What Students Really Want to Learn at School via (Student) Anya Smith

What are we going to do with Anya? And why are we not teaching her what she needs and wants to learn?

Anya Smith is a high school student in the inaugural year of the iDiploma program at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian School designed and operated by Meghan Cureton and Bo Adams.  Anya latched on to my first book, The Falconer, and has been blogging on each chapter.  The blogs are an utter treat. When I first conceptualized the ideas for problem finding, questioning, systems thinking, and elegant creational thinking, I was told students could not grasp them. Well, Anya is just another in a long string of students who proved those “leading educators” wrong. Every time I have the chance to dig into the simple life lessons of The Falconer with students, they get it, and they ask the same questions that Anya is asking: why the heck don’t we teach these skills in school?

Check out and follow her very active blog for earlier posts on this and other topics.  Who is the Anya at your school? How would you know? What if she/he were deeply involved in strategic thinking and planning? What if we taught what we want to teach and what students want to know?

With no further intro, here is Anya’s latest post from her reading of The Falconer:

Today was quite an adventure for me. I was traveling to New York, but first I had a layover in Charlotte. This blog post comes in multiple parts due to this layover.

Part 1: The Hypothetical Conversation 

So on my first flight I debated reading, but it was such a short flight, I didn’t want to deal with it. Instead, I revisited some of my thoughts about things that I’ve already blogged about with the first few chapters of The Falconer. To do this, I had a conversation with my self imagining what it would be like if I was reading and the person next to me started asking questions. This was my conversation:

What are you reading?

It’s called “The Falconer” by Grant Lichtman. It’s about everything you wish you would have learned in school. I really strongly believe that school should be about more than answering questions on test and quizzes that any one could easily answer by looking it up online or in a textbook. I know there is more out there in what we call the “real world” and I want to do that meaningful work now.

That sounds interesting. What have you learned so far?

Well the book is about what skills you need for life, skills that you typically wouldn’t learn while in school. The redesign in education is something I’m really passionate about so I’ve grown accustom to some of these skills, but I enjoy new perspectives that make me think about the skills in different ways.

One skill that I think is the most important is the art of asking a good question.

What does that mean?

Well, you could ask me, “How does an airplane fly?” And I would answer to the best of my knowledge, that it has something to do with the shape of the wings on an airplane that allow for the greatest amount of air to be pushed under the wings allowing it to take flight and flow with the wind. While you may think that this a good open ended question, this questions just makes me try to recall information I have heard or read before. You could just as easily have looked it up once you got off of the plane, correct?

Yes, I suppose I could look up a question like this.

Exactly, you may still look it up just because you want to have a more in-depth answer. And what you’ll be doing is looking up the answer to a question someone else has already asked and solved.

In school we tend learn that questions often start with “what, where, when, why, or how”. We later learn that it is best to ask “why” questions because they lead to a more detailed answer. But all of these question starters, even “why”, will still give us questions that could be  answered as easily as our airplane question.

Now not to discourage these other question starters, because we still need them to gain information, but my favorite question starter is “what if”.

When you start a question with “what if” it makes a person actually think rather than just recall. For example, take our airplane question, now if you would have asked me “what if people could fly?” I could say a lot of different things.

I might say that people would have to be shaped differently and our arms would be more like wings, or maybe we just have wings to and our arms would have to stay by our side or out in front when we fly. I could also say that man may have not invented airplanes at all because there wasn’t a need for them, so birds would have less air traffic and there would be less air battles with big machinery because people would have to carry the weapons themselves.

I would still have to know about how an airplane flies to be able to answer your question, but I would also need to know and think more.

How does changing the shape of an airplane change its flight? How do birds fly differently than planes? Do birds actually have a problem with airplanes flying around? Has there been any change in the population of birds since the invention of the airplane? When did air battles really become such a big thing? How much weight can humans hold at one time? How heavy are weapons of war?

This one “what if” question lead to a myriad of other questions, and if you take the time to learn more about each of these you will end knowing much more than you would have learned if you were only asked “how does a airplane fly?” And you would have gotten the opportunity to use your creative mind.

Wow that’s really interesting.

(Then my plane landed and I got off in Charlotte. This is when chaos started…)

 

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