Friday, September 19, 2014

The magic learning zone

Second and third graders, a typically wiggly and talkative lot, scattered themselves across the field and crouched in quiet concentration.  Clipboard and pencil in hand, each observed and drew what was before them - goldenrod at the edge of the meadow, the fence line by the pond, the edge of the school building silhouetted against the play yard.
Annie Murphy Paul in this terrific article, How the Power of Interest Drives Learning analyzes what factors spark students' deep absorption in study, and how to generate and extend it.  "The feelings that characterize interest are overwhelmingly positive: a sense of being energized and invigorated, captivated and enthralled," she writes.

Interest in the topic or task puts kids into a prime learning zone.  Watch the intense concentration when they try to program a LEGO robot to pick up a ball.  They'll beg to keep going, forget lunch, and keep on trying until they've got it.

I've watched Parker students in the zone: in third grade when a student wrote his fifth essay about the industrial era in Troy, and in middle school when a group used every extra minute to perfect a Rube Goldberg contraption to pour cat food into a bowl.  I see it in their absolute fascination at the pond exclaiming over frogs and wondering about new water creatures.  Or in the preparations for a Shakespeare performance.

Designing a curriculum that sparks interest and connects learning to what's meaningful is every Parker teacher's goal. When children are interested in the task, their motivation is sky high and there is no limit to what they can accomplish.

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