Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why Teach to Their Interests?

Who keeps buying all these books?
For the last few years, EM has consistently responded when well-meaning strangers ask, "What would you like to be when you grow up?" with, "a veterinarian." Originally this interest stemmed from a friend who also wanted to be a veterinarian. Nothing new had come along to replace the idea, so he just stuck with it. I'm not really sure what prompted the recent shift. It might have been the recognition that he doesn't have a driving interest in the field.

Whatever the reason, EM has now decided he wants to pursue a career in electrical engineering, possibly in robotics. Granted, he's only nine years old, so things can change, but I feel this plan is very attainable considering his strengths and interests. From as early as his toddler years, EM has been the kind of kid who revels in taking things apart to find out how they work. He is very mechanically inclined. He is also the child who knows how to operate all of the electronics in the house. Child-proof locks were a joke when he was around.

Robot or not?
This year I decided to add another component to our weekly schedule. Each boy is working on a project or subject that interests them. EM is studying robotics. I found a great book, Robotics, Discover the Science and Technology of the Future With 20 Projects, when searching for 'robotics for kids'. This book is just what we needed to get started on his exploration of the topic. The end of the introduction includes an activity titled, "Robot...or not a robot?" that helps the reader explore the definition of a robot and where we can find them in our lives. We made a table on our white board listing a few things
we have around the house and worked to determine if they meet the definition of a robot.

I also tried to enroll him in a robotics class for kids at a local university, but it was canceled due to a low enrollment. We are on the list for an electronics for kids class in November, but so far the enrollment for that one is pretty dismal as well. I've been telling all my friends with kids that they should sign up so it doesn't get canceled. I even offered free transportation if they enroll. I guess I'll have to wait and see if I get any takers.

JT has pretty much always known he wants to work in the life sciences some day. For the longest time, he only wanted to be an entomologist. Now that he is older and college is starting to loom in his future, he is broadening his potential career path to include possibilities across the entire field of biology. Lately, he has been talking about college more often. He is realizing that high school is only a year away, and after that, there won't be much time until he has to make some important decisions about his future. This new focus has really helped to ease some of my stress. He doesn't give me as much trouble when he has to do work if I can explain how it can help him meet the goal he has in mind. And that's the real key... I am avoiding giving him work that doesn't make sense for the path he wants to take. His elementary years were all about exploring a huge range of potential interests. The last year or so we have started to narrow our focus. Now that he has something specific in mind we are examining each new lesson from that point of view.

Vocabulary based on Latin and Greek roots?

Essential for an understanding of scientific terms and binomial nomenclature. 

Learning to write excellent essay answers to questions about material he has read?

Essential to form an ability to express through writing an understanding of complex new ideas presented in scientific courses.


Essential for the ability to think logically through a problem and find the correct solution.

Allowing students to learn with a purpose makes all the difference in their engagement in the process. Could this be why we keep hearing that schools are failing? Kids are not driven to succeed when they can't see the why behind what they are doing.

My purpose from here on out will be to make sure that I provide the hows for their whys.

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