Friday, May 21, 2010

Maybe an Inch Deep Isn't Bad After All

Yesterday as I was checking out the apps I had downloaded for my new iPad a thought occurred to me I never use a productivity application to its fullest capabilities. I learn to use what I need to do when I need to do it, nothing more. This made me think: Is there something wrong with using only part of a tool if it fulfills my needs?

 I realize that it is a ridiculous question. My next thought was what if curriculum is the same way? Do students really need to have a deep understanding of every objective?  Is a basic understanding of plants good enough or do we really need to know the names of all the parts? Can't we look up what we don't know?

I understand that some knowledge is very necessary, but can you say that about most of your curriculum? Do the students really need to "deeply understand" all of it? If we spent more time teaching critical thinking, problem solving, and information vetting they could find the answers they need. Shouldn't we stop wasting their time focusing on the trivial?

Let's get back to teach curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep.


Paul Bogush said...

First question for you...
How can you develop critical thinking, problem solving, and information vetting only going an inch deep?

Also, if you let them go deep, you don't have to teach those things, they happen naturally. We "have" to teach them because they are stuck in a system and classes that are only an inch deep.

The one caveat to my plan is that there has to be freedom in the curriculum to allow the students to have responsibility and choice into what topics they dive deeply into...if you let students fill the pool, it will be deep...teachers just always are pulling the plug and because they are afraid of letting the kids swim in the deep end.

Wm Chamberlain said...

When a student finds a topic they are interested in and choose to pursue more knowledge, then we can develop critical thinking etc. The "skimming" through the topics allows them to get some background knowledge awareness. This would allow them to identify what they are interested in.

Of course this is advocating a more student centered learning experience where they have time to learn and explore. It would require a different classroom experience.

Becky Goerend said...

I'd say it depends on the subject. In math, if we tried to cover everything on the surface, there would be no mastery. In Social Studies, it may work better because then students may have choice as to what they will dive into deeper.

MrsE said...

The danger I see in teaching mile wide curriculum is in teachers making tests mile wide to match what we've taught. If you skim because everything we need can be found online it makes it more difficult to apply meaningful assessment as opposed to testing for mere fact retention.

Mile wide teaching also makes it more difficult to ignite a passion in students for a subject area. The lessons that have stuck with me are the ones where I explored deeply.

I seem to remember reading some time ago that students who learn several things deeply (to the exclusion of touching on the whole curriculum) do just as well as those who skim mile wide. Has anyone else read this idea?

Alex said...

Critical thinking, problem solving and information vetting aren't just concepts and skills that students develop in a vacuum; there needs to be some sort of context for learning these skills. In order to have students achieve that level of processing, there needs to be a firm foundation of course content.

We are ending the year with a unit on nuclear chemistry, directly relating to our local lives due to safety concerns relating to our local nuclear power plant. Deep understanding of the chemistry concepts allows them to cull through the data presented by the government, the anti-nuclear activists, the environmentalists and the energy companies in order to make informed decisions and judgments.

I feel that the critical thinking skills get taught in conjunction with a deeper scope of course content. They support each other.

edtechsteve said...

I like the notion of exposing kids to many different concepts/ideas so they can discover their passions and then following through with the depth once they've uncovered what they are interested in.

The problem I have with that is there are lots of kids out there that are like I was in middle and high school- they've got no clue what they're into. Or, what they are into in high school will drastically change once they are graduated. This is fine, of course, but I fear that this starts to look too much like tracking- identifying students in one way, aligning their studies to fit that passion, and then when they change their minds later they are further behind their peers.

I am definitely interested in this idea, though- it's worth knocking around some more. At one time I thought it'd be really cool to have a K-12 multiple intelligence focused school. Where, say, in K-5 students are exposed in meaningful ways to all intelligences, then 6-8 narrow their tendencies down to 3 intelligences and match them with teachers that share these same tendencies....then in 9-12 each year they further identify and specialize based on intelligence (as well as are matched with teachers that are congruent with them). This was a random idea that I've never thought of again until just now, but these types of "start broad, let student drive the process to depth" ideas are interesting to me.

edtechsteve said...

Another thing to consider- I'm seeing that kids of this generation are finding their passions easier and easier. The information age they're living in allows them to be easy experts early. It's a cool thing to watch.

concretekax said...

I agree with Paul that the way to develop the problem solving and critical thinking is by going deeper and that the key to this is student choice. In my math class I have had to "move on" to the next unit even though I know some of my students do not understand the current content because I have to meet all of my standards for the year.

I would argue that we already only go an inch deep.

Wm Chamberlain said...

@concretekax I would argue we are stuck somewhere in the middle. In depth study requires more time than we can often allow; too many objectives. Yet we still believe objectives need deep understanding; not enough time.