3 Changes to the Education System

My mind is on overload. Eric Sheniger is participating in a book study on Voxer with us. The book we are discussing is Uncommon Learning. (written by Eric) The chat has me reflecting on the education system.

The federal government just gave the state the rights back to education. (read here) This is encouraging news for education. What is not encouraging is that as an education system we still rely heavily on testing and sorting our students by age. I would like this blog to be the start of a conversation. The conversation should center on three statements that I believe to be true.

Statement 1: Grouping students by age is not the best way.

Some of the resistance I heard was about students having a lower self-esteem being in a class with younger school mates. My first thought is that students wouldn’t feel poor about themselves if multiple classes did this. It would be the norm. Students play with each other naturally.

                The picture of a group of children all nearly the same age playing in a school yard may seem familiar to modern eyes, but it is an odd image from the long perspective of human cultural and evolutionary history. As anthropologist Melvin Konner pointed out more than thirty-five years ago, play among children close in age (same-age play) is largely an artifact of modern times.1 Same-age play became common only with the rise of age-graded schooling and, still more recently, with the proliferation of age-graded, adult-organized activities for children outside schools. Over the history of our species, as natural selection shaped the brain mechanisms of play, children’s social play usually occurred among individuals of different ages, often widely different ages. I would highly recommend reading this article that highlights the Sudbury Valley School.

Another statement I heard was that teachers are differentiating in their classes. Here is the problem with that. A 4th-grade teacher may have students ranging from 2nd-6th-grade math levels. Are teachers really differentiating five grade levels? Do they know the standards of 2nd-6th-grade math? Here is an interesting article to read about this.

I am not blaming teachers at all. It is hard enough to teach one grade level worth of content. What could be done is we can have teachers teaching 2-3 grade levels worth of content set up at a student’s pace. When the student is ready they could move to the next level. Data could be tracked to make sure this was happening. Students could progress at their pace. If they paced themselves out of the class they would join the higher class. It wouldn’t matter that they were joining a new class and would have to start at the beginning because the class was self-paced! The student would just start from the beginning. The next year they would continue wherever they left off.

Statement 2: Classes should not be broken down into individual subjects. English Language Arts and Social Studies should be one subject. Math and Science should be one subject.

Mike Ritzius (@mritzius) was the first person to put the idea into my head about combining classes. He actually did it with astounding success at his school. Unfortunately, the idea was not supported even though the data showed how successful of a program it was.

Math and Science walk hand in hand. I may even go as far as to say that Science is Math. Why do we separate these subjects?

Mathematics is used in Physical Science to calculate the measurements of objects and their characteristics, as well as to show the relationship between different functions and properties. Arithmetic, algebra and advanced mathematics may be used.

Arithmetic and algebra is used to establish values and solve simple equations or formulae.

In classical or everyday Physics and Chemistry, normal values are used to solve equations. In Astronomy, distances, sizes, and masses are very large. Special nomenclature is required to represent these values. In Atomic Physics and some areas of Chemistry, sizes and masses are small, although quantities may be large.

Arithmetic consists of simple operations with numbers and values. Algebra is used to show relationships before the measured numbers are used for calculations. Higher math is used for complex relationships between properties. (http://www.school-for-champions.com/science/math.htm#.Vmx1kkqDFBc)

Social Studies is reading and dissecting history. Isn’t that a part of English Language Arts? We have to read non-fiction in school. History is non-fiction. (I know a lot of history is from the point of view of the winners and skewed) Couldn’t we combine them? I ran across a curriculum with a scope and sequence that used UBD and is based on New York State standards. Click here

Statement 3: Movement and technology should be incorporated into every class.

I try not to make blanket statements. This one is a no-brainer. Students should be moving every 15 minutes. You should be moving every 15 minutes. There is a ton of research to support this. It can be as easy as doing a walk and talk or you can use one of a million brain boosters. Read this  to get a better idea of why students should be moving in school.

Technology should be used by you or the students every class. I understand some lessons do not need technology for the actual information to be learned. Examples of this could be scientific experiments, playing an instrument, or reading a book. We can use technology for reflection, keeping track of progress, documenting the lesson with video or pictures. There are very few if any lessons that I have come across that could not be enhanced with technology in some shape or form.

The biggest obstacle to my idea is scheduling and flexibility. Class size would be fluid. How would specials be able to cope? Would parents be on board with this change? All I know is that things need to change if we truly want to say, “We do what is best for our students.”

My mind is still wrapping around how the educational system can be transformed using these three statements. I would appreciate any pushback or feedback about my assertions. They are in no way shape or form set in stone. I come from the vantage point of a teacher and former student. I would love to hear how administrators, parents, board members or any other stakeholders feel about my statements.

Q1: Do you believe that grouping students by age is the best way? #slowchatpe 

Q2: Should classes be broken down into individual subjects? Y?#slowchatpe 

Q3: Should movement be incorporated into every class? y? #slowchatpe 

Q4: Should technology be used in every lesson? #slowchatpe

Q5: Who pushes your thinking the most about changing the educational system? #slowchatpe 




4 thoughts on “3 Changes to the Education System

  1. Judith

    FEAR. What makes any human accept a falsehood? We’re afraid. As parents, as teachers, & as legislators, that we’ll make an even bigger mess than we already have made. I’ll be 61 in already few weeks. When I was 5, my parents were approached by a pilot school, a school “without walls” where students were taught how to search for information and told where to find it. Question periods were the first week. My parents were afraid to allow me to participate because then I’d feel “different” , “odd”. Fear of burns keeps you away from fire. Fear of rooms with fireplaces keeps you cold. Let’s do this! I would expect educators, parents and state governments to hold weekly debates and publish through out the state as in all tv channels hosting a 1 hour program each week. Good luck!


  2. Mario C

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Well I especially agree that we try to force children/students in a box. Whether the box is age, subject or the way one learns. In my experience we learn best by exploring and doing! Learning by exploring the world is fun! Learning while sitting in a classroom takes a lot of the excitement from it. Perhaps it’s finding a way to explore that’s both safe and provides broad knowledge. In other words, how can we create a safe exploring experience? At the moment, I’m searching for EdTech opportunities, yet I have plenty of other ideas. You cn check them out in my blog: http://societyomega.blogspot.com/ Cheers -Mario


  3. B S Yadav

    I agree and support idea of integrating subjects and not teach them in isolatin. Even performing arts like music, dance , painting etc should also be part of this grouping of subjects .
    The idea of class movement is great but the class size and physical space will have to be designed and plan accordingly.


  4. Melissa Eddington

    I couldn’t agree with you more…we need to allow fluidity with our instruction and grouping. When barriers or stereotypes are broken down regarding grouping with different ages and whatnot, that is where real learning can occur. Students have so much knowledge to share and why do they only get to share it with kids their age?

    As an educator, why am I only allowed to teach ELLs? Why can’t I teach a little math, a little science and other subject areas that interest me? We as teachers are restricted as well…

    I hope to be able to participate this week as I love these questions…thank you Justin for asking some bold and thought provoking questions.



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