Creating thinkers instead of learners.

This week was my last official week to teach in the classroom. I did a health lesson that was based off a story I read on the internet:

When things in your lives seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full.  They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous “yes.”

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things–your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions–and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else–the small stuff. “If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your  spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first–the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked.

It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.

This was the basis of a health lesson that I did on effective decision making. I developed a work sheet to guild their thinking because I knew that the symbolism might be something they had a difficult time grasping. I did the demonstration just as in the story above except I switched out the coffee for a can of coke. I asked them to work through the first side of the sheet which asked them to write down what the golf balls and the pebbles in their life represented. This separated the “big things” in their life from the “small things”. They then were asked to take the words from above and separate the words into needs and wants. They then made the observations that the “golf balls” in their life were generally the needs and the “pebbles” in life were generally the wants. As the students worked, I walked around the room and asked students to put one thing on the board under the heading need or want. When every student in the class had put a suggestion on the board we had a discussion about the words on the board and our personal definitions of needs and wants. We then talked about what would happen if I had put all the pebbles and the sand in the jar first. They of course came to the conclusion that if I had put the small things in the jar fist that their would be no room for the big things. They quickly made the connection to their own life and many of them had something profound to say about the importance of prioritizing their lives. They connected the ideas to people in third world countries vs. Canadians who are incredibly fortunate. I left the idea of the coke to them. They were to hypothesize about what it represented. Once everyone had made it through the sheet we had a more formal discussion. I had a foam ball and we tossed it around the room. Who was ever holding the ball could say something. It was great to hear how much they got out of the lesson and what it made them think about. Many of them shared what they thought the coke meant and it sparked a very intelligent conversation.

I thought this would be very hard for my students, and in some ways it was. My students do not think for themselves at all. I do not know if it is a result of their education this year or since they entered the system, but my students will not even write their name on their page unless you specifically ask them to do it at a certain time and a certain location on the page. If you do not give them the specific direction, the students will all raise their hands and and ask too many questions to handle. So, when I gave them a work sheet to do their own open thinking they were incredibly flustered. The students were asking question such as “how many words do I have to write down for each box?” or “can I move on to the next question now?” The students were even asking me if their answers were “right”, which surprised me because there was no right answer in this context! No matter how much I would explain to them that the sheet was meant to encourage their own thinking, and they could map it out how they liked, they still wanted pin point directions. This tells me two things; our students are well managed but they can not think for themselves, nor do they know how to, or where to start. This bothers me because part of my teaching philosophy is that my students have common sense and are well rounded thinkers when they walk out of my classroom for the last time. I do not have the authority or the time to encourage more critical and creative thinking but I wish I could. I believe that the education we are receiving at the University of Regina has equipping us with the skills to create thinkers instead of learners. Anyone can learn material and then memorize and regurgitate it. I believe that our system is heading a direction where children will think for themselves and take responsibility for their own learning with the teachers guidance and encouragement. From what I have seen this week, we are a long way from what I would like to see, but I see pre-service teachers adopting new and innovative philosophies and teaching techniques that will push education in this direction. It is very encouraging to see.

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3 responses to “Creating thinkers instead of learners.

  1. First of all, I loved that you created a lesson plan that was able to spark, as you said, “intelligent conversation”! Well done. The story WAS inspiring and if students could see it as a metaphor for life, then you have definitely accomplished something! The next part was a little more “disturbing” (although that is a rather strong word, and I don’t mean it that way). I really liked your thinking on this – and your realization that we, as teachers, want to encourage students to be able to THINK critically – not simply regurgitate the throughts of others. I know you are working in that direction, as many of us are! Personally, I think this is done in part through an activity exactly like you did, even if it was hard for the students. It will be easier next time. I wonder sometimes if the reason students seem almost “paralyzed” to do anything without specific directions is that they fear failure, and haven’t been taught that for some things in life there is not right or wrong answer but rather that the through put into the answer is what is important. It kind of brings me back to the thought I think I shared in class: We don’t teach children to make good decisions by telling them what to do, we teach them to make good decisions by giving them decisions to make!

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