The wisdom of seventh graders and you: Design a course


I'm out today to volunteer with grading student essays. The topic the students were given is one that I suggested: "You have been chosen to design a new elective for your school. Describe what it would be."

In a few weeks, you'll learn what the students wrote, but my question for you is what you would propose in your essay. You can answer the question with the wisdom of adulthood (i.e., what course you would design for seventh graders), or, more challenging, you can describe what sort of course you would have designed if you were given this assignment as a twelve-year-old. (Please specify which category you're submitting your entry to.)

At the end of the day, I'll update this entry with my answers.

Update: When I was in seventh grade, I would have wanted an elective in radio and television broadcasting and production. With the hindsight of adulthood, I would propose a course on "basic life skills": From issues such as time management and personal finances (e.g. using funny-money credit cards to experience the consequences of missing a payment) to facts of life like "show up for work on time, no excuses", as well as small skills like how to make change when you don't have a calculator to give you the answer. Though on reflection, this might be more suited to high schoolers.

Comments (70)
  1. Jimbo says:

    Debating Skills

    How to debate without being confrontational.

  2. Nathan says:

    Granted, my 7th grade math class had small section on it. Seems most folks don’t have a lot of personal finance experience/sense. Sure, water it down for 7th graders, but get the basic concepts in place.

  3. Rob says:

    Probability, Statistics, & Board Games

    All the theory I can manage to squeeze in, plus plenty of practical application.

  4. Ralf says:

    Computer game design.  What an engaging way to cram in all the comp sci disciplines!

  5. James Schend says:

    The greatest class I took in high school was titled just "Science Fiction." It was an English course, officially, but it was basically a study of science fiction, the history of the genre, sub-genres covered, etc. I’ve never seen this class offered at any other schools, which is a shame.

    We spent a lot of time reading a classic sci-fi short story, then watching the (original) Star Trek episode based on the short story. We spent a week watching Alien, also. The "final" was to design your own sci-fi world with aliens, technology, whatever and write a story based in that world.

  6. Cody says:

    Classes in the US are commonly 45 minutes, 5 days a week for 10 weeks per quarter.  Most classes (English, math, science) are full year (4 quarters) though some classes (electives on more specific subjects, like typing [shudder] or astronomy are only one semester (2 quarters). (Approximately and depending on school system — this is what I saw most.)

    That being said, 7th graders need to know the difference between self-expression and rebellion and how to ensure they can be expressive and independent while understanding where and why there are limits.

  7. Geoff says:

    How to fix stuff. As a society we are loosing the ability to fix things. We treat almost everything as disposable. If something breaks we just throw it away and replace it with a new one. Most people can’t change the oil in their car, and in many cases don’t even know how to check it.

    Have kids bring in things from home that are broken and teach them, and the class, how to fix them.

  8. andy says:

    Do I understand 7th grade correctly as M7 of middle school, so the kids are approx. 12yr old?

    Recall that we had some very simple computer course, as an "optional elective", at the same level in Norway. Still, it only touched upon topics like typewriting (Writing With Touch 101) and simple word processing.

    Would really like to see some simple programming course there. I started programming in my spare time at roughly the same age (Go BASIC ;)). Should be driven by a small project, such as making a db-system for sports statistics, or similar. No complicated IDEs etc., just a plain text editor and command line so it is easy to understand what is going on. It’s not that fun & valuable to learn "click here, click there, paste code here, click, click" and wow, it works.

    My proposal fits in both categories, since I actually wanted such a course at that time too :)

  9. C Gomez says:

    On a tangent from the debating topic proposed above, I would propose critical thinking.

    I think high school students making key decisions about college and their future, along with college students and adults in general, would benefit from a good dose of critical thinking.

    Far too many times, we see justifications for beliefs or analysis that are based on ad-hominem, straw man, non-sequitur, or red herrings.

    Critical thinking is not always easy or obvious, and everyone makes mistakes, but just a basic understanding of the process would help prevent non-critical conclusions.

    As an example, just in my job in software I hear far too many times from supposedly logical thinking programmers that "their code is probably right, something MSFT did must be broken".

    In political opinion, this is vast.  The speaker of a conclusion is often given more weight than analysis of the conclusion, leading to completely invalid assumptions or maxims that contribute nothing to the discourse.

