Last year, Katie, Lynn, Aubrey, Julie and I participated in a team course, Teach for Understanding, through Harvard's School of Graduate Education's professional development program. This collaborative endeavor was certainly one of my highlights last year as the five us probed:
1) What is understanding, and why should it be an important goal of education today?
2) If understanding is the goal, what should we be teaching? That is, what ideas, questions, and content are most important for students to understand?
3) How can we can design learning experiences that support students in learning for understanding?
As we redesigned the fifth and sixth grade self-directed learning project (learning without walls) this year, the fifth and sixth grade teams ask similar questions. In a matter of week, students will reflect on their learnings in their presentations and performances of understandings. Our hopes are that they come full circle when they first proposed their driving questions and ask themselves how their self-directed learning projects were life worthy:
1) Was it big in insight? Did my investigation help me reveal how our physical, social, artistic, or other worlds work?
2) Was it big in action? Did my investigation help empower me and/or others to take effective action socially, politically, or other ways?
3) Was in big in ethics? Did my investigation urge me and/or others toward being more ethical, humane, and caring?
4) Was it big in opportunity? Did my investigation lead to other questions and understandings?
David Perkins, author of Futurewise, tells a story of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi. "As Gandhi was getting on a train, One of his sandals slipped off and fell to the ground. The train was moving, and there was no time to go back. Without hesitation, Gandhi took off his second sandal and threw it toward the first. Asked by his colleague why he did that, he said one sandal wouldn’t do him any good, but two would certainly help someone else. By tossing down his second sandal, he showed wisdom about what to keep and what to let go of. Perkins believes those are both central questions for education as we choose for today’s learners the sandals they need for tomorrow’s journey."