December 4, 2005

My Theory of Relativity

My recently adopted criteria of “Relevant, Engaging and Ownership” as a criteria for learning is definitely in its infancy. I’ve been saying that teachers need to address the ever popular question of “why do we have to learn this?” as part of how we do business.

But in examining my theory of relativity, two things have recently challenged my thinking. First of all, in a prior Posse Podcast, Rick Schwier discussed a university course on folk tales which has never had any relevance to his life. However, he remarked much he enjoyed the experience both because of the content and obviously the engaging nature of the course. So he makes the case for those things that are not entirely relevant.

I can agree that some things we learn may not completely link to our lives but offer a rich experience that will in some way enhance our lives. Appreciation of other cultures may not seem relavent but certainly enriches our lives. So this example helps to guard against a learning environment that dismisses anything outside our current understanding. Right now our curriculum is in no danger of being overly concerned with relevance but I’ll keep this concept in mind.

The other challenge was a discussion that occured in our car today. As our daughter attempted to negotiate quitting her viola lessons, we assured her that she would not be happy with us if we let her quit. While she may not appreciate the relevance of music lessons now, I am living proof of someone who wished my parents had been more diligent in keeping me in piano lessons.

Piano LessonsAs you can see in the photo, our front window was in clear view. Although in this shot, the drapes are closed, usually they were open and I could plainly see my buddies outside playing street hockey or football. That was relevant at the time. My negotiation skills were quite good and I was able to convince my parents to allow me to quit my piano lessons. While they did make me pursue music (trombone lessons) in later years, I regret not having continued with the piano.

So there are times when students may not see the relevance but we need to. So if you believe Calculus is going to be important for kids, make sure that at least you know why it’s relevant. Stephen Downes says he’s still waiting for it to be relevant. Not sure it will ever be.

So my theory is now slightly modified…but I think better.