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The Art of a Well-Rounded Education

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Last week, I went to the local middle school to guest-teach a lesson on computer science to a group of 6th graders.  My particular brand of computational thinking education is very hands-on, relying on craft projects and games to illustrate key ideas. Imagine my surprise when the students flew through the lesson on algorithms, but got tripped up tying knots!

As the lesson came to an end, the teacher thanked me for coming and said in a hushed tone, "This was good for them. They need more practice using their hands.  Most of my students can't even cut out shapes with scissors these days."

Floored by that revelation, I decided to compare notes from other groups.  Sure enough, in short experiments, knot tying was a hurdle for kids grades K-8.  It's not just in my part of the world, either.  Back in March, a British survey claimed that school children are excelling in technology and lacking in common life skills. Many believe that this is due to a decrease in time during the school day for subjects like art and music. This phenomenon has been studied and documented, defended and dismissed, but I continue to maintain that the rise of one specialty does not have to oust traditional talents.

My solution is simple and approachable.  Some call it Blended Learning, but really it's a common sense approach toward maintaining handicraft through education.  Just like I encourage my sons to "read the book" before they see a movie, I encourage students to experience concepts through real-life exercises before they play with technical simulations.  Tie knots.  Fold origami.  Play with Legos.  These things can teach you about anything from mathematics to programming to African savannas.  Best of all, it appeals to additional learning styles which aren't satisfied by purely audio or visual cues.

This is not to say that the responsibility falls squarely on the schools.  The most promising approach is really to integrate these types of projects into fun activities at home and outside of school hours.  Encourage your children (or your friend's children) to make paper airplanes!  Use them to learn about aerodynamics.  That's fun at any age.

If you think that coming up with hands-on activities for your geography lesson, astronomy class, or book club is too difficult, hop on over to Pinterest.  Excellent teachers are pinning examples of hands-on curriculum all the time.  Don't see anything specific to your particular subject?  Send a tweet to me at @kiki_lee and I will personally help you find well-rounded activities for your kiddos.