Rada Muica [inspired by "Experience and education", John Dewey
Building new school systems based on positive actions. The continuous nature of experience
According to the definition, Alternative education is a blanket term encompassing many different pedagogical approaches differing from that of the mainstream pedagogy employed in a culture. Most ( if not all) alternative pedagogies available have their roots in the principles and claims of experiential education, a philosophy of education that describes the process that occurs between a teacher and student that infuses direct experience with the learning environment and content.
As city population is on the rise, causing problems for the state educational systems in terms of managing the quantitative ( too many students) and qualitative ( few teachers unable to deliver a well thought, individual educational experience) and as the Internet became an accessible source of information for most city dwellers, alternative educational systems have started receiving even more attention than they did before. Parents and aspiring teachers, disappointed by the ways of the „traditional” schooling system, seek out alternatives. Given this context, it is of vital importance that, in the enthusiasm of building a better future for the next generations, people keep themselves informed correctly about the what, why and how of educational alternatives.
John Dewey, an American philosopher whose influence manifested itself most strongly in the field of education, wrote a book entitled Experience and Education in which he analyzes both „traditional” and „progressive”, or as we nowadays call them alternative, education systems.
According to Dewey, traditional school systems see the education of young minds as the acquiring of new bodies of information and skills worked out by other people in the past, organized to prepare the young for the responsibilities and success envisioned by adults for them. Schools inflict a moral training of conformity, implemented through strict standards and rules of conduct and having docility, receptivity and obedience as values and markers of „successful students”. The teachers are merely the agents through which knowledge and skills are communicated, and it is their job to reinforce behavior through rewards or punishments. The whole learning process is a static one, imposing adult standards on younger minds and based on the assumption that things in the future will be pretty much like those in the past .
However, it is undeniable that our world is ever-changing. In this context, progressive education brings forth values such as expression and cultivation of individuality, learning through experience, the acquiring of skills relevant to the individual and society and making the most out of the present life in such a dynamic world. The thing that Dewey warns about in his book is the building of new systems as a reaction, rejection and opposition to the old. As he poetically puts it, „human beings like to think in extremes”. We are heavily inclined toward an either/or philosophy concerning everything, from morality to daily life. In this context, the famous education philosopher urges toward a positive and constructive development of purposes, methods, relationships and subjects in progressive schools, and not a negative one born as a counter-reaction to the things not going well in traditional school systems.
Moreover, Dewey emphasizes the need of a coherent, solid theory of experiences. Even though often times experience is seen as the equal of education, a mere experience, disconnected from a broader context and environment, does not equal education. What’s more, some experience can be mis-educative. It is the case of traditional school systems, which does provide their learners with experiences- experiences of conformity, of disconnection from the natural world, of frustration, of fear of authority – experiences which can be categorized as defective, pointing towards the development of a wrong character, of an anxious, depressed, problematic personality for the children who do not fit the standard.
John Dewey claims that every experience and its quality can be measured on two scales – the agreeableness or disagreeableness of the experience, and its influence upon latter experiences. From a developmental and psychological point of view, growth is a continuum- which means, every meaningful and relevant experience an individual has shapes one or more aspects of his social, moral, emotional or cognitive self, thus living on in further experiences, independent of the individual’s desire, intent or conscious control. The job of the efficient educator, thus, is to select the experiences that may live on fruitfully and positively in further experiences of the learners. The educator will judge experience in terms of „how, why, what for, by whom”, working out the materials, methods and social relationships appropriate to facilitate learning in the broader context of a lifelong growth. This learning environment will be a simpler one, imposing less rules and conditions on its learners and being in harmony with the principles of natural growth, yet not easier. Most of all, it will not be a rejection of order and organizations, but a broader view upon these, offering those experiences most appropriate to have a positive, meaningful and useful impact on the further life of each student.
We, at Green School Romania, wish to do exactly this: to create an educational environment according to theoretical principles of education philosophers such as Dewey which will be a provider of positive, meaningful, and coherent experiences for our students while allowing them to express their personality, needs, dreams and vision and explore freely, growing up into the best versions of themselves every day.
*more articles based on the work of John Dewey will follow
Ioana Boștenaru [inspired by ”100 Montessori activities for discovering the surrounding world” wrote by Eve Herrmann, publishing house Gama 2016, 219 pages]
In nowadays society, people are less and less connected to nature, although this connection is mandatory for the adults’ wellness and for the good development of their children. By growing up in relation with nature, children become aware of the surrounding world, acquiring important values such as the respect for our planet. This book attempts to help parents and educators as well to begin a journey in nature, pointing out a wide range of activities, which can be organized with children from 3 to 6 years old.
What is essential regarding these activities is the fact that they are based on Montessori education’s principles, converting the children into the main actors in the process of learning. According to Montessori education, the child has to progress on his own, adapting to the environment, to his own rhythm, and having recourse to his senses. Through observation, manipulation and experimentation, the child will acquire important pieces of information regarding geography, botany, zoology, time or space and will enhance his connection to the world.