    There is a place in life for emotions, instinct, hunches, and risk-taking.  However, we make very little time to teach students to think critically.  The result is a general society where often the speaker of a statement carries more weight than the statement and simple distractions (red herring/look-over-there) can be considered an actual rebuttal of a critical conclusion.

  10. C Gomez says:

    @Adam: Examples of electives.

    Consider what you might think are the "core fundamentals" of education.  In the U.S., I would say it is commonly English, History, Math, Science.  That might be a good summary.  Commonly, students will also engage in Physical Education/Sports.

    Education is very local here in the U.S., so my experience in the Fullerton area of north Orange County, California in 7th grade can be vastly different from someone in Alaska, Texas, Florida, or even Anaheim, California (a city mere blocks from Fullerton).

    The kinds of electives I had to choose from in 7th grade were things like: "Computers" (broad intro to computers including BASIC programming on Apple IIs, who knows what it is now), Drama, Foreign Language, Music (Band), Choir (Singing), Art, and so on…

  11. Erik says:

    I’ll agree with andy and say Programming. I didn’t even have the option to take a programming class until late in high school, which is odd since early middle school seems to be the time that a lot of programmers first ‘get into it.’

  12. jeffdav says:

    I love Geoff’s idea of fixing things.

    I also agree with C Gomez’s points about critical thinking.  We did a several week unit on critical thinking in my 9th grade English class that involved identifying logical fallacies and analyzing advertising to understand what sort of fallacies they appealed to.  It was pretty good.  Not sure 7th graders are quite ready for that sort of thing though.

    My suggestion would be a course on decision making and personal responsibility.  I’m tired of being in situations and asking people questions where the answer is A or B and getting answers that are along the lines of “well kinda both” (I can’t decide) or “well kinda neither” (I don’t know what’s going on).

    But I have no idea how to teach that.

  13. Massif says:

    Epistemology, or whatever the philosophy behind determining truth and the value of science is called.

    I had to study that as part of my college course and it was fantastically useful. There’s nothing like a bit of philosophy to get the brain in gear. In fact, philosophy generally would be good too.

    Alternatively a course just titled "argue with the teacher" where students were marked on the insightfulness, robustness and imaginativeness of their arguments would be good too.

  14. Trey Van Riper says:

    Well, depending on your goals, you could probably inspire a lot of imagination (and the consternation of parents) if you had the class design a prison.

    This forces you to think about a wide variety of topics ranging from the mechanics of keeping people from escaping and maintaining order, to your own personal consequences for violating the law.

    The lesson is a little heavy for 12 year olds, if you take it too far, but if you allowed it to be more free-form, with the instructor simply pointing out possible problems (while letting the students think of solutions.. not prompting them), you introduce problem-solving skills into the curriculum.  Something I feel is woefully lacking in education today.

  15. Greg Neilson says:

    "(Please specify which category you’re submitting your entry to.)"

    LOL

  16. Garry Trinder says:

    Actually, the class I would have most liked in 7th grade was a serious current affairs class.  I was in 7th grade in 1974-75 — Nixon had just resigned; we had just pulled out of Vietnam (although there was still fighting going on), and the Zodiac Killer was writing letters to the newspaper — There was a lot of "adult" stuff in the news, but we didn’t have the background to understand it (ie, the watergate break-in had happened three years earilier, which to a 12-year old, was ages ago.

  17. Pavel says:

    Logic in it’s Aristotelian sense. Syllogisms and stuff.

  18. Lee Dohm says:

    The class I would have wanted in 7th grade would have been "Dungeons, Dragons, Myths, Monsters: How to be a better roleplaying gamer on both sides of the GM’s screen".  It would start with the class constructing a campaign and then over the course of the year the class would make characters and play within the game world, each taking turns being the Game Master with help from the teacher.

    The class that I would most want for myself in 7th grade, with the benefit of adult hindsight: A real computer class … with theory and someone who knew more than me about them.

    The class that I would like to see offered as an elective (if not a required class) to today’s twelve-year-olds would have to be critical thinking.

  19. Zian says:

    If I were given it when I was a 12 year old…

    I’d also propose a debate class. It covers critical thinking and research skills, both of which are increasingly critical.

