April 7, 2011

By jleffron


One Comment

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Expert Opinions

Reflections on the 500 Words Project

Looking back at the Purpos/Ed 500 Words project, what strikes me most is not any particular post (although there were a number that were impressive and thought provoking).  It is not the occasional debates that cropped up; although a few got rather vigorous, I think often even participants in the most heated discussions were (at heart) in violent agreement with each other, at least as far as their deep commitment to students.

What sticks most clearly in my mind are events that never made into my 500 Words.

Meeting with the ‘End Users’

Two weeks ago, I was sitting by a basketball court, doing some final editing of my post, while a group of about 20 teens were shooting hoops and joking around, in a game that seemed to have no recognizable rules. Periodically someone would stop by and ask what I was doing.   I realized I had a golden opportunity – here was a group deep in the midst of their formal education and who are mainly remarkable in that they are very comfortable in their own skins; they don’t feel a need to impress.

So, after I told them what I was doing, I asked them:

“What do you think is the purpose of education?”

It’s not surprising that the first reaction was something along the lines of “It’s so when we grow up we can get jobs and have a good life”, often delivered with a tone that implied they viewed this platitude-like response with a hint of contempt, not fully doubting it, but wearied of having it said to them so often.

But then, something would happen.  They’d catch themselves mid-answer, and stop parroting what they figured was expected.   And you could see them thinking; see their eyes lighting up with inner conviction, it seemed like they were no longer talking to me, but having an inner conversation.  Almost without exception, they would start talking about education being about something more than jobs or personal gain, about how it’s purpose was to equip them to to do something of worth for their country, or for the world.

At a fundamental level, they each saw the purpose of education as leading to something bigger than themselves. And were willing to do the work it took to get to that “something bigger”.

Those conversations left me impressed and hopeful for the future.  They also made it clear that learners of any age have little tolerance for learning if they see it as pointless, but have impressive drive if they grasp that the work they are doing is a stepping stone to something bigger, something that matters.





  • Paul Simbeck-Hampson said on April 8, 2011

    Hi Janet, what a great story, thanks for sharing.

    Last night I had a similar thing occur with my daughter. On my Android phone I have an App called Shazam. When music is playing it will recognise the song and return a whole host of relevant content including links to: videos, Amazon, tour info, recommendations, lyrics, Facebook, Twitter, SMS, Email, discography, ringtones etc…

    My daughter loves to sing, but doesn’t always know the words. I watched her listening to the radio and playing with Shazam. She would activate the app and go to the lyrics page and would then sing/read along. She did this with five or six songs, totally engaged, and as I watched I saw how happy she was to be learning.

    She was reading in English while listening and following text, while singing and interacting with technology. When she had a question she asked, but once she had mastered the basics, I just let her get on with it. All her pathways were lit up and because it was in context to what she loved, I’m sure if she continues she will improve her language skills very quickly. Isn’t that a great way to learn a language?

    I think there needs to be less teaching and more focus on discovering passions and matching them to contextual doing; teachers need to be there to support when requested, but in general, get out of the way and lets kids enjoy learning.

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