As my only daughter, Erin has to put up with my often expressed frustration with the current education process. Too much sit and get. Too many lectures. Too many worksheets. Not enough critical thinking. Not enough problem solving. Not enough authenticity.

As a junior in high school, she often echoes my frustration. It was several years ago, as an 8th grader, that she became a bit more vocal about it. She was heading out the door on her way to middle school and wasn’t too excited about it.

But bless her heart, she attempted a bit of humor to lighten the mood:

I’m off to change the world, one worksheet at a time.

I laughed but also felt a twinge. She had already figured it out:

Just survive four more years. I might learn something but it’s more likely that most of what I’ll do will be busy work.

Her solution? Make t-shirts.

My daughter claims any and all intellectual property rights.

Of course, that solution doesn’t do much other than make her feel just a little bit better about spending 35 hours a week in the bottom third of Bloom’s.

It certainly doesn’t solve the problem that still exists in many of our schools. We don’t challenge our kids. We don’t ask them to think in deep ways. We don’t require authentic learning. And we know the result – disengaged kids, low levels of retention, and students not prepared for the 21st century world that they will soon be entering.

And the scary thing?

We know better. We have the research. We understand how the brain works. And we choose to ignore it. I’ve heard one researcher call this ignoring of how the brain works:

. . . educational malpractice.

So it’s both frustrating and exciting to listen to Marcia Tate this morning at the AESA conference. Frustrating because it reminds me of how many schools still are and exciting because it provides a model of what schools could be.

Marcia is the author of a whole series of books that focuses on brain-based strategies. The series is called Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites.

She shared a ton of her ideas this morning but the thing that stuck with me is that all brains have two sides – one side that is good at playing the game of school and one side that is good at playing the game of life. As teachers, we focus too much on the left side – the school side – and not enough time preparing the right side – the side that plays the game of life.

And one way to find this balance is by using the following 20 brain-based strategies:

  • Brainstorming and Discussion
  • Drawing and Artwork
  • Field Trips
  • Games
  • Graphic Organizers, Semantic Maps, and Word Webs
  • Humor
  • Manipulatives, Experiments, Labs, and Models
  • Metaphors, Analogies, and Similes
  • Mnemonic Devices
  • Movement
  • Music, Rhythm, Rhyme, and Rap
  • Project-Based and Problem-Based Instruction
  • Reciprocal Teaching and Cooperative Learning
  • Role Plays, Drama, Pantomimes, and Charades
  • Storytelling
  • Technology
  • Visualization and Guided Imagery
  • Visuals
  • Work Study and Apprenticeships
  • Writing and Journals

This is what my daughter needs. Not more worksheets, more engagement. Not more lecture, more collaboration. Not more rote memorization, more learning.

Not sure what this might look like in a social studies classroom? Marcia has a great book called, you guessed it, Social Studies Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites. Is teaching with these strategies more difficult that traditional methods?


But you know what? My daughter’s worth it.