  20. mike says:

    Basic household economics. Income. Expenses. What a salary is. What a mortgage is (or rent).

    What sorts of expenses a household incurs — utilities, mortgage/rent, etc.

    What a budget is.

    What a bank account is. What a checking account is. How to balance a checkbook. What a credit card is. How credit card charges are billed. Compound interest.

    A good class project, of course, would be to simulate a year of running a household. (There’s probably software for this.) Throw in the random and occasional unexpected expense — car breaks down, etc.

    AFAIK, you can graduate from high school and never have looked at a bank statement. Seems like the sort of practical information that a basic education should guarantee, dunno. We’re not talking advanced accounting here, just some basic budgeting skills.

  21. Sarah says:

    When I was in 7th grade I wanted a swimming class.  (but my town didn’t have an indoor pool and it was crazy cold – so not very practical)

    If I had to design a class for 7th graders now I was thinking about a "personal finance" class that teaches the costs and benefits of borrowing and saving money – using the semester as a role playing exercise where their choices to spend, borrow and save play out over time (each week is a month or year sort of thing).  

    I also really like the "how to fix things."  That is a class that many of us adults could use too:-)

  22. Andy says:

    Critical thinking taught in a setting where they learn critical thinking in conjunction with things like basic land navigation and wilderness survival. Basically teach critical thinking through the medium of survival. We had courses like this in the Marine Corps and knowing that failure could mean death is a great learning motivator.

    Of course in the US this could never happen because parents would freak out when they found out little Jimmy had to live in the woods for a week with a knife and a canteen and nothing else. So I guess a realistic suggestion would be just a critical thinking course.

  23. Rich says:

    Social skills. Specifically: how to make smalltalk, how to get to know somebody, how to empathise. How to communicate effectively and/or persuasively. Attempting to see things from the other person’s point of view. Non-vocal communication, body-language.

  24. Simon Cooke says:

    As a 12 year old?

    How to program video games – with an assembly language higher level course for the bright sparks. That would have been awesome!

    As for right now?

    A "beginners" gym course, low pressure, with good solid explanations of why this is good for you, and how it will help you pick up chicks later. (Hehe… well, let’s face it, I went to an all boys school, so that’s probably the strongest argument you’d get). I got put off physical fitness when in school, because they had us all playing rugby or jogging, and I just didn’t have the stamina the other kids did. Nobody ever told me "Hey, you know what, in a month, you’ll be awesome at this".

  25. Chris Antos says:

    What Jimbo and Rich said.  I still need to make time to find and then participate in those kinds of classes late in life, and I wish they had been available to me early in life.

  26. John says:

    Wow, you guys are a bunch of squares.  Though I must second the “Time Travel 101” idea.  Don’t forget about John Titor http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Titor or this guy http://www.myconfinedspace.com/2007/02/08/time-travel-advertisement/.

    I don’t think programming (of any kind) would work well because most kids at that age (especially today) are just too impatient for it.  They want whiz-bang X-Box-style graphics before they’ve even gotten to the most basic fundamentals.

    I don’t know what I would have suggested as a 12 year old.  Now, however, I would suggest something along the lines of “Growing Up: Preparing Yourself For The Realization That The Real World Totally Sucks Ass”.

  27. Brian says:

    For Guys: "How to pick up chicks"

    For Girl: "How to avoid dating a loser and getting pregnant before you graduate high school"

  28. cm2 says:

    The class I would recommend for 7th graders is "How to Learn".  I wouldn’t teach kids how to learn about things, as they already have that covered, and "learn" more useless information than anyone could possibly put to use.  What I would teach is to learn to DO something.  Let the kid pick the topic, and work with them to set a basic goal.  Then you teach them how to find resources to help them meet that goal.  So if they pick "Computer Programming", you could pick an easy language (e.g. BASIC) and an easy program to write (e.g. Write a program that determines if a number is prime).  Then help them find the resources to learn how to get it done on their own.  Make them less dependent on a teacher for the rest of their lives.

    I would also liked Simon Cooke’s beginners gym class.  More of a Physical Health as a precursor to a traditional gym class, and then require gym class every day from then through High School, being graded based upon personal improvement and not just showing up.

