What if we asked school students to solve real-life problems? Real-time? For example, a large capital city’s pollution problem?
What if we asked them to use their understanding of history, civics, geography, combine it with mathematics and psychology, and then some physics and chemistry, maybe some computer science too? What if they had to bring common sense and learning to the table, work with each other and suggest a solution that might work while showing them how their learning was useful to real life? They might just bring amazing new solutions that are welcome, and they will certainly bring a whole new level of appreciation of learning.
What if teachers had to show their students how to use real-life numbers to construct problems, not just solve them? What if school heads had to demonstrate leadership that moves everybody together to work for the larger good? Let us take the case of the pollution problem of Delhi – and see if the students of Delhi (all others welcome – this is a good, comprehensive and very interesting question with everyday relevance) can come together to make sense of it.
The pollution problem can be designed for children across the whole school. Younger children can learn to search for information and research what has been said about the problem for this city. The youngest can draw and color to demonstrate their understanding of pollution and its impact. Language teachers can ask students to write prose or verse describing the problem. History students could explore the reasons for such pollutants to exist, geographers understand how the lay of the land brings polluting winds and captures particulate matter. Civics brings to the fore regulations, co-operation and enforcement.
Science teachers can ask them to work out the various bits of matter that exist where they should not – and the impact they have on the human body. Computer science students could create applications and algorithms that measure and share information about air quality or build databases that track and analyze pollution data. Senior classes can work to a deeper understanding of the real issues at hand – what is the question really? What should they be seeking? How to structure a citywide problem? What are the resources they should seek? How do they get the resources? The school may even have innovation teams designing solutions to the problem from plugin ionizers to giant exhaust fans to artificial rain clouds and so much more.
All it takes is a day to transform a school from a rote learning machine into an active problem-solving engine for good. To make a start at the very least. Some schools manage to do this systematically and have a calendar of themed days that are slotted through the school year. These schools choose their themes according to their philosophy and the curriculum and often end up creating a school tradition that many would remember even after many years. Other schools may simply respond to regulation or directives and go through the motions of creating a ‘different’ way of learning about the theme. Whichever type of school you are – you will agree. This is how we create the innovators, the engineers, the problem solvers – and indeed – the politicians of the future. Don’t forget to make your teams debate their ideas and fight intelligently for what they think is right for all. You could even call them theme champions because this is how schools foster winners.
These days are a great way to bring a sense of energy to connecting learning with the real world. If the theme is a traditional one, it could even become a festival. If a current theme, it engages the student and connects the community in a way that no traditional lesson ever can achieve. Sometimes, a school should also allow themselves the freedom to take advantage of great opportunities to engage in whole-school learning experiences that allow students to apply their textbook-based learning to life and their own future. This is one such time.
If you are a teacher, or a school leader – or know a school – what fun exercise could you design for your classes to help them bring their learning to life? Go on, try it. It could be a fun learning experience.