8 Feb 2013
As I was watching the video “New Learners Of The 21st Century” https://video.pbs.org/video/1797357384/, I’m at once inspired and intimidated by the case studies showing new approaches to learning. I suppose the education revolution that these examples showcase is not all new, at least not in my last ten years of education as a university student. Since starting my undergraduate degree, classes that take place outside the traditional setting have been the norm in my field. Gaining a thorough understanding of wildlife conservation would be impossible without a heavy emphasis on field experience. So to see elementary and high school students getting outside and learning in non-traditional educational settings makes me very excited. But in the back of my mind, there is a lingering fear about this education revolution because despite the fun learning experience that is inherent in my current field, I feel like I have been beaten over the head with a traditional education to a point where I fear I would be a little at a loss with anti-teaching. I’ll explain exactly what I mean but first allow me to explain why I feel this way.
Elementary school for me consisted of classrooms full of starched uniforms and shoes scrubbed white. Not a hair was out of place and students only spoke when asked. The rest of the time, students were to sit in their chairs diligently taking in whatever the teacher was saying or writing on the blackboard (yes, we only had blackboards back then!). Discipline was paramount and no one dared challenge that. Much of my high school years were very much the same, except that we did have computer class, where instead of writing compositions with a pencil, we wrote compositions with a keyboard (fun fun). In every class, the emphasis was on good manners and curbing your enthusiasm because it was unladylike. This may sound antiquated but I am not exaggerating. I went to a private Catholic Girls School where nuns still taught some of the classes. We had no field trips, unless you count “retreat” where the highlight of our trip was writing our sins down on a piece of paper and burning it. We had designated times to be creative, like talent days that occurred about once every few months. Basically, I come from a schooling background that attempted to squash any inkling of creativity and instead focus the mind on memorization and writing skills. Thankfully I was a decent writer, but my memorization skills are probably to blame for me failing organic chemistry twice (yes twice).
But the moment I entered university, suddenly I found myself excelling in classes that involved field trips and emphasized learning through personal experience rather than recital and memorization. But I feel like my creative bone was badly broken from so many years of passively taking in whatever information was being handed to me at the time. It’s easy for me to think of how I would engage students and provide them with the tools to learn when it comes to wildlife conservation. Bring them out for a field trip of course! But the puck stops there. How on earth would I engage students in a statistics course? Or a course on conservation law? I feel a sense of fear and dread welling up in me just thinking about thinking of creative ways to engage students because creativity is not something that was ever encouraged over the course of my education, even up to this day. I am so excited to see that others are being so creative when it comes to education but there is that lingering fear in the back of my mind that I could never be on that level. How do you encourage creative thinking when you are not sure how to encourage it in yourself? I’m sure I am not alone in this thought.