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  • Writer's pictureAMISA

Reflections on what I’ve learned from the first month of a new program

By Corey Topf, Innovation Academy Coordinator, The American School of Lima, Colegio Franklin D. Roosevelt

Twitter: @cvtopf


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LESSON #1: Content still matters in the age of Google, but there’s a twist.

We all know the guy that pulls out his iPhone and asks, “Why are we teaching content when students can get everything they need to know right here?”

At first it seems to make sense. We say to ourselves, “Yeah. Why do I need to know so many dates and names and statistics when I can just look them up?”

Why? Because we can’t have a sustained conversation about anything without at least some content knowledge. Imagine talking about the NBA Finals with a friend, and every two minutes he has to Google the names of the players or the events of previous games. “Remember when what’s his name did that thing at the end of that one game. And then that other guy from the team they were playing just went quiet! You remember that?”

It would be painful. And, quite honestly, the people we most revere are those with a ton of content readily accessible in their heads, not their phones.

I love listening to soccer fanatics who can riddle off statistics about players, teams and can vividly retell World Cup highlights. Because I can’t. I also love speakers who can conjure up a quote out of nowhere and recite it verbatim, because I wish I could. This is content knowledge, and we all need it.  To some extent.

The problem in education is not that we’re neglecting content. The real problem is that content knowledge is often the sole focus once students reach high school. We assume that students are expert learners by 9th grade so it’s time to start dumping as much content into their brains as we possibly can before they reach university, where the second massive dump takes place.

Sadly, this often leads to cognitive overload and much of what is learned is quickly forgotten; rather than deeply understanding ideas and concepts, students only have shallow awareness of what they spent so many hours studying.

Because students—at every level—still need to know how to learn, just as much as they need to know what to learn.

And this has been the most rewarding aspect of the Innovation Academy so far. Every day in the academy we work on content and skills, but we also devote a great deal of time reflecting on how we’re learning and how we can get better at it. Since the 15 students are with me all day on Mondays and Thursdays, we’re able to do so much more than rush through a syllabus.

We talk about efficiency and the importance of working alone at times in order to avoid distractions and in order to learn deeply

We talk about how crucial it is to reflect on your learning both aloud and in writing as a way to solidify concepts.

We talk about having high expectations for ourselves and for each other.

We talk about making all of our learning visible.


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We talk about the importance of giving ongoing feedback that’s specific and that pushes us forward.

We talk about how to self-assess frequently and accurately. We talk about the value of meditation, exercise, sleep and a proper diet for the brain to function well. We talk about the difference between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation, and which one is more beneficial for long-term learning.

But, the key is that we don’t just talk about all of these things, we also do them on a daily basis. Because we also know that deeper learning happens when we’re producing, not simply consuming.

Like any teacher, I want my students to go on to be professional doctors and computer programmers and designers. But above all, I want them to be professional learners, because if they know how to learn, they will be set for life.

To find out more about the Roosevelt Innovation Academy, visit the following links:

A great resource on student learning: Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie

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