Yesterday, I had the supreme pleasure of helping teach my son's second grade class at our college's field station. I got to teach about macroinvertebrates. This basically means mucking about in a stream, collecting bugs, and playing in mud. Ahem, while talking about stream flow, habitats, stream health (pollution, contaminants, and nutrient spiralling), and about types of macroinvertebrates and the ecological roles they play.
The kids were so excited and loved to be told to "get your hands in there, you're here to get muddy". My son's teacher, as always, scolded kids that got too excited to wait their turn, yelled at the kids that couldn't wait for an invitation and stepped (in their boots) into the stream), and looked generally aggravated. After a few moments, I gently reminded her that she could relax today - this is my classroom. And she did.
But, when the kids were all actively engaged in digging through the net and I stood back for a moment - she leaned over and said - "you know, they're all just having fun now". Apparently, she viewed that as a bad thing. She viewed having fun as being mutually exclusive from learning. She didn't see that by tying their activities back to the opening lesson - tying the message back to the mud-picking (that was giggle inducing)... they could learn and have fun.
And, that, my friends is one of the problems with education today. Learning is fun for kids until they learn it isn't. Kids are like little sponges that love to learn - until we make the process drudgery. Is it always fun? No. But, we can balance the rote exercises with active learning (and mud) to keep more kids engaged.
This, by the way, is the same teacher that blanched when I picked up a spider to share, and goggled as I taught a child how to pick up a crayfish - because I told the kid how to do it. I had the confidence that this seven-year-old could do it. Then, I told the kid that "you can't whine if you get pinched, though, you're picking it up, it's not like it's chasing you". The kid picked up the crayfish (properly), and smiled broadly enough to light up the day. That is a lesson the kid will remember.
The other fun thing - while one day soon, my son will realize that I am old (and by defintion, then) uncool. For one day, my son and his friends thought that I am the coolest mom around, with the coolest job. Even some of the other parents said so.