding to remind the actors to stay in character, move across the “stage,” and dance slowly.

♦ Freddie, 5, writing with determination in his Morning Journal. He carefully forms each letter as he describes a secret project he is working on with his uncle who is visiting from Germany.

Now, ask a child about something he loves to do and is really good at doing. Ask her opinion about a book she read or a problem she solved. The children at our little school know how to think creatively. They know how to ask questions. They know how to learn.

I desperately wish that President Obama and Congress would make it possible for every school in our country to give all our children the chance to become the greatest learners they can be.

Alisa Algava graduated from Bank Street’s Leadership for Educational Change program in 2008. For the past 15 years, she has taught and learned in public, private, and charter schools in NY, NJ, and RI. She has written a handful of postings on the Alumni Blog about her experiences leading and learning in a small progressive school. Alisa loves learning. She loves moderating The Alumni Blog. And she really loves her nephew.

Entry filed under: constructivism, curriculum, philosophy, politics, school reform.

Homeschooling: Opting Out or Embracing Progressive Education? Raising Children, Not Test Scores: Why Engel Has It Right

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