What SHOULD education be like?

The following clip from Sir Ken Robertson’s TED Talk made me think.

He talks about a little girl who ordinarily wasn’t interested in school, but was totally tuned into a drawing lesson. (I wonder, maybe she’s got ADHD. Hmm…)

Anyhow, Robertson makes the point that the education system doesn’t foster creativity.

I’ve heard other people talking about how education systems are skewed only one way. Most recently, it was my coworker who commented something like this. The other day, he said that through his whole life since night high school, he hasn’t had to use trigonometry at all.

  • He’s a very smart person and great at working with computers. (I think he could make a living building custom computer systems. He’s got an interest and a knack for doing so.)
  • My coworker is also neurodiverse. He has said that he was diagnosed with Asperger’s. He also has obvious motor tics and verbal tics (but since these showed up in adulthood, he has been told it’s not due to Tourette syndrome).

Anyhow, the comments by my coworker and others, and coming across that clip today of Robertson, it got me thinking about the education system (at least how it is in the USA), and how it tries to fit all students into the same mold.

In 3rd-5th grades, I attended a Magnet school… Encanto Elementary school in San Diego, California. It was a magical place for me (pun intended).

  • A “magnet” school is specialized towards some particular area of study. For Encanto, it was math and science. My older brother and I were both selected for the Gifted and Talented program our second year there. He wound up a full year advanced in math (by the time we changed school districts, he was two years advanced). I was one of the few kids in my class who got to go into an accelerated science class about three times a week. Our school also introduced us to computers (the Apple IIe, circa 1984).
  • This school was also magical in that it was the first place I witnessed real racial integration. The places I’d been before that were predominantly white (at least 90%), but that school was a marvelous mix of racial and ethnic groups, and all the kids seemed to intermingle without any hint of racism. It looked like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech brought to full realization. (I moved from there to Banning, CA, for 6th-12th grades, which was almost as well racially mixed, but a little bit self-segregating among racial groups. I think it was due to the influence of Los Angeles gang culture on the city of Banning…a full 70 miles from L.A.)
  • I remember learning about another magnet school which was focused on the Fine Arts: art, music, dance, and creative writing. (In my mind, it’s like the school of the arts in the 80s TV series “Fame”.)

I loved the science, and my parents seemed to take joy in that. But I also loved making art (and according to my mom, I took a strong interest in drawing in my early years). Throughout my youth, my parents (especially my mom) steered me towards engineering, because both my grandfather’s did well with engineering.

  • In 5th grade, I wrote a report on “what I want to be when I grow up”. Influenced by Hot Wheels, Transformers, and Knight Rider, I thought I wanted to design cars. But I couldn’t find the words to express my desire, so my mom asked me questions to help me get it out. I said I wanted to make cars. (She asked if I wanted to fix cars; she has a brother who is a mechanic, and she described what he did.) I said that I wanted to make new cars. (To put together cars, i.e. manufacturing?) No, I wanted to make new cars nobody else has made. (Oh, she said, I want to be a Mechanical Engineer.) — so that’s what I did my report on.

But I wanted to design the body of the car, not the engine and drive system. I wanted to make art, functional art, a thing of beauty you could own and appreciate. I wanted to make things that people could have and use that would make make them happy.

(I lost most of my interest in designing cars many years ago, back in my 20s. Now, I would rather design websites and mobile apps. The seed of that idea was planted by the tech designs in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, but grew once I started learning about functional design, which I now understand as UX … User Experience Design.)


(Sir Ken Robertson’s full TED Talk is posted at Do schools kill creativity? | Sir Ken Robinson - YouTube and is with watching at least for the humor, but he makes some interesting points. I’ve read his book “The Element: How finding your passion changes everything”, available in full online at The element : Ken Robinson : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive)

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All of that was to build up to this…

We know that ADHD is an interest-driven state of being. How much better would the educational experience be for students if they got to learn about what they were really interested in?

For example, the little girl mentioned in the video clip, who didn’t show an interest in lessons until lesson was on drawing.

