Striving for Accuracy: A Holistic Approach
Knowledge of the natural world is critical to the development of learners who will one day make decisions that impact the future of our planet. My own connection with nature has been central to my experience and practice as a teacher – as have the Habits of Mind. While teaching at the Waikiki School, my students applied the HOMs to everything I taught; academics, Hawaiian Studies, the planting and cultivating of our orchard and food farm, and after school cooking classes. For me, the HOMs are holistic in the way nature is – all parts contribute to the success of the whole.
Striving for Accuracy is a skill that is equally important in academics and horticulture, and I teach it in the same way I teach all the HOMs. I begin with Concept Attainment – as a class we look at what the HOM is and what it isn’t, and then collaborate on providing examples and non-examples. Then we apply the concept to an activity. I’ve found the Habits of Mind Animations very useful, even for my 4th graders. The videos are simple and clear – like using a picture-book to start learning a new concept. We are able to really focus on the Habit of Mind concept, instead of a complex storyline or character development.
When writing descriptively, we assess our writing with a focus on precision; examining our word choices, with the goal of accuracy. Will the reader ‘see’ the setting we are describing exactly as we describe it? What have we left to interpretation? How could we be more precise in our description?
We are exact in our planning based on our knowledge of what the seed requires to grow: correct soil, correct spacing, correct depth, correct watering. We monitor the growth process, assess the effectiveness of our layout, and manage trapped growth. Even in the simple tasks of pruning and cleaning up there is opportunity to develop awareness of the importance of accuracy and precision: what happens if implements are left lying around? What happens if old growth isn’t cleared?
Cooking class provides an excellent opportunity to explore degrees of precision and accuracy. For example: when we bake, precision and accuracy is critical. What if we leave out a key ingredient like Marcus did with his volcano? We learn that in baking, too much or not enough can make or break the outcome. However, in some food preparation accuracy may not as important, such as in dishes that require seasoning to taste.
As a public-school teacher, the Habits of Mind have been important to the success of my students (both in and out of the classroom), for 14 years. This year I joined the ranks at Punahou, a private school known also for being Barack Obama’s High School Alma Mater. Even though Punahou isn’t a ‘Habits of Mind’ school (yet), I teach the HOMs in my class. I am hoping to spread my practice in the area of curriculum development, especially in the area of the “Aims of a Punahou Education”.
Punahou’s structure, goals and culture are centered in its vision, mission, and aims. These ‘aims’ are articulated in high level (and complex) terminology, and are literally packed with the Habits of Mind. I believe teaching the Habits of Mind explicitly would provide a useful ‘how’ these aims could be broken down, chunked, and taught in a way that kids readily connect with them.
Punahou is a good fit for the Habits of Mind (and me) in practice and philosophy, leaning towards holistic education that meets the needs of the 21st Century learner. I am optimistic about the benefits of Habits of Mind instruction finding its way to the heart of Punahou: especially since the final paragraph of the “Aims of a Punahou Education” would seem to invite it. “Like the world around us, this conversation continues to evolve. Our goal is to provide a dynamic learning environment in which faculty and students continue to reflect upon these aims while discovering innovative ways to achieve them.” Direct instruction of the HOMs would be an excellent way.
John Melton has been a contributing author to multiple Habits of Mind publications, and has presented in Australia and New Zealand for the Institute for the Habits of Mind. He was instrumental in the piloting of the ‘Aina Is’ program in Hawaii, as well as founding and developing the Waikiki Organic Orchard and Food Farm.