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:

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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Some of Our Past Bloggers

Alisa Algava ‘08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school
Gloria Arenson ’58, psychotherapist
Bill Ayers ‘84, UIC professor, Chicago
Fred Baumgarten ‘84, writer/musician/naturalist/father
Keith Berman '03, founder/president of Options for College and Bank Street’s LinkedIn moderator
David Bowles ’08 (SFC ’93), museum educator at the Rubin Museum of Art
Elena Canaras ‘07, Special Education teacher, Hawaii
Virginia Casper, Bank Street faculty member
Jim Clay ‘88, director of a Washington DC Quaker preschool
Mary DeCamp Cotterall ‘87, Reading Specialist, Michigan
Judy Coven ’77, retired public school teacher and former Antioch University faculty member
Leslie Day '93, adjunct instructor at Bank Street and author of Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City
Mary Louise (Molly) Day ‘76, Lab School teacher, Chicago
Liezel de La Isla ‘99, Prague International School teacher
Diane Trister Dodge '70, founder and president of Teaching Strategies, Inc.
Meghan Dunn ’08, 3rd grade teacher, Brooklyn
Steven Evangelista ’01, co-director Harlem Link Charter School, NYC
Janine Fetters ‘02, Senior Associate of Parent Engagement at NACCRRA
Dena Florczyk '88, middle school teacher and founder/director of The Nigerian School Project
Hollee Freeman '94, writes about parenting issues for the alumni blog and was featured on BSCAA's April 2012 Career Panel
Ellen Galinsky '70, is President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute and author of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs
Joanne Ruvolo Gannett ‘84, Columbia College art history professor, Chicago
Joan Goldstein ‘67, sociologist and educator
Margot Hammond, Director of the Center for Early Childhood Professionals
Carol Hillman ‘67, early childhood educator, author, and Long Trip co-leader
Pam Jones ‘05, Bank Street advisor and instructor
Lee Klinger Lesser ‘87, trainer for the Parent Services Project
Preminda Langer ‘97, teacher trainer
Claire Milam ’97, life coach, Austin, Texas
Rabin Nickens ‘03, Speaker, Trainer and Educational Consultant
Beth Norford ‘89, consultant and former School for Children teacher
Susy Ogden ‘97
Marion Palm ‘95, Leadership in the Arts alum, writing tutor, poet and singer
Jessica Poser, assistant professor of art education at UIC, Chicago
Jesse Pugh '76, BSCAA President
Meg Rauen ‘06, former Chicago elementary school teacher, NY
Linda Reing, Bank Street Director of Alumni Relations
Rosalind Rothman '62, retired NYC teacher and guidance counselor
Kyla Ryman '92/'97, educational coach and consultant
Ariel Sacks ‘06, middle school teacher, Brooklyn, NY
Linda Appleman (Guidall) Shapiro ‘81, psychotherapist and author
Barbara Silver ‘80, literacy consultant and former NYC first grade teacher
Andrea Penny Spencer, former Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Bank Street
Debbie Stone ‘84, former teacher/co-director of High Valley School
Rachel Theilheimer ‘74, chair of teacher education at BMCC/CUNY
Theodore Timpson ’05, founder/president of Young Spirit Foundation
Eleanor Traubman '95, is Editor in Chief of Creative Times, a blog which promotes NYC's performing, visual and literary arts
Allison Warren '08, new mom, recent grad, and early childhood teacher
Max Weinberg ‘03, Francis Parker School teacher, Chicago
Ted Wells ‘07, 4th grade teacher at The Park School, Brookline, MA
Tracy Wiessbrod ’03, kindergarten teacher and stay-at-home mom

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