In the full TED Talk, Sir Ken talks about the acclaimed choreographer whose mother brought her to a doctor in the 1930s because she was worried that her daughter was not doing well in school. The wise doctor switched on the radio, took the mother out into the hall, and they watched through the window and the door as the young lady got up and danced. There was nothing wrong with the girl, she was simply in the wrong school.

How much more successful might you be if someone had stepped in at the right time and told your parents something similar? What if I’d gone to the fine arts magnet school instead of the math and science one? Sure, I excelled at math, and I still love learning about science, but from a very young age I was always interested in design. I have always been moved by art.

Of course, I see myself as a sort of Renaissance Man, having a great appreciation for both ART and SCIENCE. I thought studying engineering would have more of a design component, but engineering programs which inspire such creativity seem to be few and far between, with most focused on just fixing problems. I kept waiting to get to the good stuff, which was not to be had where I was.

Don’t be as a society, as a world society, I went to the next generations to give them a better start than we had?

So, if you could reinvent the education system, what do you think it should be like? What would you have wanted it to be like when you were a kid, and when you were in college?


Just like how ADHD friendly products (and processes) would be better for almost everyone, the same would go for an ADHD friendly education system!

By the way, this is how I remember my elementary school, except with it full of kids on the playground. (The classrooms were pretty nice, too!)

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Sadly, like too many schools these days, Encanto is now surrounded by high fences, gates, and bars on the windows.

It looks as much like a prison from the outside as a school.

I think institutionalized schools lead to institutionalized children. There is no evidence that the stereotypical classroom environment does anything to foster learning in small children. The education system as it stands is a failure that benefits mostly corporate interests… taking the burden of raising your children off you so both parents can tail to the benefit of others for less adjusted money than a single grocery bagger made in the 1950s.

Children need to be raised in family units until older. Throughout thousands of years of history children lived and learned with their parents and went to specialized training in their early teens.

What you get with today’s system is 25 year olds who cannot cope with reality and are still just children. Remember, in the US the current federal level education system has been around a very short time and is mostly about herd management and churning out drones.

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i took a course on social network analysis years ago. some of the research i read was on childhood social networks. in areas where there’s diversity to begin with, there’s a broad pattern of interracial friendships in the younger ages and increased segregation around the time dating relationships start emerging and taking on greater importance. dating networks still tend to be very racially homogeneous.

i’m sure there are places that buck that trend, which is awesome. and of course there are many macro and micro factors that result in those trends (and they are all a bummer).

i’m glad you had that early experience of a more integrated school. i grew up in an area where many groups were represented but there were very few of us who weren’t white. i was often the only person of color in my classes and definitely always the only black person in my academic classes by the time i reached high school. (there were 3 of us in the whole grade.)

i remember sitting in class while my classmates had debates about whether they would be willing to go to school in a nearby town that had a very diverse population. i think the teacher’s goal was to engender empathy but i sat for an hour while all but one student came up with so many reasons it would be terrible.

they didn’t think they would have anything in common with those kids. they didn’t want to stand out. they thought those kids would be too different. they didn’t want to be the only white kid. (they wouldn’t have been, but neither here nor there.) some of them plainly said things like it would be scary or dangerous.

i still appreciate the one student who snapped at the rest of the class and said that the kids at the other school were regular people. she had been there before for some activity and some people were cool, some people weren’t — rather like our school.

i want education where kids do get to interact with people who are different from them in an authentic way. so what you are describing at your middle school. or like my classmate who spent time with kids at the nearby school on whatever activity it was. what doesn’t seem to me to work as well is abstract discussions, like we had in our classroom.


on the topic of structuring education and what education should encompass…i don’t know. there are many topics i wouldn’t have chosen to study on my own. i have little interest in history, for example, and only took as much as was required. i found nearly every minute of every history class painful.

but i am also glad i know what people are talking about when they reference the new deal. i wouldn’t want to be a person who didn’t know what the holocaust was and how it happened. i am glad i know about the chinese exclusion act and internment camps. i think i should know about the recent history of taking native children from their families in efforts at forced assimilation.

i would never, ever, ever choose to study these things on my own. but it is important that i know about them.

so i do think there are some things that are helpful for most people to learn about.

