My Son Tells Me What He Thinks Kids Should Be Learning

What do students need to be learning?

A few nights ago, while driving home, my middle school son began to talk.  He and I were alone in the car, which is rare, and as he began to speak I listened. After a few moments I said, "I want you to continue with your point, but you have to promise to email me your thinking about this later."

Neither of us can recall his exact first words, but it was something along the lines of "School is teaching me the wrong things."  This is what he emailed me later. I have not edited any of it.

A guest post from my son (via email):
In this day and age, you don't need to know every name and date involved with every war in history, and you don't need to know every answer to every conceivable question, because answers are easy to find. If for some reason you need to know some obscure historical fact, you can look it up on a smartphone. What you do need is a mindset for solving problems, asking questions, and thinking critically, so that you may solve any problem you are faced with. I believe that the best way to instill this mindset in a child is through video games. 

Video games offer constant mental exercise, immediate feedback, and an approachable setting. One of the best games for this would be a game called Portal, released by Valve in 2007. Portal teaches you to think outside the box and against adversity. The game consists of a series of 'test chambers' which you must exit by placing two linked portals on the walls in order to place cubes on buttons, launch yourself over tanks of acid, and find a way around deadly, deadly lasers. In chamber 09, a character named GLaDOS, who monitors your progress, tells you that the chamber is impossible and that you should make no attempt to solve it. At first glance, this appears to be the case, when upon closer inspection, it is revealed that you can, in fact, solve the puzzle. Portal gets children thinking critically, or, as valve put it, "Thinking with portals"

They also made a sequel. Portal 2, 2011.

He went on further when he was speaking about the importance of teaching students perseverance. The example he used about the impossible chamber in Portal was part of his point about continuing to work on a problem even while being told it's impossible.

I love that he used the word mindset. I haven't specifically used that word with him. I suspect some irony in that he probably picked it up at school. Portal is a great game for teaching problem solving and three dimensional thinking. It probably won't gain widespread classroom use anytime soon, but if you have kids at home you might want to consider getting them on it.

Kids these days...