  29. Caliban Darklock says:

    "Bullshit: Detection, Disruption, and Delivery"

    I cannot think of any more useful skill. How do you know bullshit when you see it? How do you avoid it when others use it? If you need to use a little of your own, how should you do it?

  30. Matt Green says:

    I’ll contribute again and this time submit something a little more relevant. It would have been great to have a "Musical Survey" class where the class looks and tries several common instruments throughout the year, learning the very basics on each. That way, kids who think they might be interested in an instrument can give several of them a try. At the very least, include guitar, piano, a woodwind, saxophone, and, of course, drums.

  31. Lance Fisher says:

    Basic HTML and CSS.  Students could learn some of the basics of building a web page, and they could use that no matter what field they went on to pursue.  I don’t think it would be too ambitious for an elective.

  32. asdf says:

    I’ll take it one step further and make a course on critical thinking ( – a paranoia approach) where kids can learn about a broad grab bag of things like logical fallacies, how the scientific method actually works (and a brief history of science throughout the ages and various things that were added over the years like anonymous peer review, double blind studies, placebos, etc. and point out why certain things are actually pseudoscience), basic probability, mental disorders, hypnagogic hallucinations, false memory syndrome, magician’s patter, guerrilla marketing, astroturfing, etc.

    Except I wouldn’t make this an elective.

  33. Hexar says:

    I was going to say a Personal Finance class with topics on salary, taxes, budgeting, checks, credit cards, investing, etc. but somebody already said it.  I really think that would be invaluable.

    I’m also a big fan of the Probability, Statistics, and Board Games idea.  That would be awesome.

  34. Erisian23 says:

    My adult choice for 7th graders:  "Practical Critical Thinking Skills."

    If I were a 7th graders, I’d prefer:  "Girls – No So Icky Anymore, Eh?"  And of course the fairer gender’s version:  "Boys – Nature’s Biggest Mistake."

  35. dislyxec says:

    I think the bullshit detection/delivery course mentioned earlier would be great.

    My suggestion, I’m not sure this could be stretched out into a quarter long class, but given that tests are (generally) a huge source of stress in high school:

    Test-taking skills + study skills

    test skills:

    -effective guessing on multiple choice tests

    -eliminating bad choices

    -looking for why some choices are presented (should i divide by 2 here for some reason? etc)

    -looking for hints to answers in later sections

    -importance of buzzwords/keywords in essays

    -thinking like a teacher, asking "what is the teacher thinking when making the test?"

    study skills:

    -test question prediction

    -how to cram

    -methods to memorize things easily.

    -etc.

  36. John C. Kirk says:

    I’m not sure about the "designing an elective" question, but following up on people’s suggestions about personal finance, the BCS have recently launched a level 2 qualification for that in the UK:

    http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=nav.8417

    This is aimed at people aged 16 and over, and it’s theoretically the equivalent of a good grade at GCSE.

  37. rolfhub says:

    Well, I think there are quite many possibilities, here are the ones that I feel would be most useful.

    -> Searching (and finding) Information on the Internet, fast and efficiently

    This sounds so extremely easy, just use any available search engine, and you’re done. Well, there’s much that is not really obvious, but good to know, for example:

    • How to use the advanced search options that every mayor search engine offers
    • What the difference between "sponsored results" (a.k.a. advertisements) and real search results is, and how to tell one from the other (some search engines make it easy, others mix them both quite much, so it’s not really easy to distinguish if you don’t know where to look and what to look for)

    • How to open, read and print the different document formats you will encounter (what is a pdf file, how does it differ from a WinWord or OpenOffice.org file, how do you convert from one format to another, how do you search inside the document, etc.)

    • How do you tell a trustworthy source of information from a dubious one, a.k.a. who can you trust, and to what degree

    -> Reading and understanding written text

    This, too, sounds so easy, we’re all able to read and write, of course, but I think there could be quite some room for improvements:

    • How to find and understand the facts in a text fast and reliably. Some texts are straight-to-the-point, others are very verbose. I’m sure there are techniques that can be taught that can improve the skill of finding and grasping the facts in a text, even if it’s very verbose or vague.
  38. Overlapping with the last point of Internet search: Rating the factual quality of a text, to what degree can you trust the author, how good does he/she seem to know what he is writing about, are the relevant facts covered, does he/she try to deceive or manipulate the reader in any way?

