Friday, July 24, 2015

Summer School

I am at the three-quarter mark in the summer school teaching calendar with the course due to finish on Friday of next week. Summer school is at its core the education equivalent of fast food. It satiates one with a mea' on the quick but cannot, when all said and done, match up to a nutritious home cooked dinner (at least in my household...my wife is a gem).

This is not to say that educators deliver a lesser program. In fact the level of intensity shown by the staff is just as high and indeed more focused as the teaching zeroes in on the specifics of only one course. Summer school teachers at my board jump through hoops to make the program work in a system with no preps and two solid teaching blocks of almost three hours each (separated by a forty five minute lunch break), that stretches to the limit the concept of endurance pedagogy.

However the structure is essentially flawed (hence the fast food analogy). Delivering a semesters work of content in eighteen days of actual teaching is insane regardless if the classroom hours match up on a one-to-one basis (a stat that only a bureaucrat could love). The mantra is go, go, go as the kids are forced to wade through a week's worth of regular school material on a daily basis.

Now for less academically driven courses this may not be problem but in the sciences it is a huge issue. The mastering of concepts is key to all of physics, chemistry and biology (although to a lesser extent the latter as there is more of a memorization component that defines the life science). Concepts take time to process and even more time to solidify in the neural network of the learner. This is a necessary function in advance of the later application/problem solving component that is required from the students. Work in cognitive science has consistently backed up this notion. In short new ideas need to sink in, stew, perculate and then emerge. The brain has to build synpatic connections and these are temporally driven.

Summer school allows for none of this. It can't - the time interval is forcefully expedited and the necessary brain processing is most certainly compromised. So as much as teachers try and maintain the integrity of ther credit (and believe me we do) Summer School ultimately offers an inferior option. There's the rub.

I personally would never recommend Summer School to students who are serious about real learning especially if they are considering taking a course in an area that they intend to follow on a post-secondary level. Best to bite the bullet and work through the regular year/semester original it will pay off in the long run and is well worth it.

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