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Pieces that Fit | Ecology of Education

Pieces that Fit

Two year old Pandora works on a jigsaw puzzle, turning the pieces over in her hand, looking at the colors and shapes, searching for a connection.  When she finds a piece fits in with others, she’s clearly excited.  “Pig’s nose!” she might call out, at which point she’ll turn and push the piece against other pig’s nose or pig pieces until something fits.

She’s working to make sense of the shapes, the colors, the patterns, the subjects and how they all relate to one another.  As a parent I must provide enough room for her to explore and learn but enough structure to guide us to success.  (Sounds very formal, but it’s really just an excuse to have fun with my daughter doing jigsaw puzzles.)

I sometimes wonder, though, what she’d do if I gave her 8 pieces from 8 different puzzles.  How long before her interest waned? How long before she realized the task at hand doesn’t jibe with what her brain’s trying to do?  How long before she decides that jigsaw puzzles just aren’t for her?

Part of the brain’s primary task is to make patterns. It seeks to connect the unknown with the known.

In creating curriculum I find myself pondering similar questions.  What if I gave my students 5 skills to master from 5 different subjects that don’t connect? How long before they stop trying to make connections?  How long before their interest wanes? How long before they decide that schooling just isn’t for them?

They need puzzle pieces that fit.  Building student capacity for making and forming patterns depends on our capacity to create curriculum that is conducive to doing just that.  And I know I’m a dinosaur when I say it, but integration is a vital component for cultivating lifelong learners. Students adept at (and hungry for) finding and creating patterns will be much more adroit at solving myriad problems that require multilateral approaches.

The current education reform effort, with its hyper focus on single student high stakes achievement, seems like it misses this point. Or avoids it.

Image: leidivi

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Author:Jason Flom

Learner. Educator. Reader. Writer. Cyclist. Part-time Polyanna. Husband. Daddy. Founder, Ecology of Education. Director of Learning Platforms, Q.E.D. Foundation. Twitter: @JasonFlom. LinkedIn: Jason Flom; Edutopia's Green School Group; and doing dishes while pretending to be a professional underground rapper. "I regard it as the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self denial, and above all, compassion." Kurt Hahn