When I was in the 7th grade, I did a history fair project with some friends about the Bubonic Plague. We spent hours at the downtown library researching. Piles of books were on the table and I was totally fascinated. My dad even took us camping once the research was done so that we could make a film about it. (Hopefully I still have that somewhere. It would be a riot to go back and watch.) This was my first real foray into learning through self-discovery while in school and it was so effective that this project and making my first school basketball team are really the only 2 significant things I can remember about that entire year of schooling.
In my 20’s and 30’s, I taught an adult Sunday School class at church. At its peak, there were about 30 people in that class, but only a few came prepared each week. I pleaded for others to come prepared, but alas, I heard every excuse imaginable. As the years passed on, attendance began to wane. Those who prepared, not so ironically, were the only ones remaining and we had intensely meaningful conversations.
It is through experiences like these my thought process on how to learn and importance of being prepared were formed. I much prefer arriving at an educational setting having done the research, thought about what the information meant to me, then just ask questions. The information sticks with me much longer.
This is the premise of a ‘flipped classroom’. Homework traditionally is a post-learning exercise meant to reinforce the concepts introduced in the classroom. But, what if homework were a pre-class exercise, where students worked through learning the material on their own, then brought questions to class for more explanation on the topics they struggled though? How much more meaningful would class time become? Valuable classroom time would not need to be spent introducing new topics.
This past year, I led a 34 week Bible Study with a group of adults who committed to coming prepared. It was an amazing experience! Every class started with 1 simple question… “What did you think about this weeks information?”. A truly organic conversation much deeper than the original material grew. Sometimes we were on topic. Other times, we were able to explore side topics that the original material challenged us towards. Ultimately, we were able to get out of the class what WE NEEDED TO GROW, which was often more than the material presented. Huge success!
So what failed in the first Sunday School? I think it’s that deep learning wasn’t a priority. Education through self discovery has been trained out of us in traditional schooling and the motivation necessary to prepare was too tall a task to overcome. This is a problem I can foresee with students as well. Unless…. the medium they use to prepare also happens to be the medium they use to entertain themselves.