Thursday, March 24, 2016

The 40-40-40 rule

I am going to start out bold here, but the best book and resources for curriculum development is without a doubt Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.  The idea in its simplest form is that instead of teaching discrete content, we need to know what the big idea is that we are after, and have that in our sights the whole time as we plan goals, assessments, and instruction (in that order).

One thing that came from them also was this idea of the 40-40-40 rule.  The idea is that there are things that are good to know and be able to do that last us for about 40 days.  There are other things that are important to understand for about 40 months, and then there those things that are important to know and do for 40 years.  The problem with school, obviously, is that we tend to focus on the 40 day stuff.  I have started to ask myself more, "What is 40 year learning?"

My wife and I recently purchased an old farm house that needed a lot of work.  My mistrust and frugal ways allowed my DIY side to come out as we fired our electrician and contractors when they worked too slowly and wanted too much money.  One of the big things that was on my list to do was electrical work.  Here is a lesson in the 40-40-40 rule.

As I look at the wiring in my house from the 1940's, I thought about how things change.  Wiring is not the same in 2016 as it was in the late 1940's.  Obviously, this is more than 40 years, but the idea is still sound.  If an electrician from 1940 crossed the space-time continuum into my house and began wiring, he would be almost as lost as I was, perhaps more so.  It made me think...what am I learning now and how does that fit into the 40-40-40 rule.

For the 40 day stuff, the things that come to mind are the recall type things.  It is nice to remember, on the fly, what color of wire nut to use when I am tying together 2 or 3 wires.  You know what, I am going to forget that pretty soon.  I will remember that there is a color system, but if I don't use it, the specifics of some of that will be gone.  So, the specific content, that is the 40 day stuff.  The thing to remember here is that we should almost EXPECT ourselves and our students to forget this stuff.  Why do we teach it then?  Well, to have a platform for the 40 month stuff!

In wiring my house, what are some things I learned that are going to stick around for 40 months?  The idea of a circuit for sure.  Not any specific circuit, but the idea that we have to make a complete loop for electricity to do what it does.  The idea that there are methods out there to make it easier for others to understand the work you did.  The reasoning behind building and electrical codes, and that it is important to have experts available to check things over for you.  These larger concepts will last a while.  When I buy a new house, I will forget the size of electrical boxes, and how many wires can be under a staple, and the color of wire nuts.  I will know that there is a reason for some of these weird rules.  I will remember to look for circuits.

What about 40 years?  I am not 40 years old yet, so it is hard to say.  I haven't remembered anything for 40 years!  How can I judge what will last?  The other day, I was talking to some colleagues about fixing up the house and they said something to the effect that they couldn't do a project like that.

I hit me.  The 40 year learning isn't "stuff."  It isn't concepts, it isn't thinking.  It's belief that you can learn.  That is it.  It made me sad to hear educators say they couldn't do something.  I didn't know a whole lot about several projects that I am doing right now a few short months ago.  What I did know was that I could do it.  I knew I could learn how to do it.  I needed the tools and the time and some people to lean on.  Then I could do it.

When did I learn that?

I could probably point out literal moments in time when I learned 40 day and 40 month learning.  The habit and belief that I can learn...that came from somewhere else.  My dad, for sure.  My great teachers that always challenged me.  Awesome non-teacher teachers in my life.

When I learned about circuits sometime in 12th grade physics, the content didn't directly prepare me for the wiring of the 4 ways switch that I use to go up the stairs.  The belief in people around me that I could learn did.

For our students, content is important.  Why?  Because if we can show them they can learn content, then we can use that to help them make bigger connections.  Eventually, they will see, with the guidance of teachers along the way, that they can make connections on their own and always be able to learn.

I hope students forget a bunch of the stuff I teach them in class, but I hope they can never shake the idea that learning is possible.  Even 15 or 20 years later, they can have the confidence to learn something new, perhaps because I opened that door.

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