Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How to Get Students to Work to Their Full Potential

By Sean Scarpiello

Looking back into my years as a grade school student, I feel as if we, as students, were not really pushed to our full potential. While questions were encouraged by teachers, very few of these questions extended into the analysis of the material we were learning. Questions were primarily based on confusion or misunderstanding of the material. While this is fine, I feel as if the majority of my educational career consisted of students sitting back and absorbing information as it was presented. Once students get to college, there is a spike in the use of the students’ minds. College differs from all previous schooling because professors begin to challenge students to think in new and different ways than before. Most of all, college forces students to not only absorb the information they learn, but apply, evaluate, analyze, and challenge it.

I would not say that applications of higher degrees of learning are missing in grade school, but there is much less of it. Students first begin to apply what they learn in math class. After learning about the values of numbers and the principles surrounding addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, students were then put to the test of applying these principles towards problems they had not seen previously. Yet often times in math, students are still pushed to simply memorize and regurgitate information. When I leaned my multiplication tables in 3rd grade, we were taught to memorize them. We instantly thought of 3x3 as 9, rather than thinking 3+3+3=9. More often than not, younger students either love math or completely hate it. I wonder if this is because it requires upper level thinking which is tough and tiresome for many students at a young age. While this may be, many students continue to have an aversion to math.

The next time students are really asked to apply their knowledge comes in high school when writing essays for classes like social studies or on tests in math and science. Teachers now begin to nudge students into formulating their own opinions in political science courses, while science teachers ask students to address questions about complex phenomena by asking more questions to get a better idea of information. Either way, students are not as engaged as possible, causing many students to be bored with the material because they haven’t found their niche in school. However, once students do find their place in subjects like math, science, writing, psychology, or political science, they quickly become much more actively engaged on their own and later flourish in college.

A major way we could address this issue in schools is by simply utilizing technology. While technology is expensive, it is an extremely easy way for students to begin to challenge themselves at an early age. Many applications allow students to grasp concepts more quickly, and then apply them. By continuously testing themselves in subjects like grammar, math, science, writing, and history, students will develop a basis for higher level thinking early in their academic careers. Then, students will be able to innately carry over this same kind of critical thinking and analysis into other subjects and into their daily lives. Devices such as iPads and Leap Frogs are full of applications and programs which actively engage students to apply their knowledge in a manner that is fun and fascinating for them. There are even more simulations and programs that can be implemented in a classroom setting that gets all types of students to evaluate, analyze, apply, and use the material that they learn in class to solve problems and generate discussion.

In all, while it seems as if students are not utilizing their full potential in class, this can easy be fixed by implementing technology in school. When students are actively applying themselves in a way that is fun and interesting for them, they will be more likely to learn higher level thinking skills earlier and be able to apply these skills both in and out of the classroom.

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