Sunday, April 15, 2012

Don Peek; Promoting a Skills-Based Curriculum

This post is authored by Don Peek, a former educator and past president of the training division of Renaissance Learning. He now runs The School Funding Center, a company that provides grant information and grant-writing services to schools. To learn more, or to subscribe to the School Funding Center Grant Database, go to schoolfundingcenter.

Promoting a Skills-Based Curriculum

It’s nice to know all the states and capitals in the United States.  It’s great to be able to list the Presidents of the United States in order.  Unfortunately, most students don’t get a lot of use from this information once they leave school.   Well --- unless they get to be a guest on Jeopardy. 

I taught at the middle school level for eight years before I became an administrator of one kind or another for twelve more years.  I then worked as a public speaker for six years.  I did staff development in hotels and in schools for both teachers and administrators.

One of my favorite parlor tricks was to give a short quiz to my audience so they could quickly understand how much time we sometimes waste in schools.  Here are a few of the questions:

What were the beginning and ending years of the Civil War?                                                                                    

Write down the Pythagorean Theorem?

What was the real name of the famous American writer O. Henry?

What is the capital of South Dakota?

What is the formula for common table salt?

Write the rule for punctuating a sentence if a subordinate conjunction comes in middle of a sentence.

Those are 6 questions from my 10 question quiz (answers are at the bottom of this blog).  How many did you get right?  The average score in my seminars was 3 or 4 out of 10 at the most.

Most of you reading this blog have one or more college degrees.  You’ve had to memorize the information above at least once during your career as a student.  Yet you probably did no better on this quiz than my seminar attendees.

Students spend countless amounts of time in school memorizing information when, in reality, they should be learning and practicing skills.  Reading is a skill.  Keyboarding is a skill.  Using the computer as a research tool is a skill.  Speaking in front of an audience is a skill. 

Skills may get rusty if you don’t use them often enough, but you won’t lose them the way you do when you memorize information.  If you were ever able to ride a bike, you still can.  Your skill level may fade a bit, but with a little practice, it comes right back to you.

Learning as many skills as possible is important to every student, but it is especially important to students who are learning disabled or have other disabilities.  It’s important that they read and understand at the highest level possible, that they can read and interpret every type of warning sign,  that they can use computers to access information and also to entertain themselves, and that they can communicate effectively.  The list of skills they need goes on and on.

Will students at times have to memorize information to use these skills effectively.   Yes, they will, but that’s really the only valid reason to have student memorize most information.

Employers these days don’t really want to know what you know.  They want to know what you can do with what you know.  In other words, they want to know a potential employee’s skill set.

Unless we’re trying to create the world’s greatest Jeopardy contestants, it’s time to move our schools toward skills-based curricula rather than spending so much time on memorization.

Answers to the quiz: 1. 1861-1865, 2. a² + b² = c², 3. William Sydney Porter, 4. Pierre, 5. NaCl (sodium chloride), 6. If a subordinate clause comes at the beginning of a sentence, place a comma after the clause. If the subordinate clause comes at the end of the sentence, you do not need a comma.
Grant Info:

Grant Name:  Patterson Foundation Grants

Funded By:  Patterson Foundation

Description:  The foundation provides resources to programs and to nonprofit organizations in the areas of oral health, animal health, and occupational and physical rehabilitation. The foundation also supports educational programs, and programs for youth and for the economically disadvantaged. It also provides educational scholarships for dependents of Patterson Dental Co. employees. Grants are made nationwide and in Canada.   

Program Areas:  Disabilities, Family Services, General Education, Health/PE, Math, Reading, Science/Environment, Social Studies, Special Education

Recipients:  Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline:  5/1/12

Average Amount: $2,000.00 - $20,000.00

Telephone:  651-686-1929

Availability:  All States

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