Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What goes in the backpack?

So what gets put in a school-in-a-backpack backpack? The answer turns, I guess, on what you think about the connection between curriculum and real life. I can imagine three options: a laptop, a journal, and a toolbox.

You take a laptop if your driving focus is to give students access to information from outside their experience. From there, curriculum goes one of two ways--to internet-based research, or to curriculum delivered via computer, and customized to respond to a student's particular knowledge and confidence. (On this approach, SatoriEdu is doing some interesting work.)

You take a journal if you think that your student's experience is rich enough that the main thing that a teacher can do is help students uncover their learning through reflection and analysis. This approach has a long tradition behind it. (When John Dewey visited Brigham Young academy in 1901 he suggested that "homework" was the work that students normally did at home--cleaning, cooking, farming, etc. Students went to school to learn from their homework, not vice versa as it is today.)

You take a toolbox if you want students to assemble or create solutions to real-world problems. Over the past couple of days I've been learning about synthetic biology--a branch of biology in which scientists try to create new living things (bacteria, viruses, etc.) to solve health or social needs. One interesting outgrowth of synthetic biology is iGem, a project in which groups of undergraduates work through a summer with faculty oversight to create new organisms out of a registry of component parts. The registry is essentially a toolbox.

What else goes in the backpack?

1 comment:

lionofzion said...

I think the fact that undergrads like myself are now being given the tools and the knowledge to create new viruses really underlines the need for a morally serious education.

Synthetic biology opens up an exciting new world for health and science, but please forgive me if the very idea that college students are making viruses sends shivers down my spine.