In a world of nearly limitless information and choices, what do you focus on? That question seems to have an increasing importance in my own life, the life of my family, and my life as a teacher.
In a recent Time article about the new Apple Watch (“I Need”; September 22, 2014), the author made this statement about the iPhone and other smartphones, “Nobody anticipated the way iPhones exert a constant gravitational pull on our attention….When you’re carrying a smartphone, your attention is never entirely undivided…One gets over-connected to the point where one is apt to pay more attention to the thoughts and opinions of distant anonymous strangers over those of loved ones who are in the same room. One forgets how to be alone and undistracted.”
As a Christian, a parent, and a teacher, this statement disturbed me. It forced me to reconsider what I am saying is most important in life by the choices and actions I am making. Am I able to have a thriving relationship with God if I am unable to be “alone and undistracted”? Am I able to grow in my relationship with others if my attention is “never entirely undivided”? In a world of nearly limitless information and choices, what do you focus on?
And then last week, I spent three days with several other teachers from CCS learning about a new initiative that we will be working on for several years called Teaching for Transformation. There are many compelling parts to this plan that I could focus on and that I’m sure will be discussed in this blog in the future. But for now, I’d like to focus on the aspect of what we choose to devote our attention to in schools. Because even in our world of standardized tests, Common Core, state standards, and accreditation, schools and teachers still need to choose what to focus on.
One framework we were challenged to use was the “60 Rule.” The idea behind this is to consider all the learning outcomes and concepts that you want to teach and to decide where to focus. You start with those that you feel are essential—those things that you want your students to remember for the next 60 years. Then you list those that are important and that you desire for them to remember for at least 60 days. And finally, there will be things we teach that we hope they can work with as worthwhile but they will realistically only remember for 60 minutes.
This “60 Rule” provides a good place for a school, teachers, and parents to begin the dialogue about what we emphasize. Let me try to give an example from a recent 4th grade science unit on heat. In thinking about essential concepts, I wanted students to begin to grasp how thermal energy moves, understand the importance of solar energy, and then learn how to work in a team to design and build a project. There were also many important concepts that we were working with as we learned together. These would include how heat is transferred (radiation, conduction, convection), specific advantages and disadvantages of solar energy versus fossil fuels, and principles of insulation and conduction. Finally, there were things that were worthwhile to our daily learning, but things we only read about or discussed once in the context of a lesson. We spent time on the specific boiling and freezing point of water in both Fahrenheit and Celsius, and we read about a Minnesota inventor, Frederick Jones, who invented mobile refrigeration.
How does the 60 rule help? As a teacher, it helps us move away from just “covering the curriculum” to “uncovering the curriculum.” Now, instead of just memorizing facts and concepts, the important ones are in the context of some essential learning. In this unit, I wanted students to wrestle with the idea of solar energy as an alternative to fossil fuels. They knew from the beginning that in groups they were going to build a solar cooker oven. To do that, they needed to understand concepts of convection, conduction, and radiation. They learned about insulation and materials that would do that well. Then, in groups, they learned how to work through a design process, taking input from several sources, including research. Finally, they built, tested, and then evaluated and had the chance to think through changes they would make next time. I felt some of the best learning that took place in the unit was during the building process in their groups. This is where they needed to make adjustments—both scientifically and interpersonally.
In the unit assessment, part of the test included a reflection on whether in their lifetime they would be willing to spend extra money to implement some type of solar power in their lives. Because as Christians, it’s not just what we learn and how we have a worldview in our heads, it’s how we live it out.
And this living out our worldview is the constant gravitational pull of our attention that I want for myself, my family, and my students instead of their iPhone. Because in focusing our attention on God and His story, we live out Jesus’ redemption in our lives and our part in the restoration of relationships and creation.
4th Grade Teacher
Calvin Christian School–Blaine