  39. Tricks of deception and manipulation, and how to mitigate them: How can the reader extract the facts without being manipulated, how does one separate the facts from the fiction? Especially important for output from politicians ;-)

  40. -> Foreign politics

    I’m not the only one that has the impression that a significant part of the U.S. population is quite ignorant of foreigns politics, so a good course on this subject would probably be really precious.

    Disclaimer: I don’t say that this problem is only present in the U.S.A., so to make it clear: A good course on foreign affairs would be a valuable thing for every student around the world, in every country, OK?

    -> Critical thinking

    Most people here agree that this is a valuable and important quality for a human, to be able to think critical and not just believe every thing that one wants you to believe.

    -> How to get a realistic, precise and detailed, down-to-earth world view

    Now matter if overly optimistic or overly pessimistic, it’s just not a good thing to have a world view that differs too much from reality. People that can see things clear and realistic always have it a bit easier, so I think it’s desirable to get a realistic, precise and detailed world view as early in life as possible. Man, I wish, we had a course like that in school, that would have been really grand!

    That’s it for now, of course there are endless possibilities, but I think these are especially important.

  • Arlie Davis says:

    HTML?  Balancing checkbooks?  What squares.  Total L7s.

    How about model rockets?  Or an "Awesome Physics" class in general?  Build Tesla coils, AM radios, make giant electromagnets, rail guns, you name it.  Infra-red cameras, night-vision goggles!  Lasers!  Smelting!  Black-smithing!

    Logic & bullshit-detection would be great for high-school students.  Not so sure about 12 year-olds — middle-school students are little more than bags of hormones.  So do splashy, flashy stuff, with a subtext of interesting, useful, foundation knowledge.  Don’t expect to find a class full of Einsteins, but nurture them if you do find a few.

  • Adam says:

    Um, for us non-USians, could someone give some examples of categories for electives?

    Also, some examples of choices that would be offered by most schools in a particular category would be good, so we don’t pick something that all schools would already offer, or something *completely* off base?

    Hmmm…also, an idea of how much material is required for a typical course. How long does a course run for? Are we talking 1 hour a week for 6 weeks, or 3 hours a week for 12 weeks, or what?

    Ta.

  • Don says:

    I think I would have liked a logic course.  Nothing complex since were only talking about about 7th grade.  The class would include  math-logic problems, brain-teasers, and puzzles.  Some of the things that would be taught are problem solving skills like determing what the objective is, what the problem is and then work on acheiving the objective.  The final would be a project where you had to create your own logic problem, puzzle, or brain-teaser.  It would be graded on how original the idea was, the level of difficult(it should not be so easy that you can solve it in just a few seconds, probably means you did not put much thought into the project), and if the completeness of the project(meaning there better not be any loop-holes in your puzzle).

    I really liked solving brain-teasers when I was around that age, but I wonder how many other students would be interested in that type of subject.

    I also agree with dislyxec suggestions of a test taking course.   Classes in my experience are weighted so much towards quizzes, tests, and finals that it is essential to have excellent test taking skills.

  • Jim Howard says:

    Free Market Economics!

  • Jonathan Wilson says:

    I think that the idea of a class on "personal responsibility" would be usefull. Instill in our young people from school that THEY need to take responsibility for their actions and NOT go looking for someone else to blame (or to sue)

  • Matt Green says:

    Time Travel 101 (TT101)

    I would design an elective that centers on proper use of a time machine. It seems that some of the younger generation simply does not give any thought to proper manipulation of the space-time continuum. A large focus will be on exploring unintended consequences that may arise, and how to deal with them. Physical implementation strategies will also be discussed, and a survey of existing technologies will also be made.

    Prerequisites: familiarity with one (1) of the following:

    * Chrono Trigger (SNES video game)

    * Back To The Future (movie)

    * Terminator series (movie)

    * Other forms of media, subject to instructor approval.

  • Miles Archer says:

    That’s easy. As a seventh grader, all I wanted to do was program computers. I’d want a course to teach assembly language because, at the time, it was the way to write fast games. If I was a seventh grader now, I think I’d want a course teaching how to write computer games.