One of the main characteristics of a Montessori lesson is the division in three phases, a division which can be applied in some of the activities presented in the book. First of all, children are presented the objects. Then they have to present them too. Secondly, children will be asked to bring a particular object. Thirdly, the teacher will point at a particular object and ask children to name it. Cards illustrating different pieces of vocabulary can be very useful.
The first set of activities highlighted by the author regards geography. An important instrument which can be used to teach children aspects related to geography is the globe. They learn that our planet has a round shape and that there is earth and water on it, by exploring the globe on their own. Moreover, they learn that the earth is divided into several continents and that there are several oceans, by mixing them in a puzzle, by seing pictures with them, by drawing or by creating collages. Children can learn about earth, weater and air by associating cards portraying different pictures related to them with jars full of each element (earth, water, air). What’s more, they can learn the animals through figurines and what food is representative for a continent while cooking it. Landforms can be taught as well by having recourse to cards or by asking children to create them in clay and then examine them. Another suggestive activity is related to flags. Children can learn some of them by watching them and through drawing. Aspects related to the universe (planets, sun, solar saystem, stars) can be taught through drawing while aspects about the wind may be taught outdoors, where children create an play with paper windmills to find the direction of the wind.
The second set of activities are related to nature and botany. Children need discover nature on their own and to develop respect towards it. Therefore, they should be aware of the cycle of nature. Children should be taught to wet the plants, to plant seeds and to observe their growth), to create flowers bouquets during summer or to harvest in autumn. Observation sessions in nature are important. Hence, children find out which are the natural elements (trees, leaves, stones, plants, animals) and how useful they are. A botany cabinet is an interesting suggestion made by the author. There, they can observe different shapes of leaves, they can compare them with images from cards and then draw them and their prints, paying attention to their strings. Through puzzles, children learn which are the main parts of a plant. In addition, they can examine a flower and deconstruct it in order to learn its main parts. After observing and experiencing, children are introduced with cards which represent natural elements, being encouraged to draw their own sketches. Children can also observe the parts of fruits, for instance an apple, by cutting it. Then, they can draw an apple on their own with its elements. A comparison between different types of seeds belonging to different plants is suggestive, as well as experiments which aim to make children aware of the importance of water (cutting the stem of a plant and observing that water circulates through it) and light for plants (placing some plants in the dark and comparing their evolution with that of the plants placed in light).
Another set of activities has to do with animal life. By examining cards, children find out the differences between animated and unanimated elements, between the vegetal and the animal world. Through riddles, children can learn about animals in an amusing manner. Furthermore, cards, puzzles and examinations in nature can help children to classify animals and to find out the main characteristics of each class: mammals, birds, reptiles, batrachians, fish or insects. What is more, children should be aware of the animals’ cycle of life by raising for instance a caterpillar and observing its transformation into a butterfly. In this respect, cards illustrating phases of an animal’s life are very useful. The prints of animals’ feet can be taught during a practical activity with the help of modeling clay. Another example of an interesting practical activity is building nests of birds with natural elements, after observing them in trees. Stories are also very important when learning about animals, each story being accompanied by illustrations which depict the animal. A journal of nature where every child can draw, glue his treasures and write down his discoveries is extremely suggestive.
The fourth set of activities is dedicated to the physical world. The insistence on children’s use of senses is very important. Through tasting, children can differentiate between flavours. In addition, experiments with empty bottles, water, candles, balloons help children to find out that the air occupies the entire space. Other interesting experiments are sinking and floating with different objects, the modeling clay boat, vases with different shapes but the same volume, water’s states (solid – ice, liquid, gas – through boiling), gravitation – the fall of certain objects and the building of the roman arch, magnetism (magnets and metallic objects), the transmission of the sound, the creation of telephones (glasses and strings’ vibration) or the sympathetic ink (sour liquids, sheets of paper and candle warmth).
The last set of activities concerns time. It is essential for children to acknowledge how their days pass and to reflect on what they do. Hence, a representation with images of each activity developed during the day, an interactive timetable with the days of the week and the repartition of activities, a life’s band with a visual and chronological representation of time or an ages’ band for every member of the family are remarkable activities. Moreover, it is essential for children to understand the succession of seasons. Walks in nature during different times of the year or the band of seasons are suggestive in this way. Children should know as well how to interpret the weather through a direct observation of what is happening outside (sun, clouds, snow etc.). The celebration of a child’s birthday is a chance to understand the rotation of the Earth around the Sun. This is how children understand that they are part of the universe. Stories regarding the progress of humanity with illustrations or stories with famous persons from history are also very important. Perceiving the notion of time through activities that last an hour or some minutes is essential before learning to read the time on a clock. This latter one activity can be realized with the help of a made-up clock. Children learn the clockwise direction and the fact that an hour is divided into smaller pieces such as minutes or seconds. The creation of a life notebook is suggestive because children become aware of the passing of the time and aknowledge the important things in their lives.
As we managed to see, all the activities attempt to invite children to explore the surrounding world, to learn on their own and to satisfy their curiosity. They are the ones who choose, who observe and manipulate things, learning through experimenting. The connection between activities is essential because children use what they already know to learn more complex things. Thus, they acquire a global vision of the world and develop their knowledge.