This week, my 7th graders have been grappling with straight lines. Now, mind you, we're in the second straight week of these straight lines so this is no intro lesson. We were having a sort of Socratic discussion on the meaning of slope and I was desperately trying to narrow my probative questions down to something they could hang on to. Finally I got down to one of those questions that has the answer embedded in it.
"If the value of y increases by 10, then what is the change in y?". I naively expected this to be the magic question that would kick off a real discussion. What I got was more like you'd expect if I had inquired about their favorite Frank Sinatra album. Nothing! Not one child could answer this loaded question. Now I'm not green, so I'm fully aware of the liklihood that 30% of the kids in the room never heard the question and another 30% were thinking about lunch and wouldn't answer to any question, but surely someone was out there, with enough listening skill to answer. Nothing but blank stares!
This isn't the first time I've reached this Socratic nadir. It happens a lot. It's always a puzzlement. Later, I was talking to a student about his video game prowess. I asked him what he liked so much about video games and he started to talk about how, when he's playing, he just sort of gets in a zone. His fingers just respond automatically to what is happening on the screen. "I don't have to think about it.". Could it be that Socratic fizzle is related to video anesthesia? Is my teaching competing with a video game?
Trying to connect these dots is probably a hopeless exercise but it brings to mind a larger, equally imponderable, but more interesting question about how we learn. Here's the question…
When does learning take place? Is it (on one extreme) just a school event or, (on the other extreme) is it a 24 x 7 x 365 process? And, wherever you land on that one, what is being learned in the various compartments of a child's life? What do you learn in a splatterfest like Gears of War versus playing marbles? What did you learn with a stereoscope that is different from what you learn clicking through 200 cable channels in an afternoon of diversions?
I'm curious to know what folks think about this. Has a cultural shift occurred that changes the learning paradigm for any or all of these compartments? Does our culture 'wire' kids differently today than it did years ago, or for that matter, how does what you learn in one compartment drive or spill over into others? Does any of this have a connection to why my kids can't answer a question that's a 'gimme'?