Tuesday, 5 April 2022

What do students want to learn?

This question seems like a simple one but starts to make you think if schools and education settings actually prepare our children for life after school. The fundamental requirement for our schools is to prepare our community's children for life beyond school and be prepared for adult life.

I am a secondary maths teacher and on a regular basis I get asked why we need to learn these things that we are learning in my lessons and I use the simple answer that the future is uncertain and the skills that we learn in maths prepare us for unknown problems that we may face in later life that we need the skills we have learned elsewhere and apply them to these new situations. I obviously like this answer and have been honing it for some time now.

But what do our students want to learn? What are the things that I left school not knowing, or what do our students not be prepared for?

I have a tutor group, a small group of students that check in with me each morning and I check about their wellbeing and cover any academic issues, who are aged 16-18 and these students are at the point of completing secondary education. Some are destined for university, apprenticeships, or work and so I asked them this year, "What do you want to know before you leave school?" 

They started to give me this list:

  • Personal Finance
  • Insurance
  • Tax
  • Cooking
  • Rent / Mortgages
  • Car maintenance
  • Stocks and shares
  • Pensions
These are things that may be touched upon in some of our personal development lessons but are really not covered adequately and they don't feel prepared at all for things that they will end up having to use almost immediately once leaving school!

I asked this same question to teachers/ educators from a Transatlantic Educators Discussion group and they added to the list the following:
  • College Applications & Finance
  • Media literacy - fake and real news
  • Cursive writing
  • Mental health
  • Meditation
  • CV
  • How to write an email/ letter
  • Covering letters for applications
  • USA health system
  • Local Government - What is it and what does it do
  • Personal Hygiene
  • Simple Sewing
  • Building and using a network for personal support
  • Social etiquette and how this differs in other countries
  • Jury Duty
  • Voting
This is quite a list and looking at it there are some similar ideas mainly about finance, employment, and health but a reasonable part about local society and these are really not taught in our school in the UK and some of this seems to be missed in other parts of the school.

So how important is this? How much time should school devote to preparing our children for adult life as well as pushing academic subjects and preparing for final exams?

This is an impossible question. Schools are measured by students' outcomes and in some countries that comes down to the individual teachers too. The pressure that is applied to academic performance is going to prevent schools from giving more time to cover this list. Our students have enrichment opportunities each year which are used for various activities, and school trips but is this enough time to give them the proper preparation for later life? What else do we need to teach our children so that they are truly ready for later life?

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

1 hour a week - Week 1

For anyone involved in Scouting or Guiding or another sort of youth volunteering program the idea of an hour a week is often said tongue in cheek and people are often spending far more than the simple hour a week.

I decided before Christmas that I would give my children 1 hour a week of 1-1 time with them. As any parent knows trying to get any sensible time that doesn't involve trying to prise a child away from a screen during the week or getting them to stay at the dinner table long enough for a proper conversation is hard enough to do. I remember at my childrens' christenings that as parents we are the first teachers of our children and I believe that my wife and I are doing a good job of that so far. It isn't as if we get a second chance at parenting! My eldest son Isaac, 16, is about to finish secondary school and he has a plan for college and beyond although it isn't completely concrete yet and I wanted to give him some individual attention to discuss the world at large, give him some chance to ask anything, and also devote some time to give him some life lessons. I had discovered that there are a number of simple things that he is unsure about so I want to ensure he is prepared. Cameron and Hattie, 13 and 9 respectively were also keen on their individual hours a week too. I didn't really have a specific plan as to how these hours were going to go, but I decided that I want to share with them about how the world changes. So my plan was hatched.

Week 1

Cameron and I went and enjoyed a hot chocolate in our local Starbucks which I used to work at when it was a bank. One of the old strong rooms is still there but apart from that, the remains of the old bank are long gone. We talked about how things change. When it was a bank with a cash machine the weekly turnover of cash and the fraudsters that used to come in, but also the regular customers that you would get to know over the weeks that they would come in. Are these relationships with the local community being lost with the changing landscape of our towns? Another topic for another time. We also talked about why do people buy expensive coffee in a coffee shop and looked around at the people in there and hypothesized about what they had come in for and what they were talking about!

We continued talking for well over an hour and then walked back. It was a lovely first opportunity to stop and just talk and see where the conversation took us.

Isaac and I also went through our local community shops and looked at how our local landscape had changed. We didn't go back to Starbucks, I wasn't impressed with my hot chocolate, but instead, we tried Costa, I struggled to remember what the shop was before it was Costa it may have been a bank or building society but for the life of me I can't remember. Isaac made a poor decision and got a drink without sugar, but he doesn't drink any hot drinks at all. From there we walked and talked our way towards the town center. We wanted to pop into a Lidl before making it bowling with some friends. The weather had other plans and before we got into town we got drenched completely and ended up getting rescued so that we could get changed. The bowling was great incidentally as I rocked the first game and he smashed through the second.

I had planned to just go for a walk with Hattie and get some ice cream. She also isn't that interested in hot drinks at all and so we walked towards our local ice cream parlor. I can say parlor as we are blessed in our town to have a number of really good places for ice cream. Hattie was brilliant and just talked along the way and she asked if I had any money on the way as she knew there was an ice parlor on our walk! She is so amazingly sweet and wasn't disheartened when it wasn't open. So instead we walked a lot further than I had planned and we went to another one in town. Our hour turned into an hour and a half and 5km walk. We were both clearly tired when we got back.


So 1 week in and managed to just about manage the first sessions. I feel that Isaac got short-changed this week with the weather cutting our time short and actually his choice of drink from Costa. I'll try and address this in the future.