Real learning… without tests/ homework (who would have thought?)!

This past week, I had the pleasure and honor to teach at Hamden Hall’s first ever Engineering and Science Academy, a summer camp for students in grades 6 – 8 interested in Science/ Math/ Technology. Thirty students were selected to participate out of 70+ applicants. @Sarah_Ludwig and I taught game design using Scratch. The learning that took place over the course of the week was so amazing and authentic that it forced me to think “why can’t school be like this”?

What was so good about it? … and so unlike school?

First- the curriculum.

The teachers who were selected to teach in the program got to choose an area of study that they thought would interest and motivate students, and then tie it to a hands-on activity. This freedom of curriculum choice resulted in some of the best, most excited teachers and students I’ve seen in a long time. And the hands-on part made it all real and gave the learning a purpose. Students were exposed to: DNA Technology (and they made a DNA necklace),  Rocketry (and they launched them to see whose design was most aerodynamic), Chemical Reactions (and they made liquid nitrogen), Game Design (and they created their own computer games, then played each others’), Probability (and they studied the colors in an M &M package and then ate them), and much more! Giving the teachers the freedom to decide what they were going to teach made all the difference in the world! They were passionate and the students knew it!

Second- the schedule.

The students had two one- hour time blocks in the morning  (9am – 11am), then went to lunch(11am – 11:40). Then the students swam (and played) for 45 minutes- yes students in grades 6 – 8 still need time to play! At 1pm, they headed to their two afternoon classes. The day ended at 3. Being that classes are usually 40 or 45 minutes, having the extra 15 made a huge difference! It allowed us to accomplish our daily goals, including the hands on activity, without feeling rushed. (Well… technically it still wasn’t enough time but it was  a lot better than 40 minutes!)

Third- authentic learning.

Speaking from my own experience teaching the game design class, giving the students an authentic, real world, concrete goal of creating their own game was so motivating to them that they worked hard and even at home, without having to give homework. What does that say??? They WANTED to figure out how they could make their sprite hide or how their basket was going to catch-all the fruit. They were motivated to plan ahead, think critically and logically, troubleshoot problems, work together to help each other figure things out, and provide peer feedback. If that’s not authentic learning, I don’t know what is! As each student completed their game, there were shouts of “YES!”, “I did it!”, “cool!”. How often do you hear that in school?  The class itself didn’t look like a traditional classroom either. Neither Sarah nor I stood at the “front” and talked. After working with the students to show them the basic building blocks on the first and second day, the kids went to work. Sarah, Chris (our resident programmer genius who works in the tech department) and I spent the remaining days sitting next to the kids, working with them individually, asking thought-provoking questions and forcing them to think! How awesome is that? Most days, we lost track of time and we were late for our drop off. That says something too. No one was watching the clock.

At dismissal on Friday afternoon, parents and students and teachers were marveling about how much was accomplished, how much the students had learned and had grown…

and guess what?…. We did all of it without homework… and tests!

How can we make “real” school more like this?



  1. you asked:

    “How can we make “real” school more like this?”

    Easy! pay teachers as much as pro-athletes and entertainers and fund education to the hilt – Kids would get the message that education is more important and they would be more motivated.

    I was one of the teachers and the kids were truly amazing!!!


  2. Love this blog! And I would have to agree, that when there is a topic that child is interested in learning and has hands-on experience with it, it becomes more motivational for them.


    1. Frank,
      I think if you teach in exciting ways there shouldn’t really be topics students wouldn’t want to learn. I know when I was starting school I wanted to know everything. It wasnt until I had a couple years in a row of unmotivated history teachers that I more or less “gave up” on wanting to learn history in school.
      When I got out of school I started reading on my own about Rome, the Ottoman Empire, etc. and I felt like I got back some of the joy of learning that that particular school had taken away.

      That is just my opinion based on my particular experiences. However it seems to me that if someone things an entire field of study is boring, its because they learned that it was boring earlier in their life.


      1. Chris- I agree with you. A great teacher can inspire a student to love things they aren’t interested in by making the learning relevant to them, and by presenting the material in varying ways. The teachers that talked “at” me did nothing for me!

  3. I was amazed at how much the students were able to accomplish on their own. A lot of them really understood the concepts by the time we were out of there. Most of the problems were little things like forgetting a loop update, or a typo on a variable name, things “real” programmers still do all the time.

    I just wish I could take the same students next year and have them play with Adobe Flash and ActionScript. I think having the background in Scratch would let them soar if they could graduate to the power of a more comprehensive language.

    I would love to see what they could come up with 🙂


    1. These were HIGHLY motivated students. Sadly, not all students are this way and it has little to do with the teacher – IMHO! it is HUMAN NATURE


      1. I completely disagree with you… that’s where the GREAT teacher outshines the GOOD teacher. A GREAT teacher can inspire students and motivate them to WANT to learn. “Any” teacher can make a highly motivated student learn.

  4. […] 2) Taught Scratch Programming This summer, for the first time in 15 years, I taught a computer programming class. I had the pleasure and honor to teach, along side of Sarah Ludwig, 30 highly motivated 6th – 8th grades how to design and create their own video game. I had never used Scratch before so i watched online tutorials, played, and learned right along side of the students. It was an amazingly authentic teaching experience. See my blog post here! […]


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