In reading Chapters 5-7 of Dr. Katie Martin’s Learner Centered Innovation, I once again found myself in a state of constant reflection while personalizing her words. I have been impressed with her ability to take theory and allow it to be internalized at the level of day to day instruction with not only the students in my class, but within my personal world outside of the classroom. In this reading, I thought a lot about the daughter of two of my very close friends: Luci. Katie does a fantastic job of intertwining personal stories of her loved ones, her friends, and her own experience in the classroom. In this vein, I would like to share Luci’s story through the lens of a young lady who’s very educational world is one that is based in Learner Centered Innovation.
I have known Luci her entire life. I met her 5 days after she was born, and I have watched her grow into a fascinating young lady. She is now eight, and I have been lucky enough to interact with her on a regular basis. She has one of the most curious souls I have ever encountered, as I again encountered last summer while traveling with her in Yellowstone National Park. As we encountered a herd of American Bison, I told her that the Lakota word for bison is “Tatanka”. After several hours of driving, I still had not satiated her desire to know more about this word and other facets of Lakota culture. After all, “Mr. Rich, you know I am Native American. This is important for me to know.” I was exhausted telling her stories of the Plains tribes and she drank up every word. All while in the most beautiful surroundings in North America. Relevant, personal, authentic, Engaging, Empowered learning. I share this story because Luci has had trouble fitting in to the compliant based system of learning she was experiencing at school. Luci doesn’t rebel against learning, but was rebelling against school. she needs (As Dr. Martin points out on page 166 of Learning Centered Innovation) “…personal learning experiences that can allow students to apply their newly learned skill in ways that are meaningful and relevant to them…”
She would regularly feel sad about school, but spend hours at home on her iPad learning how to code, how to build, how to dance, how to play Minecraft, how to cook, how to speak Lakota, how to read, how to sing, and even memorize the Periodic Table of Elements. Just yesterday, she saw a picture of Gandhi in my classroom. She turned to me and said: “Gandhi was an inspiration to Dr. Martin Luther King.” I hit the floor. I called over her mother from the class next door and asked Luci to repeat this. We teach 10th grade, and it would be a stretch to imagine that 50% could have made this connection. I asked her how she knew this, her response was: “I googled it, because he is Indian” (Luci recently received a DNA test from Ancestry.Com that indicated she may have Indian relatives—relevance to her!) Then, she proceeded to tell us how Dr. King “Believed in the content of your character, not the color of your skin.”
She is Eight.
She learned this on her own.
Her report cards indicated that she didn’t listen to directions, and had trouble keeping focus.
With all due respect to the hard working individuals who have been her instructors in school life, there was a fundamental and pedagogical misunderstanding about teaching young minds like Luci. Dr. Martin asks the questions “If we aren’t providing opportunities to engage in personal and meaningful learning, what are we doing? Are we educating for life or school?”
Luci loves learning, but struggles in the compliant based system that places scores and results over learning. Classrooms that “limit students to what [the teacher] knows” in the words of Dr. Martin. A focus on standards being used as checklists and not guides. A system which “fills the pail” but doesn’t “light the fire“.
“Chickens”, he said. “I already know about butterflies.”
This brings me to my title. Luci has a fascination with Pi. Why? Hard to say. She sees it as a challenge, and wants to know all she can about it. In the past month, she has moved into a learning environment which allows for her creativity and curiosity to take center stage. I have never seen her happier, and her Mom and Dad are adoringly thrilled with the fire back in her eyes. At her new experience, in Math they asked her what she wanted to know about. She said Pi. And here she is. At eight years old, figuring out the use of Pi in Math as opposed to completing standards based, redundant, compliant driven worksheets on math concepts that hold little relevance to her. She had moved past those concepts long ago, but was stuck on a treadmill that was dulling her spirit. No longer. Her goal is not only to memorize Pi. (she is up to 20 numbers) but to learn how it is used. How it is applied. How it is relevant.
Tomorrow is “Pi Day” around the world. It may as well be Christmas for Luci. Her school is taking the time to bake pies in class and for Luci to explain the importance of this function. This will never be on a standardized test, yet I am certain that 30 years from now when she is working at Google (Her goal) she will remember the day she made pie at school and explained to her mates what it meant.
While the system wanted to push butterflies on Luci, she wanted to know about chickens. She already knows about butterflies.
Thanks Dr. Martin, your writing is wonderful in its relevance to our experience as not only educators, but in our own personal lives watching our dear young ones grow. Thank you for sharing your personal stories. Quid Pro Quo.
(Luci reading to me in our Lodge in Jackson Hole Wyoming about Animals in the Park after our 5 hour car lesson on the Plains Indians. Hi-Lite of my trip)