  • Mikkin says:

    In the category of *not* what the students are asking for, but might do them good:

    – Numerical Algorithms & Estimation using Abacus and Slide Rule.

    – Applied Group Theory: from Finger Weaving to Rubik’s Cube.

    In the category of books I have actually used with kids that age for extracurricular study:

    – How to Lie With Statistics.

    – The Design of Everyday Things (selected readings).

  • Geoff says:

    I asked my daughter who is 13. Her first suggestion was "fashion design". Then a course in manners. No one uses their manners anymore. She also suggested a course in game design or how to make a website, but not programming. Another course suggestion was emergency preparedness. Earthquakes, tornadoes, 9/11, etc.

    She said that no one at her school would know what critical thinking is so that wouldn’t go over very well.

    The interesting thing about these questions is that most people’s answers are colored by what they like to do and their present situation. Adults tend to over estimate the depth of knowledge a 12 year old has and what you can teach them. You really have to ask a 12 year old to get a proper answer.

  • Roastbeef says:

    "Back of the envelope math"

    Teach kids how quicky come to a rough estimate of the solution to various word and number questions.  Emphasis not on perfect math technique or exact answers, but rather getting comfortable estimating input values and order-of-magnitude math.

  • Chris says:

    Scott Adams actually recently wrote an article on this. Don’t read this if you don’t want *spoilers* before answering the question yourself.

    (But then again, you probably wouldn’t be reading any of the comments either. Just being safe.)

    http://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2007/03/smarter_than_a_.html

    Me? I think it’s important to teach kids how to think critically and independently.

  • KB says:

    I was going to propose critical thinking, but I see C Gomez beat me to it.

    I had the good fortune of being in a gifted program in elementary school, and in 6th grade had a teacher who invented much of his own curriculum.  It included critical thinking and formal logic.

    I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but looking back now, I realize that these introduced what I consider fundamental life skills, and that a great many people never get exposed to them at all.  In fact, I didn’t encounter the material in an academic setting again until college.

    I would suggest that college is far too late to introduce someone to logic rules and deduction.

    I think I can also argue that pretty much every course proposal above would benefit from students having prior exposure to critical thinking.

  • Puckdropper says:

    In 6th or 7th grade, We had a semester of keyboarding.  I’d think in this day and age, though, keyboarding should be stressed and taught in elementary school.

    Also in 7th grade, we had a semester of shop class.  In shop, we learned power tool safety, and how certain tools are designed to be used.  While the class was merely a beginning, I learned many of my power tool safety habits there.  This could be an essential class, especially since power tool manuals consist of 10% warnings, 10% disclaimers, 10% copyright, 10% part IDs, 10% troubleshooting, and maybe, hopefully, possibly, the rest is how the tool is to be used.  (If you’re lucky.)

    AFAIK, Illinois High Schools all have Consumer Education courses that are designed to teach people some of the very things that have been suggested.  They’re a senior-level course, usually lasting a semester.  (No more, please!  If it hadn’t been for a friend of mine, I’d have hated and dreaded going to that class.  I still didn’t like the class, but at least I got to see my friend.)

  • KB says:

    “From issues such as time management and personal finances…”

    This is another thing I experienced when I was in 6th grade.  The teacher designed a classroom ‘economy’.  Students all took on various class duties, some ongoing and some one-off jobs.  These enabled us to draw funny money salaries, dependant on actually doing the jobs, of course.  We all had fictitious ongoing expenses we had to cover, plus the money could be used to purchase prizes and/or privileges from time to time.  There were also financial incentives for certain academic or extra-curricular achievements (defined by the teacher).  This economy went on throughout the year.

    This was a great thing.  I hadn’t thought about it in years, until I read Raymond’s update.

    [You have to be careful to set this up well, though, in order to make things realistic. As I recall, a friend of mine exploited and ruined his “classroom economy” once he realized that it wasn’t set up realistically. -Raymond]
  • Anthus says:

    I don’t know that a life skills education actually does all that much.  I remember how we all rolled our eyes, teachers sometimes included, in any bureaucratic attempt to teach us things about life.  Self-esteem, don’t do drugs, be on time for things.  

