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Teacher-Centered vs. Student-Centered Education

Anthropologist Margaret Mead said “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”

It’s messy. It’s frustrating. It takes longer but student-centered teaching model can turn passive learners into interactive partners in their own development.

The traditional, Teacher-Centered Approach

Picture a class learning how to  multiply mixed fractions. Traditionally a teacher stands at the front, writes step by step instructions and verbally tells students how to complete the algorithm. Then, students practice on their own or in groups. Some will succeed quickly. Others will stumble. Two days later some will have forgotten the steps while others will have moved on.

Girl-Baking-CookiesThe Student-Centered Approach

Now picture a 4th grade class tasked with baking cookies for the whole class. The teacher gives them an individualized recipe that yields about 6 cookies; only enough for two cookies per students. The recipe needs to be doubled so they can feed a group of 6 students. The group of 6 students attempt to double the recipe.  Multiplying 1 cup? 2 tbs? easy. Multiplying a mixed fraction 2 3/4 cups of flour? Not so easy. Here’s the really messy part. The students attempt doubling the recipe with no prior training. Did their ratios stay the same? Some probably did not. Wonderful!

Now the class is into ratios. After baking there’s a taste test. Cookies with too much flour to sugar, bleah! Cookies with too much sugar to flour, Oh my teeth hurt! Some who guessed correctly, yum! But can they reproduce the success?

Now a mathematical method is needed and a context for the algorithm exists in the students’ minds along with motivation for further investigation.

The teacher then walks them through the mathematical process on Doceri. Why Doceri over a whiteboard, other program, or smartboard? Watch this to see the advantage of the timeline. The students reproduce the process and make their own screencasts (if multiple iPads are available) to reteach their group. If they can teach others then you know they really have the process. Now it’s time to try their calculations on their recipes.  They can refer to the teacher’s video, their notes, or their own video. Finally, groups use the new measurements to make their cookies. Hopefully this batch has more consistency.

Finally the class reproduces the algorithm correctly in a Doceri video to reteach each other. One batch with the correct measurements ratios are produced and everyone enjoys the spoils of the investigation of multiplying mixed fractions.

The Difference

The difference? The students drove the investigation – not the teacher and her algorithm. Which process do you think students will remember more; the paper and pencil teacher-centered approach or the student-centered process where kids find out how to learn how to make cookies for each other? To me, the choice is clear. Guide students to drive students to experience their own learning.

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