Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Q is for... Questions

Homeschoolers, by nature, do things a little differently than traditional public schools. So when I read the following article, part of me was thinking along the lines of "yeah, homeschoolers are pretty much on top of that" but at the same time I was also wondering how much we still fall into the trap of "learn this because it's part of the curriculum".

Here's the article from The Guardian: Advent of Google means we must rethink our approach to education.
In school examinations, learners must reproduce facts from memory, solve problems using their minds and paper alone. They must not talk to anyone or look at anyone else's work. They must not use any educational resources, certainly not the internet. When they complete their schooling and start a job, they are told to solve problems in groups, through meetings, using every resource they can think of. They are rewarded for solving problems this way – for not using the methods they were taught in school.
The curriculum lists things that children must learn. There is no list stating why these things are important. A child being taught the history of Vikings in England says to me: "We could have found out all that in five minutes if we ever needed to."
How often do I require my kids to learn something just because it's next on the list, but don't take the time to explain why that knowledge or skill is important? How often do I hand the book to my student and tell them everything they'll need to learn is in the book, and then wonder later why they have trouble finding good sources when I assign a research project?

We've been getting a bit of a crash course in discovery or inquiry directed learning while working on a review for the Schoolhouse Review Crew. Landon is working on High School Biology in Your Home and is finding it very different from what he's used to. It's different because it poses the questions and the student must do the research to find the answers. (My review will be up within the week, but in the meantime you can start reading other Crew Member reviews of High School Science at Home.) And here I thought I was doing a good job of teaching my kids how to learn. Yet apparently, we are accustomed to having the information we need handed to us rather than accepting the challenge of finding out the answers to our questions.
The curriculum would have to become questions that have strange and interesting answers. "Where did language come from?", "Why were the pyramids built?", "Is life on Earth sustainable?", "What is the purpose of theatre?"
Questions that engage learners in a world of unknowns. Questions that will occupy their minds through their waking hours and sometimes their dreams.
I guess my question isn't whether I should make more effective use of questions in our homeschool, but how to make the shift. Posing questions to students and challenging them to look for the answers makes them more responsible for their own education, but the risk is that they won't think it important enough to do a good job of it.

So as I was sitting here writing some of this, my kids started bugging me about what we were going to have for lunch, and lobbying for a break from what they've been working on this morning. (Not that they've been working hard - I don't think they've broken much of an intellectual sweat at all!) For some reason, they asked me what is the difference between a peanut and a cashew. Well... I think that a cashew is a tree nut, while the peanut is actually a legume. But I'm not entirely sure. So we quickly looked it up. And almost painlessly, we learned all kinds of things about cashews! We didn't know that the cashew tree also produces a fruit called an apple, probably because they don't transport well so they wouldn't be available in our grocery stores. We also didn't know that the seed (what we call the cashew nut) has a double shell that contains a skin irritant toxin similar to that of poison ivy - or that the cashew tree is related to poison ivy! Roasting the cashews destroys the toxin, but it has to be done outside, since the smoke can also cause severe allergic reactions. I'm not sure how useful this information is to us on a daily basis, but it's fascinating and only took a few minutes for us to discover the answer to the question "how are cashews different from peanuts?" And personally, I think I'll be a lot more appreciative of the work that must go into safely harvesting and roasting the nuts so I can enjoy them without getting poison ivy. I guess that might also answer the question about why they tend to cost so much more than peanuts.
Maybe asking ourselves questions isn't going to be as hard as we'd thought. I'm suddenly hungry for cashews, so my next question is "do we have any cashews in the pantry?"

How much do you use questions in your homeschool? Other than in quizzes to test their memory, that is. Do you think the ideas in the article are workable, even in homeschool settings? Leave a comment and let me know!

Please visit Ben and Me: Q is for Quintessentially Pioneer to join in and to see what thoughts this week's letter has prompted for other bloggers.
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Meg Falciani said...

You know, I'm thinking the exact same thing. I read that same article a bit ago, and it really made me think. Sure, my brain is crammed with info so useless I don't think I could land myself on Jeopardy, but a the same time, I can't count how many times I've said to a kid "Google it!"

I'm trying to be more mindful as I create Luke's assignments, that they are as practical as they are educational.

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