Monday, October 14, 2013

It's Not Really About Pringles | Oct. 4, 2013

Is it more important to teach skills or content? Similarly, is it the details or big picture we need to focus on? Before I continue, check out the video below.

Did you focus on just the "trick"? Were you able to step back and see the big picture? Or, were the background changes actually irrelevant details and you focused entirely on the cards? Sure, this is contrived, but nevertheless illustrative.

Too often, teachers are expected to "cover" a set of details and we end up missing what's really important. Whether the card was the three of hearts or the queen of spades is not significant. Solving the problem of "how they did it" is the real challenge. Take, for example, a recent problem-based learning activity in my son Ethan's fourth grade class with Mrs. Howie.

Watch the video: The Pringles Challenge 2013

You can read Ethan and his partner's summary of the project here. Students practiced math skills, writing in a voice, problem solving, communication and project management. Did you notice the "technology"? It was sprinkled in there, as a sauce to add flavor but never sustaining in itself.

Oh, and there was passion? Did I mention passion? What else could a parent ask for from a rock star teacher's lesson.

What is the content? Certainly mass and volume are important terms to know, but in this project students demonstrate that understanding, and much, much more. The kids will probably say they "learned about Pringles." We know it's not really about that.
This post is part of the Teacher Leadership Challenge, sponsored by Michigan Teacher of the Year Gary Abud. This week, he asks, "How important is the teaching of content knowledge compared to teaching thinking skills?"