Because our middle level learners are ready for more independence, age-appropriate challenges, and they crave mastery of skills, we need to teach them differently. Middle level learners need to spend less time memorizing content and more time developing skills. They need to imagine more, choose more, produce more so that they like school more. A skill-centered curriculum, using content as a vehicle for skill development, is the future of middle level education.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Why kids in the middle grades need a skill-centered curriculum

Our schools simply do not do enough to engender a gratifying sense of independence that empowers young people, and tipping the scales towards a more skill-centered curriculum can change that. A curriculum centered around skill-development stands to make young people attach to their academic setting much more vigorously. If on a daily basis, kids are mastering skills and applying them to produce results, they will find the academic aspect of school as engaging or fulfilling as the social, artistic, and athletic aspects typically are. 

Kids love to master skills, because skills allow them to do things own their own. Now, if you work with kids ages 11-15, you know well that little makes them feel better than independence, and skill mastery is a great source of independence. When kids can do things on their own, they feel good about themselves, they feel empowered. A happy and empowered kid is one who will learn effectively and feel attached to his or her environment.

The shortcoming of a content-centered curriculum, as most middle school core academic classes are, is that it bores kids and alienates them from the potential value of subjects they are studying. Kids in this age group are not very interested in information that is not applicable: they want to know things so that they can do things with the information. A skill-centered curriculum uses the content as a medium for teaching the skills. As a result, kids interaction with the information is positive: it always leads to skill utilization and independent production.

So if we limit our content delivery to what facilitates skill development, and then spend our teaching time helpings kid master and apply skills, we will have kids who love being at school.

Monday, July 1, 2013

littleBits Delivers an Important Skill

Last week at Launch Education and Kids, I saw a really high quality presentation about littleBits. This is a company that has already been well funded and is marketing itself fairly broadly. The founder, Ayah Bdeir, had her company be a sponsor of Launch Education and Kids, and she presented at the opening as an example of an educational technology product that has both a clear educational mission and is experiencing some real success.

littleBits is brilliant. If you have not yet seen this circuit building Lego style activity set- they call it an "open source library of electronic modules that snap together with magnets for prototyping, learning and fun"- you need to check it out. It's attractive, easy to use, and really fun to play around with. The company seeks to help young people understand how circuitry works in the electonics around us. They have a strong commitment to empowering young people with concrete, interactive experiences that will help demystify what is both omnipresent and taken for granted. As kids build the snap together circuits, with pieces that are color coded for function, they can create light, sound, and motion outputs. The tactile element is obviously a great appeal, but the skill delivered here is not necessarily related to that- unless you have a class full of budding electricians.

The value of littleBits for the middle level learner is one of empowerment through demystification. We know how much this age group needs to feel control of their surroundings and how much they crave autonomy; the psychological effect of grasping how everyday objects work is really positive for them.  When circuitry, thus technology, can be explained as something physical, when it can be visualized and controlled on the most basic level, the world of the middle-level learner becomes less controlled by outside forces, less scary. It becomes less the source of disenfranchisement, less the object of self-protecting detachment. Seeing their world this way is a skill they need to master- and it certainly is a skill that middle level learners love to practice.

So my conclusion is that, if you are looking for educational technology that will engage your students on the level of meaningful skill development, littleBits is a winner  And as the company moves forward with their plans for leveled and programmable units, the product will grow even more valuable.