Cool ways to learn

[attach]835[/attach]A typical day at the office for Peter Lynch isn’t in an office at all — it’s in the classroom playing with pulleys and showing grade 2–4 students how the gear inside a bicycle bell works.

Lynch doesn’t call himself a specialist, but the certified teacher is only one of 20 presenters across Canada that teaches the gears and pulley workshop offered by Scientists in School, a non-profit organization that does science-based educational outreach.

“The students call me Scientist Peter,” Lynch says.

As the school year revs into gear, organizations that offer educational workshops in schools are heading back into the classroom as well. And though many offer programming that complements or directly feeds into the school’s curriculum, often a high level of expertise and degree of specialization is required to teach them.

“Science is a hard concept,” says Lynch, who teaches in schools across Toronto.

“It’s difficult for teachers to understand those concepts,” he says of his pulley and gears class.

Schools choose to use his program, as they don’t often have the resources to buy the intricate pulley system he works with, which costs about $200.

Some teachers use the information from the workshop to stand in for an entire unit, he says, but more often than not they use it as an introduction or review of a unit that they teach.

Most important, the workshops make learning about science more exciting for kids, he says, mainly because they are taught in ways that appeal to the different way kids learn.

“They see cranes all the time but if they see how that crane works (in the pulley and gear workshop), they may become interested and grow up to be engineers,” Lynch says.

Being an engaging presenter and connecting with students right away is important, he says, as that can engage the kids even more and get them thinking about the world and their place in it.

During a workshop he teaches on soil, for instance, Lynch cuts up an apple in an effort to show students how much of the earth is used for farmland. For every bit of farmland that disappears due to development, he cuts another piece of the apple off.

Eventually he gets down to this tiny piece of skin and when there’s hardly any left, Lynch tells students it’s up to them to take ownership because they’re the future.

“They’re really silent,” he says of that moment. “They’re not laughing; they’re just thinking about what they can do to make a difference.”

Sometimes a workshop can be so specialized it’s completely unfamiliar and new to the schools and its learners. But it can still have far-reaching cultural and social implications, as Emile Studham and his team of mostly Australian athletes know.

The founder and director of the Aussie X, Studham and his team go into schools and teach students Australian football and other sports.

Called footy, Australian football is completely different from what most students are accustomed to, Studham says, as it naturally builds on mentoring and leadership skills that other sports don’t.

Down under footy follows a club model where communities of people play together and kids have to live up to the expectations of the club.

Here, the sporting model is more elitist, he says, based on skill. But footy the way they teach it opens up opportunities for kids, he says.

“It often saves young peoples’ lives,” Studham says.

So much so the Aussie X has partnered with the Ontario Australian Football League and the Toronto Police Service to launch its “Youth @ Risk” program, which teaches footy to disadvantaged youth in Toronto schools.

The idea is to give kids an outlet to be actively involved in sporting programs that are challenging, fast paced, easily accessible and affordable, he says.

Where some sports foster fighting, footy encourages teamwork and a different model of interaction with students, he says.

“They can get their anger out in a controlled environment,” Studham says.

The students love it, he says, especially when the instructors teach them popular Aussie expressions.

“They just lose their minds,” he says.

Some private schools have adopted the program as part of their regular sports curriculum, he says.

The sport of footy is beneficial socially: it has a bit of a levelling effect, too. Often it’s the student who listens the best that plays the best, Studham says, and not necessarily the kid with the greatest athletic skill.

“Sometimes you’ll see a young kid who’s clearly not the most popular kid in the class,” he says. “All of a sudden he’s walking taller.”