Archive for March, 2011


Recently, I served as a judge in the regional round of a contest, for kindergarten through twelfth grade students, that asks students to imagine a technology that is twenty years in the future.  As with any contest of this sort, there are wonderfully creative projects as well as those which don’t meet the requirements of the competition.  The perspective that I am offering here has little to do with the quality of the projects.  Rather, I wish to focus on one idea that illustrates what I believe is one of the critical crises facing science education today.  The invention proposed by these students was a device that would be implanted in the brain and allow everything you needed to learn to be downloaded directly into your brain. I was struck by the realization that this was what students thought learning was. Everything you need to know could be downloaded into your brain and then you could regurgitate these facts at whatever point in the future you might need to produce them for someone, say on a standardized test for example.

In conversations with other educators who have served as judges for these sorts of contests we have often lamented the quality of some of the entries.  Some of my colleagues were worried about the prevalence of inventions that basically made life one which you would spend mostly in a chair outfitted with all the amenities.  While these things also concerned me, nothing disturbed me quite as much as the idea that learning involved having a download port for your brain. I am not bothered by the kids who want to invent a machine to do your homework for you. I can relate to homework being seen as a chore that it would be nice to be relieved of.  But to think of the actual process of learning as a chore that it would be nice to be rid of isn’t something I can understand.  Learning in and of itself should be a pleasurable experience, and if it is not we are robbing our children of one of life’s great wonders.

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These resources came from a presentation at the Teacher Advisory Council of the National Academy of Science.  The National Academies held a workshop last fall on the use of games and simulations in learning science.  The agenda from the workshop as well as the commissioned papers and presentations are available online at the committee’s website.  Of particular interest are a collection of YouTube videos featuring some of the simulations and games discussed at the workshop.