Another dot in the blogosphere?

Context creates learning

Posted on: April 16, 2013

Recently I had to remind my son how to clear and rinse a dirty dish instead of just dumping it in the kitchen sink. That incident spawned lessons on values, Science, a brief the history on language, and perspective taking.

When my son left an uncleared dish in the sink, I realized that he should not only learn WHAT to do but WHY he should do it. The why was not limited to “because I said so”.

The lesson in values was obvious. He had to help out around the home because we do not have a maid. It was the responsible thing to do.

But I decided that he also needed a Science lesson to know why dishes are harder to clean if you leave them unrinsed in a sink. I had to teach him why gunk is hard to remove or starts to smell. I had to teach him about oxidation.

I had to link oxidation with something he was familiar with, our need to breathe. He understood how oxygen was necessary to burn fuel. The good thing about this type of oxidation was that it gave us energy.

But oxidation could also be a bad thing when you consider things like rust. Which was the common name for iron oxide otherwise known as ferrous oxide. Which was the link to the Latin roots for some of our English words.

I pulled us back to why oxidation was bad not just because it could cause rust, but also how it caused fats in food to turn rancid and smell.

In the end, it was an opportunity to look at something from different perspectives. Oxidation could be helpful or harmful. My son thought he was helping by putting the dish in the sink, but my perspective was that a job half done was one not done at all.

Later on I reflected on how contexts create moments for meaningful learning. Teachers need to think and operate outside their content silos to take advantage of such learning moments.

My son remarked that this was the best Science lesson he had, especially when compared to the ones he was getting at school. Flattering words.

I will only know that he has learnt something if he consistently rinses his dishes when he puts them in the sink. And if he can tell me why.

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