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Have you ever wondered why students don’t like school?
Most of us haven’t given the question much thought; disliking school just seemed to come naturally.
Personally I disliked sitting in one place for such a long time.
But maybe the author of "Why Don’t Students Like School", cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, is on to something with his “sweet spot.”
“The problem,” for each student, Willingham says referring to teaching in general,  “must be easy enough to be solved yet difficult enough to take some mental effort,”  He calls this the “sweet spot” of difficulty.
Goldilocks would have understood: the bed couldn’t be too hard or two soft (easy); like all of us she was looking for “just right!”
Of course in the real world that perfect mattress is hard to find. Most of us have tried.
In the educational world it is even more difficult. And with the large classes most teachers are stuck with, it is almost impossible to address each student’s sweet spot. They teach to the middle where the slower students become exasperated and the faster ones become bored--as happens in any endeavor when you try to please everyone.
According to Willingham this was not always the case.
He believes the original colonial-American one-room school house where children of all ages were mixed together actually provided more students with the 'sweet spot' than later educational program manifestations like Quincy, Massachusetts's numbered-grade system.
Children in the one-room school house were allowed to move at their own speed whereas grades required that students be sorted by age rather than ability.
Or as says professor Lillard of the University of Virginia, “What we lost from the one-room schoolhouse days was individualization.
We replaced that with an expectation that all children be the same.
” No wonder schools were often referred to as ‘factories’ by later educators.
"The problem of how to meet students’ individual needs is at the heart of today’s education debates: the achievement gap, tracking, social promotion," says Willingham.
One recent attempt to correct this is called 'differentiated learning,' which allows teachers to teach students at different levels in the same classroom.
Of course as he points out, differentiated learning requires "very capable, very inspired teachers."
There has always been a shortage of these!
As for technology, Willingham sees it as a possible solution to the sweet spot problem.
Adaptive learning software adjusts to individual needs.
But he is ambivalent about computers as he finds many younger children working with software that simply isn’t very good.
Plus, he believes that software cannot replace what children get from interacting with a human teacher. 
We here at RobotsLAB agree: teachers, human teachers, are absolutely critical for learning.
We believe the robots in our  RobotsLAB Box, by stimulating interest in the practical uses of science, technology, engineering and math, are certainly one practical way of helping teachers--human teachers--find the “sweet spot” in every student.
  • Oct 10, 2013 4:00:00 PM
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