Saturday, 16 January 2016

Can we teach too cutting edge?



Student: "What is the most recent advancement in stem cell research?"

Researcher: "The process I just described to you."

The stem cell researcher had just explained to my class the process of making hiPSC (human induced pluripotent stem cells) from skin cells.  This is an area that she is an expert in, a process for which Shinya Yamanaka recently won a Nobel prize, a process that allows researchers not to have to rely on embryonic stem cells to do their work.  And the students were hearing about it from someone with a PhD in the field, who works with stem cell technology herself.

I don't want you to miss the preciousness of this moment.  The student who asked the question didn't want to hear what had happened in the past, even recent past.  He didn't want to have to wade through the 30,800,000 results that would come if he typed stem cells into a search engine.  The student wanted to know what is happening now.  And he got his answer.  In a field where advancements are happening almost daily, he got the most current answer.  Real-time. With diagrams, even.
  • How do you make the medium that sends messages to the pluripotent stem cell?
  • What types of diseases can be treated with stem cells?
  • Since Dolly, has there been any other cloning of sheep or other animals?
  • Do the hiPSC's act exactly like embryonic stem cells or are there differences?
Even. . .
  • Is there any truth to what South Park shows us about stem cells?
(which she answered beautifully)

Even. . .
  • How do the people you work with feel about the stem cell controversy?
(you're not going to find the answer to that in a textbook or article)

Each student got their answer.

And all this came to my students . . .face to face.



I share that story because the experience galvanized my resolve to explain the importance of Connections-based Learning with the world of educators.  Skyping in a stem cell researcher into my Science 9 class was an amazing, worthwhile learning and connecting experience.  Connecting with experts is one of six facets of CBL: Question Experts.  This facet opens our students to the cutting edge of what is going on in our planet.  But it also opens the door to the hearts of others around the world, and in our own backyard, who are involved in what we are studying.  It humanizes the "scientists": real people who are seeking answers to the most current questions of our world.  Stem cells aren't just "out there" for my students, now.  They are something Charis, our expert and now classroom friend, is working on.

Moreover, this was a connection birthed at a Christmas dinner party with kids running around playing hide and seek and making up dance performances.  I didn't do anything special to make this connection other than to keep my ears open as I go about, listening for possible connections for my students.  And asking my students to do the same.  That is the beauty of CBL, asking ourselves as educators: "what connections do we as a group of 30 people have that can help us learn this concept?"

30 people.  Not 1.  There's a lot of possibilities there.

With the connections my students are making with experts, they have the most cutting edge information at hand that they can share with others.  Some of the connections I helped them make.  Some they made on their own.  Here are a few others:

Skype helps students study Mars rovers

Students work with real life companies for a connections-based learning project

Can we share information and ideas that are too cutting edge, too recent with our students?  Do we want anything less for them?