i think these things could be taught differently. perhaps at different ages too. and i also think for people who really can’t engage with that material on any level, there should be other avenues. they shouldn’t be locked out of education.


i went to a montessori school from age 3 until kindergarten. that was awesome. it was a lot of learning through independent, exploratory play.

i remember my first grade teacher assessing my math skills and asking who taught me about place value. i didn’t know. i only realized later, as a tutor, that my favorite game in preschool was a place value lesson.

i’ve joked that what i need is a montessori grad school. i loved that place so much.

that said, my sister who is more hyperactive really struggled there. so did my best friend who doesn’t have ADHD but was a hyper child. so i don’t know.

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I honestly think that there has to be alternatives for these standardized exams that are needed as entrance for higher education in America at the very least. Luckily the pandemic kinda put an end to this for the time being but not all schools have gone away with it but the ones that have are seen as more competitive now since you do not have to prep and study for an exam ie ACT, SAT for undergrad and GRE for grad schools. IDK the solution but I am studying for the GREs rn and its bringing me back to when I was in hs studying for the ACTS which does not hold a lot of fond memories for me.

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More like short term interest driven state of being!

I would have to disagree. I think most kids (but not all kids) benefit from schooling and the social interaction they get with other kids. That is not to say that the schooling system doesn’t require reforms. It does but public schools have been around pretty much since the US independence as the Founding Fathers realized that the success of the fledgling democracy needed competent and educated people who could understand the political and social issues involved and can participate civic life etc. Home schooling is simply not an option for the majority of people, especially the poor and where both parents have to work full time.

Many of the US problems are much more recent. I don’t wish to discuss politics here so I will simply say that the income inequality started rising dramatically since 1980 and on many metrics we have done worse and worse in the past 40-50 years, while the public school system has been around for almost 250 years.There is plenty of blame to go around but blaming is not going to suggest solutions.

Anyway, here we are in 2022 and the question is how to move forward that is in the best interest of individuals, communities and the nation as a whole (and eventually the world as a whole). One industry that has done spectacularly is technology: particularly, computers, software and interconnection of them in global networks. This was such a great change in such a short time that we still have not fully absorbed this change. There are many many online videos and courses and if you are a self-starter you can learn pretty much anything. But this does not provide a structured medium, catering to each student’s needs. I think a bigger issue is insufficient socialization, something which the technology seems to be making worse. The last two years were a giant laboratory for testing this! Everyone had access to online schooling but hardly any socialization. And mental health of the young has certainly deteriorated.

Obviously, I don’t have any answers but @j_d_aengus posed a very good question. I will respond if I have something sensible & positive to say. This message has gotten far too long anyway!

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Nothing has contributed more to the dumbing down of the population than the public schooling system. Education and socialization have been had for millennia before our modern schools. How many publicly schooled children have a reading level to enter college in the US? How many have a working understanding of US civics and government?

It’s not a popular opinion but part of what keeps wages low is that because women also are in the workforce these days it double the available labor, thus cutting the amount corporations are required to pay. Simple supply and demand, double the availability of something and halve it’s value.

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According to an Entrepreneur.com article, in 2018 in top 30 universities the public school students had an acceptance rate of 52.5%, private school 57.5%. In 2019 public school students had an acceptance rate of 72.5% to private school 62.5%. While this is not sufficient to draw any definite conclusions, my reading is that public school is a perfectly viable option. Study Shows Public School Students Do Better Than Private School Students in College Admission to Top US Universities

I would also like to point out is that there are more students from high income families in private school (about 15-16%) vs a decreasing pool from middle income (from 12% in 1970 down to 6% in 2015 – this reflects the growing income gap) and 5% or below from low income families. So again, even if someone wants a private school for their kid, most people can’t afford it. If you are well to do, you have more options but even then about 1 in 6 is in private school and even that number goes down 9th grade and up. https://www.educationnext.org/who-goes-private-school-long-term-enrollment-trends-family-income/

I would also like to point out that the one major group that goes for private schools are the religious and frankly at least some subgroups there don’t believe in scientific theories and have very limited view of what civics and government should be!

