Sunday, February 27, 2011

How To Teach Geography to Teenagers

So I had a glimpse recently into a concrete benefit of this trip that we've yet to depart on.  During the past year each of my two kids took a semester class in geography.  They approached the course with varying degrees of effort and success, but what they had in common was a general lack of interest in the subject.  Each of them slogged through the content, and both were surprised and dismayed to find the final exam included actual maps full of countries and capitols they were supposed to be able to complete. Honestly I didn't pay a lot of attention.  I was busy with my own classes and I'm sad to report that, while they do work very hard at their schoolwork, I am pretty used to their frequently uninspired approach to learning.

Then, last week, something happened that made me pay attention. Wilder, during a casual discussion about possible RTW routes, left the room that houses the television to consult a decorator map that hangs in our living room with the purpose of locating, then comparing and contrasting, the locations of Easter Island and the Galapagos.  There ensued a discussion of the relative merits of each during which Peyton referenced a report she had written during a previous year and we googled the two destinations to add to our knowledge.  They were interested, and they were engaging in the learning!

Since then we've spent a lot of time together comparing and contrasting potential routes and destinations.  I don't believe it's exaggerating to say the kids have learned more about geography through the process of planning this trip than they did in a semester of classroom work.  It appears the concept of road schooling is already bearing fruit!

Many of you have been asking how we plan to handle the formal portion of the kids' schooling.  The answer is we don't have a complete plan yet but we have lots of ideas.  We are very lucky in that our kids attend a wonderful Catholic private school with very high standards but also with visionary leaders.  They clearly believe in creativity as a vital element of learning and in technology as a powerful tool to aid in the process.  We are looking forward to working with those leaders to forge a creative plan that will ensure our kids get the formal education they need while still allowing us to provide them with this life changing adventure.

What Else Will we Learn?

Geography is perhaps the most obvious of subjects to benefit from this trip, but I know there will be many others.  Opportunities to practice and work on our Spanish language skills will certainly be frequent.  Also in 10th grade the curriculum includes World History.  What better way could there possibly be to learn the history of the world than to visit the sites of the events you are learning about?  Literature has lots of possibilities as we plan to select reading materials that are relevant to the regions we are visiting.  Our physical education program is guaranteed to be fabulous as our main mode of transportation will be by foot and highlights will include bungee jumping and the like.  Finally our kids study religion and this subject too lends itself beautifully to world travel.  I can't imagine a better spiritual education than low cost travel through the developing world.

Why Motivation Matters

While the degree I'm working on focuses on leadership, it is technically a doctorate of education and therefore I have some coursework in that area.  The professors at Pepperdine are great, and were really key to the genesis of the big idea and my decision to pitch it to my family.  On the topic of education one of my professors recently paraphrased a quote by Barbara Lamping in order to draw us a mental picture depicting the problem with unmotivated students,

"Standing and lecturing at students who aren't interested in learning, and calling it teaching, is like throwing marshmallows at their heads and calling it feeding."

Another of my professors, Dr. Mark Allen, during a discussion about our recent reading of Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed exhorted us with,

"Students are not vessels to be filled, but fires to be lit."

I believe this trip is going to help light the fire in my kids, to excite them about learning, and to bring them back with a new and better appreciation for their teachers, the subject matter, and the vital role they themselves play in their own education.

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