May I Have a Book?

Recently I have held, as happens every year, a meeting with several parents who are requesting: “May my child have a textbook so that they can study and do well on the test?”

I hear the question to be, “I want my daughter/son to earn a higher grade” and this is assumed to be dependent of having explicit knowledge printed on pages. The question is always interesting because we all have access to the internet (at this school) and therefore we can look on Wikipedia which is, intentionally, “the sum of all human knowledge.” Parents are usually not excited about the prospect that their children must wade through the “sum of all human knowledge” to determine what to learn so we naturally proceed to “learning goals” or “objectives.”

In this class we write the explicit learning objective in our class specific notebook every day: “We are learning to [WALT] discuss the history of the atomic model by describing the evidence used by scientists [Democritus, Dalton, Thomson, Rutherford and Bohr] and the conclusions they made from their evidence.”

Unexpectedly, to me anyway, the students reported, “We never look at the objectives when studying for the test.” To me this meant students needed training in learning strategies. To parents this meant that “objectives” were not a useful strategy for learning.

Outcome? Textbooks.

I am saddened. They have a book, but this is not the same thing as learning. Today, in discussing atomic theory I learned less than 10% of my students in grade 9:

  1. … have used magnets and wire to explore the relationship between e- flow and magnetism
  2. … map magnetic force lines around a magnet
  3. … made an electric motor with a cell and a magnet and a wire
  4. … used a battery to break water into H and O gas

So today students read about the history of atomic theory. The text reads, “Thomson determined that cathode rays were charged since they respond to magnets.” Students inferred that magnetic force “had a + and – pole” and “is basically the same thing as electric force.” A relationship? Certainly! Integrally connected? Absolutely! Same? … uh, nooo; not the same.

To my mind, the principle missing piece is practical experience with material like batteries, wires and magnets. Learning abstract principles from text is not as easy as learning by participation and activity. Seeing material and observing an action (effect), can lead to discussion about

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