If a family is well to do, they have many more options. Even so, when their kids go to a public school, they will be better off (compared to poorer families) as usually the public schools are much better quality in richer neighborhoods for a variety of reasons.

I think this will be very hard to prove.

And do you know that the top 10 countries with the best public education are all quite well to do? And the US is not on that list! https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/slideshows/countries-seen-to-have-well-developed-public-education-systems?slide=12

I think US used to do much better in the past but even back in 1970 the ratio of public to private schools was about the same. You can say 20th Century was the US century because we did so well but things started unraveling particularly 1980 onward. I tend to think that if Nixon and Kissinger had not “opened up” China, we would not have outsourced so many of our industries. The single biggest change in the past 60-70 years is how many manufacturing industries have left the US. In 1970 service jobs were about 45%. Now they are almost 80% or so. Most industries have been hollowed out here. We get almost everything from China and other countries providing cheap labor. None of these factors have anything to do with public education and much more to do with the interests of corporations and their owners, who were in relentless search for increasing profits and cheaper labor (and where there were fewer regulations protecting the workers). Partly this is due to how quarterly profits have an outside influence on the price of a company’s stock.

Anway, as I said there is plenty of blame to go around. Education is just one of the issues. Then there is health care cost, worse environment, increasing divisions and so on. It is going to take a long time even if we get on the right path right away.

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I live in a very low income county. Some people I know who homeschool, and homeschool very well are so low income as to not have a discernable income by IRS standards. People make the sacrifices or, choose not to based on what is important to them. I, for one, didn’t have children to foist them off on others for the majority of their waking hours.

I don’t see true globalization as a threat to anything… not as long as we are able to produce something, if not physical items than ingenuity and forward thinking. Unfortunately for the state of our country (US) the most outspoken person and most ingenious by many different measures is South African in origin. We don’t hold the market on anything much right now and in this low income county I see people who have made a career of entry level jobs. They don’t think of much and don’t plan at all and a vast majority of them quit their established jobs when the government lined their pockets with more money than most of them had seen at one time in their lives.

I can see with my eyes, across my county, as just my current example, the actual product of modern federal run education. Statistics and words written to calm consumers and investors don’t mean much with evidence before my eyes.

If you don’t know what the stats are actually based on, how they have chosen to make their categories and how they have decided to weight their calculations? Statistics aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. Not to mention how the teaching of culture has a huge impact on results in a government school. If you are taught work ethic then you have it.

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Sorry… cut short. Evidently people in my house expect to eat sometime today. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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If I understand right what you’re getting at, it comes down to ideals such as personal responsibility & self-determination in the best interest of yourself & your family.

In response to what you’ve said about education, the following leapt to mind:

The first is a phrase:

  • “The best lessons are caught, not taught.”

The second is the title of a poem:

  • “Children learn what they live”, by Dorothy Law Nolte

The first has, I believe, been said in many ways since ancient times.

The poem is certainly thought-provoking. It makes you stop and think “what am I really teaching my kids”.


I started the discussion on the premise that the cookie-cutter structure of public education (which is also the model used in a lot of private education…I can attest to that, having had a son attend two different private schools, and seeing clear difference between the two).

I thought that school was meant to prepare me for life outside school, but it didn’t. It didn’t even prepare me well to go to continue going to school (i.e. college). I learned so much more from the little lessons taught me in everyday life, by watching and listening to my parents, my grandparents, a few neighbors, only a handful of teachers, and mentors I’ve had at work and elsewhere. The lessons that were caught (most witnessed, but some spoken).

You can’t write a curriculum for these kinds of lessons. You can choose to live your life according to what you believe is best.

As a homeschooling parent, I believe I have a better opportunity to prepare my younger children much better than the school system did for my older children. I don’t want them just to be able to understand math, science, social studies and language arts, how to follow a schedule that someone else sets for them, and how to work towards someone else’s goals.

