Applied Learning in the Age of Standardized Testing
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Tips to make sure your kids practice what they learn
Let me start by saying that my family has been positively impacted by dumb luck. We landed in an outstanding school district when we moved to Colorado, and our neighborhood school has been a dream come true. None of this happened by design. Again, we just lucked out. At a recent school accountability committee meeting, we talked about the impact of standardized testing on the curriculum, and to my delight, the principal and teachers all echoed the same sentiment: we don’t teach according to the test. Phew!
But do kids get to practice what they learn? How do teachers create real-life scenarios in the classroom? Here are a few examples from our school:
- Garden to table. Our school has a garden. The kids (and parents) volunteer to tend the garden, and the produce is used in school lunches. Excess produce is often sold at community booths at the end of the season, putting money back into the program. Kids learn about the life cycle of plants, health and nutrition, and also about raising money for the school.
- Market. Each year, many of the classes at our school create a market. The kids are tasked with making inexpensive crafts to “sell” to their fellow classmates. It’s a lesson in economics, and it’s a lot of fun. My son made paper airplanes one year, and my daughter spent hours putting together ojos de Dios (woven objects that are said to represent the “eyes of God”), a project that led to her love of finger knitting.
- Writing projects. My daughter’s class had a cultural learning fair where the kids produced trifold brochures about the countries where their ancestors came from (among other projects). The kids were able to use their research and writing skills to produce materials that would rival those made by adults these days.
All the activities above can also be done at home. And let’s face it, not all schools are created equal. Many Solo Moms find themselves having to supplement the curriculum with home activities. Learning outside the classroom can be a struggle, as we’re also trying to juggle all the day-to-day realities of raising kids on our own. So, here are a few ways to apply lessons learned in school to real-life scenarios, which might even help make life a little more manageable:
- Household budgets. As parents, we often give our kids allowances or create job boards to help teach them the value of money. But what better way to teach them about real-world finances than to get them involved in household budgeting? As Solo Moms, we have a lot to manage, and it can be empowering to get our little ones involved in the process. Holding family meetings to create a monthly budget and making decisions together about how to use discretionary funds are a few examples of things to do. One caution: it’s a balancing act. Getting input from the kids is very different from putting the responsibility of the household budget on their shoulders.
- Cooking. Cooking is a great way to apply lessons in fractions and measurement, and it’s one way to get your kids involved in the daily grind, taking some of the pressure off of you. Give your kids guidelines—for instance, they must pick a protein, a grain, and a vegetable—and help them create a menu and find recipes that sound interesting. Then, take a look at your materials. If the recipe calls for a 1/2 cup, give them 1/8 cup and 1/4 cup and have them figure out how to make the right amount.
- Home repair and maintenance. There are a lot of simple home-repair projects that will test a child’s problem-solving skills. For instance, building simple pieces of furniture, even the ones from a kit, require measuring and math skills to complete. Reorganizing a child’s bedroom to make the best use of space can be an excellent project for brainstorming, creating, and building. Even examining and troubleshooting broken appliances or fixtures is an opportunity to use critical-thinking and research skills.
And, of course, there are also after-school camps and programs that can help our kids take the next step in applying school lessons by building, creating, and problem solving. In many cases, after-school clubs are volunteer-run by experts from the parenting community to demonstrate how our learning is applied in the real world.
The Internet provides tons of examples and even products that can help your kids apply the things they’ve learned in school (and more). My seven-year-old spent hours last week with her new subscription box, Tinker Crate, which sends out STEM-based activities each month. (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.) She’s building a hydraulic arm, and it’s been fascinating to watch her work through the instructions and apply what she’s learned in school while encouraging her to have confidence in her own skills.
When I was in high school, my father built a gazebo around our above-ground pool. I remember using skills I’d learned in geometry to help calculate the angles of the octagonal roof. That memory stayed with me because I felt exceptionally proud of myself for having figured it out.
Being able to apply the things we learn in school not only lends itself to feelings of accomplishment but also improves our attitude toward school and learning itself. So have fun and be creative! Life presents us with a million ways to apply the things we learn—that is true for both students and adults. Enjoy letting your kids show you what they know!
Amy Rivers is a writer and mother of two. She has a master’s degree with concentrations in psychology and political science, and enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction pieces about women and women’s issues. Her debut novel, Wallflower Blooming, was released in August 2016. You can follow her on Twitter at @WritingRivers and learn more about her work at her website, www.amyrivers.com.
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