Learning from Rube Goldberg:More than one way to teach a lesson

There is more than one way to teach a lesson.  Even if it’s the most basic lesson.  No two people learn in the identical way.  What may be a successful learning experience for one person, may impair another’s learning.

Although the essential curricular goals and objectives may be similar for the learners, methodologies employed must be varied to support the individual needs of all students in order to maximize the chance that each student will succeed.  This is referred to as differentiation.

Differentiation essentially suggests that teachers have clear learning goals that are rich in meaning and relevant to students’ lives, and provide various avenues and support systems to maximize the chances of each student succeeding to master those vitally important goals.

Differentiated instruction, according to Carol Ann Tomlinson is the process of “ensuring that what a student learns, how he/she learns it, and how the student demonstrates what he/she has learned is a match for that student’s readiness level, interests, and preferred mode of learning”

In differentiated instruction students are placed at the center of teaching and learning.

When I was in my K-12 years I doubt anyone used the term “differentiated instruction” but I wished they had.  Instead of seeing myself as a successful student, I more often than not saw myself as the lone student applauding my peers at the academic achievement assemblies.  They stood beaming at the front of the room proudly displaying their academic awards.  I sat alone applauding them.

If only I’d been given alternative options to demonstrate that I, too, mastered the content.

In 9th grade I was on to something when I designed and created an architectural wonder meant to crack eggs without human intervention.  The plumbing parts left behind by the previous owner in the house we had just moved into delighted my mind and encouraged my creativity.  Physics, mathematics, sketching designs, abstract thinking and perseverance all factored into the final product, but received little if any accolades from the teacher.  I recently stumbled upon a YouTube video – that while it abundantly exceeds my 9th grade project – reminded me yet again, that if only I’d been encouraged to seek alternative routes… who knows what talents and skills I might have developed.

“Students want to learn differently than in the past. And that is why we need to partner. The key change and challenge for all 21st century teachers is to become comfortable not with the details of new technology, but rather with a different and better kind of pedagogy: partnering.” (Marc Prensky, Teaching Digital Natives 2010)

Using technology to support diverse learners is the intersection of yesterday, today and tomorrow and it allows educators to partner with their students in ways education has never experienced before.  Bad teaching… gam zeh ya’avor this too must pass.

I’m a Jewish educator who works with Jewish educators and through a recent opportunity afforded to me through YU20’s Institute for University School Partnership I’m finding creative ways to use my talents and skills to enhance the learning for students in Jewish supplementary education programs.   The objective of these programs is to engage today’s youth in meaningful, relevant, engaging and fun experiences that will firmly set them on their Jewish identity pathway.  The goal is lifelong Jewish learning, living and involvement.  The roadmap for achieving this must be varied to support the individual needs of all students in order to maximize the chance that each student will succeed.

A long time ago I learned a basic lesson.  Learning doesn’t happen when students aren’t encouraged to demonstrate what they’ve learned.  Especially when the teacher expects that the “demonstration” must look a particular way.

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2 Responses to Learning from Rube Goldberg:More than one way to teach a lesson

  1. Natalie Rusk says:

    I wonder what else you remember about your “architectural wonder meant to crack eggs without human intervention”? So interesting that you thought to make that (an intriguing contrast to the now-widespread activity to make something that protects an egg from breaking 🙂 ). Interesting also that it was the materials you found that helped inspire it.

    It’s too bad to hear that your science teacher didn’t support it. It bespeaks roles teachers can play by encouraging learning through tinkering. It reminds me of a story that Mitchel writes about a marble machine that a science teacher at first did not accept as a science fair project: http://web.media.mit.edu/~mres/papers/playlearn-handout.pdf (Also of Temple Grandin’s story of the importance of her science teacher encouraging her idea of designing and building a “hug machine”, to apply calming pressure.)

    • edjewcation says:

      Sadly, I remember shame and the art of pretending it didn’t matter to me. I remember that in Gr10 when given the choice of chemistry or typing, I chose typing.

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