I want to teach my kids that the things you learn are tools to use, to make your life better than just living, just getting by. The skills I want to teach my kids are:

  • How to learn (not passively in a class, but actively by self-determination of what to learn); how to find information and build knowledge
  • How to set a goal, and make a plan to achieve that goal (and how to make adjustments along the way, because no plan is perfect)
  • How to build skills, and develop abilities, not just to have the basics, but how to find what they can excel in…

It’s a tall order. It’s a lot I’m asking of myself. But they are worth it. Children are worth investing our time, talent, and effort on.
… But first, fellow Brains, we need to realize that we are also worth investing time, talent and effort on. The same untapped potential that I see in my kids is also in me. (I’m only “middle aged”, which means I’ve still got decades of potential left ahead.)

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I realized that my early post on this topic sounded like I was advocating for some kind of early specialization. I didn’t explain myself very well. I actually believe that the converse is true.

I think it is best for children to get to have exposure to many different areas. I think it is best for them, in order to discover what they really like to do, want to do, want to become.

I highly recommend the book “Range” by David Epstein. The author contrasts between those who specialize early, such as golfer Tiger Woods, and those who find their own circuitous path to excellence, such as tennis player Roger Federer. Woods plain only golf from the time he was a small child. Federer played multiple sports, before choosing tennis to pursue a pro career in. The author also talks about the same type of comparison in academics and career, games like chess, and even music. (For instance, world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma did not start out playing the cello. He came to it after learning to play music on a few other instruments first.)

What I believe children need most is to know that their parents love them unconditionally, whether they become a “great success” or not. They also need to know that it’s okay to make mistakes, to go the “wrong direction”. They need to know that they have the potential to learn and grow, in whatever they are doing.

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Ok this is a pet topic of mine, but fro ma tertiary point of view, i live in australia, our literacy rate is high our public school system is well funded and does well. But it could be better

Things that teachers are learning now are about how to engage learners and something called universal design learning which means that whatever your brain, you’ll be included.

There will always be lazy teachers and low resourced schools. But ideas like the flipped classroom, where you give the kids a problem, and then they figure out with resources you’ve prepared how they could solve the problem, are new ways that help engage learners.

A real life example I saw was (in university) a voicemail from a (pretend lawyer) talking a mile a minute about all the stuff they needed to find for the case tomorrow morning.

This is very typical, lawyers do this and speak a weird tongue… but because it was recorded, and the students had recently had classes on how to use the library, they were able to pull it apart in their own time like a puzzle and find what the lawyer needed….

The students were interested in trying to solve the problem, they could see how it was useful to their career, and it was a realistic scenario.

So there’s lots out there now about online education as well because elf covid, and how creative teachers had to be to get students to pay attention and do the work at home… a lot of lessons have been learnt and they’re hoping teachers will take these same new ideas back into the real world classroom.

Myself I’m trying to find out more about neirodivergent learning and communication issues so that students i meet, I’m able to adapt to if I see they aren’t grasping what I’m communicating…

It’s a pretty exciting area, and lots is happening in primary and high schools too if you look up ideas like flippedclassrooms for starters you might see some interesting ideas.

The most innovative and I think helpful educational program I wish I’d had as a kid is one about teaching kids to share and identify their emotions in primary school. Teaching them that there are no bad emotional, and teaching kids to empathise people with someone who is having a bad day. Social emotional learning seems to be its latest name it’s done lots of ways but it’s really helping kids feel better, and be able to express themselves.

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I’m a teacher myself, so I’d like to chime in on this one. :slight_smile: I agree that K-12 schooling (I live in the USA, so that’s my point of reference here) definitely needs reforming. And, at least at the university where I received my training, new teaching programs are trying to do just that. But it’s not gonna change overnight, and especially not with elders in the profession who “have done it this way for the past 20 years.”

When I was interning at the high school where I was assigned for my teacher training program, my supervising teacher specifically told me “you can’t put kids in groups because they can’t handle it. They have to be in rows.” I was appalled. Her lessons were some of the most archaic, boring, mind-numbing English classes I’ve ever attended, and that’s coming from an English teacher. (Believe me, I know studying reading and writing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.) She would have the students work out of workbooks, answer the questions in the backs of their textbooks, and read the most dull, boring content imaginable without bothering to explain to the kids why they were reading it. You could just tell she didn’t want to be there. (Nothing against her herself. She was a great woman, but a lackluster teacher.) She’d just been doing what she’d been taught to do, and I’ve seen so many classrooms like hers where students are expected to be robots instead of children.

