“No child rises to low expectations. ” – Stephen Ritz
Contexts, the “how” of student activities, can make or break a student’s ability to retain important information. Some contexts – like things that only occur in classrooms and things that resemble tests – result in less engagement than others: they are intrinsically less interesting to students. Less engagement = less retention. One of the most engaging contexts is Real World activity: something that either simulates a real world experience or something that is a real world experience. The Cult of Pedagogy podcast offers a look at a whole cluster of phenomenal real world activities that were born out of an accidental foray into plants in How One Teacher Started an Urban Gardening Revolution. In this interview with Stephen Ritz, the founder of the Green Bronx Machine, Ritz recounts his long history of trying to bring hands-on, engaging instruction to a community acknowledged to be one of the poorest in the U.S. Ritz fell backward into farming through a gift of some daffodil bulbs, which left him and his students trying to figure out what to do with hundreds of blooms. Later, they ventured into growing food, and the internal logic of such a project took over: the natural, real world outcome was to either either eat it or sell it. So that’s what they did. And from that beginning came a whole host of engaging, hands-on projects that were important to the kids. They explored areas of interest – growing, designing, marketing – and addressed the needs of the students and the community – hunger, health, employment. Ritz is fond of saying he’d “rather fail at a high bar than succeed at a low one,” which exactly captures much of the premise in our Cognitively Rigorous Instruction training. If you enjoy the podcast and have 13 minutes to spare, you can also watch Ritz’s TED Talk. Find the podcast on Podbean, iTunes, or on the Cult of Pedagogy website.