Fab Fridays 14: The Game of School

Why We Learn

Hey all!

Greetings from Panama.

This week I did two interviews: one with Kelly Smith from Prenda Learn micro-schools and one with David Perell.

In the first interview with Kelly, I talk about my journey and how my perception of learning has changed over the years. I share my experience growing up in 7 countries, what I realized by going to 10 different schools, and the importance of giving kids agency over their learning.

In the second interview, David and I talk about our views on childhood education and Write of Passage Summer Camp, our online learning project.

A common theme in both interviews is learning, so I decided to expand on this topic in this week’s issue.

Summer Camp Pilot Program #2

I’m happy to announce we will be doing a second pilot program for Write of Passage Summer Camp with 20 kids ages 9-11 from May 18—May 29, 2020.

It will be a 2-week program with eight 90-minute live sessions on Zoom.

Live sessions will be Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, & Fridays from 3:00-4:30 CT / 4:00–5:30 EST.

Write of Passage Summer Camp is a virtual space for kids to explore ideas, create meaningful projects, and make friends from all over the world.

Over the course of 2 weeks, kids will identify a problem that they feel passionate about, come up with an idea to solve it, and turn that idea into a prototype that they will present. Campers will learn how to be creative together and experience the radiant energy of live online learning.

In our first pilot, one student created a newsletter on rescuing dogs in her community, and another one came up with a prototype for cooking gear that would be safe and easy to use for kids. All kids created something, and their projects were AMAZING!

Kids had a blast learning through making and exploring their interests. Take a look at our vibrant chat after session 1:

Click here to learn more and sign up! Or please share this email with a parent of a 9-11 year old.

Why We Learn

Humans are designed, by nature, to learn. We learn through self-directed play and exploration. We learn by doing and by trial and error. We learn when we have a specific need or desire, or when we are physically involved in something. We learn by digging deep into topics of interest. We learn by teaching others and when we see the impact or consequence of what we are learning.

Turns out, the way formal school is set up does not match the usual ways humans learn. 

We've taken learning out of context by putting it into an institutional framework that prioritizes grades, conformity, and compliance over joy, curiosity, and exploration. A framework that is disconnected from student’s interests, increasingly irrelevant to what happens in the real world, and largely divorced from what we know about how and why students learn.

While this may work for some kids, for most others learning in this context leads to resistance, corner-cutting, and fixation on grades and credentials. Worse yet, they tend to forget what they “learned,” once they take the test. 

Think about your own school experience. How much of the “learning” that happened in school stuck over the years? I’m guessing very little. 

That’s because the learning that occurs in formal schooling is mostly an imitation of learning. 

Many adults have a hard time seeing this because kids are adaptable and, in an attempt to navigate a flawed system, they pick up on how to do things in order to appear as if they are  “learning”. In other words, kids learn how to play the game of school.

The Game of School 

The game of school is easy to master. Kids quickly pick up on what a “successful student” looks like: they raise their hand every few minutes to get their participation grade, appear to be paying attention in class, and figure out what the teacher wants in order to produce it. They try to get away with doing as little as possible and learn what to do in order to pass the test. Many default to cutting corners so they can get the  “learning” out of the way as quickly as possible and head off to do what really matters to them. 

Can we blame them? Given the framework we’ve created for school, what incentives do kids have to value “learning” over grades? None that I can see. 

The good news is, learning is not strictly limited to what happens in school. Kids can learn anywhere.

We need to give similar importance to how kids can learn outside of school.  

One way to to this is encouraging them to solve problems that they care to solve because they are meaningful to them - and that’s where we’re starting at Summer Camp.

Until next week,

Ms. Fab