But the main difference between she and I was… I was taught to include as many senses into each class as possible. Every lesson had to include sound, images, and some sort of tactile activity. The premise was that different people learn differently, so the best method was to have something available for everyone. And, I was taught to only have the actual instructional time taking up, at most, 20% of the class time. The remaining 40% was supposed to be “hands on,” real-life applications of what the students were learning.

In my supervisor’s classroom, her walls were basically empty aside from the standard educational posters. (Lists of prepositions, grammar rules, a portrait of Shakespeare, etc.) Her room looked so bland and unwelcoming. Meanwhile, my classroom’s walls were filled with the work of my students, the desks were always in groups with the students rotating groups every few weeks, we did most of our class assignments through Google Classroom and online learning games, and when we worked with physical materials like papers and pens, we also worked with poster-board and glue and paint. (There were 14-18 year olds, btw.) When my students had trouble focusing in class, it meant that I wasn’t engaging them, and I had to stop and readjust because they were either over or under-stimulated. Their lack of focus was never because “they’re just a bad student,” as my supervisor had once told me.

And now that I’ve moved on from teaching in high schools to teaching at the university level, I always ensure my students get to study what they themselves want to (I’ve had students hand me reports on everything from how a root canal works to who is the best basketball player on each major league team), and everything is as hands on as possible. I provide audiobooks, online books, real life examples, online forums, “art” projects where my students have to make trifolds or brochures by hand. I’ve even taken my classes outside and had “journaling on the lawn” and memory games before finals week, even though my coworkers looked at me like I was insane. But up until the pandemic, I’d only have maybe one or two students fail my class each semester, while my coworkers always had several more.

So these new techniques are working, but with so many new teachers leaving the profession due to the aftermath of the pandemic and school districts/universities not wanting to pay more than the bare minimum, all schools are left with are tenured teachers who are relying on the “No Child Left Behind” techniques of 20 years ago. And, as we’ve sadly seen so many times over, children are left behind with those outdated techniques.

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Omg, I use the flipped classroom method and I LOVE it! This is the method I was taught to use from Day 1 of my Student Teaching Program. Shout out to all the teachers/schools who use the flipped classroom! Hopefully one day it will become the standard.

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I remember reading about the flipped classroom a several years ago, but haven’t known anyone before that used the method.

As a parent of two homeschooled children in elementary grades, it interests me.

My 7 y.o. daughter (the youngest of my 4 kids) is very interested in science. She loves to investigate and experiment.

My 9 y.o. son seems to be more analytical. He delights that he’s good at math, though I know he got a little behind this year. One thing that surprised me about him is that he has a fascination with historical figures. The other day, he was telling me all sorts of facts I never knew about Dolly Madison (the person, not the snack company).

  • Note: this is the boy that usually seems to be only interested in TV shows and video games, and he’s giving ME a history lesson!

The one thing these two kids have in common is that they like to learn by investigating. Their academic interests vary greatly from each other.

  • The do both like to do science experiments, but my son likes to do ones that are from a kit, and my daughter likes those and her own little experiments (which usually leave a mess afterwards).
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My mum as a kinder teacher trained in the sixties (in Dublin) knew to teach to the aural, visual and kinetic needs of children, so this is stuff all theachers should have been practicing long ago! I know I had some soporific classes, but I also had amazing ones.

I guess in every profession there will always be people who just don’t really care, and excited passionate people who want to innovate, i guess what’s different in teaching is that often seniority doesn’t go to those who perform the best, it goes to the teachers who have been there the longest (or that’s how it is i australia)

I admire you both, you couldn’t drag me kicking and screaming to teach in a high school.

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Someone posted this is the discord

And I think especially her first two points really reflect flipped classrooms, get people curious, give them an emotive story, a real person, then ask a big question…. And then the student becomes really interested in ok, how can I solve this? And comes up with their own solutions.

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