    Life skills are the sort of things that can’t be taught as principles.  It’s easy enough to say "Don’t be late for work, ever," but responsibility has to be learned firsthand, and that’s not something that can be directly planned.  

    I like all of the economic suggestions.  

  • James says:

    Let’s see… when I was that age, I did a little double-entry bookkeeping, which seemed like fun at the time. (Hey, I’d been programming for about seven years already, so it was that or master 6502 assembler, which seemed a bit too strange at the time – I went straight to ARM assembler instead.)

    I’m not sure either of those would be popular choices, though! ‘Critical thinking’ would be good, which might explain why so many people have suggested it…

    One I haven’t seen suggested yet, though, is law: explain the concepts of contracts, statutes, property, due process, the difference between criminal and civil procedures, that sort of thing.

    (My own schools had nothing of this sort: languages, sciences, maths – and PE, once a week, on top of daily sports sessions. Not exactly ideal IMO!)

  • Andrew says:

    “show up for work on time, no excuses”

    *What a horrible thing to teach a child*. The last thing the school system needs is more indoctrination that life is “put up and shut up”.

    To be 180 degrees opposite from this, teach children all the possibilities for what they can do when they “grow up”. Not only about white and blue collar employment, but about contracting, self employment, business ownership, freelancing, artistry, etc.

    Basic life skills? Sure. But don’t constrict children’s imagination within boxes like “facts of life”. If anything the doors of possibility should be thrown open.

    [My point wasn’t that you shouldn’t explore life. My point was that in the real world, deadlines actually mean something. It’s not like in school where you can submit an assignment late and still expect to receive credit for doing it. -Raymond]
  • Zakhariah Fairfax says:

    As a kid: probably computer programming.

    As an adult with hindsight: critical thinking (especially including intellectual humility).

  • Anthus says:

    Oh, I also see the "test taking skills" course.  Nothing was such a waste of time in high school as the class where we learned how to study, how to take tests, because they are processes that it doesn’t make sense to teach by themselves.

    You should be learning how to take tests in the classes where you’re taking tests.  Learning by doing, and if the teacher’s savvy, the teacher can give tips.  

    As an example, effective test-taking strategy will consist of taking notes and preparing for the test.  The sort of people who are going to listen to this are already doing that.

    This also applies to taking advantage of multiple choice tests.  Going over a multiple choice test in a regular class should be enough exercise for this proficiency; teaching it is just silly.  If you can’t pick up how to eliminate choices when your teacher goes over the test* that you did poorly on, how are you going to when someone says to your face "Try to eliminate choices!"  

    *I don’t know about everyone else, but we periodically went over each and every question and thought through them.  

    The only way to get better at tests is to take them and then think about what you did wrong.  Teachers can help by explaining what went wrong.  

    Both this idea and the one I discussed previously have the odor that I remember well from my school days: foolish bureaucracy with a notion to make a change.  

  • alex.r. says:

    "My point was that in the real world, deadlines actually mean something."

    That’s it, here’s my confirmation that the software industry doesn’t belong to the real world .

  • Andrew says:

    "It’s not like in school where you can submit an assignment late and still expect to receive credit for doing it."

    You can do this in school? That’s kind of dumb. Indeed, I assumed "deadlines" would be adequately covered by the usual curriculum.

    But my original point still stands – the less creativity and inspiration school beats out of you the better (yes, I’m still bitter).

    Also – another shout-out for teaching basic microeconomics. That’s something that is of very general utility that a lot of people don’t seem to fully grasp.

  • Gabe says:

    Something I would have like is art for people who aren’t good with their hands. This wasn’t an option when I was in 7th grade, but computers make it all possible now.

    Painting and sculpting require lots of skill and coordination to make anything resembling nice, but any 5-year-old can pick up a digital camera and start making nice artwork. You could teach real lessons about composition, color, etc. with digital photography.

    Similarly, it’s hard to learn to play an instrument if you’re not coordinated, but you can’t learn much about music if you can’t play an instrument. With a computer, you can teach all about music theory and let the software play the instrument for you (MIDI).

  • ::Wendy:: says:

    Answered with the wisdom of adulthood after realising in my late 20’s that accounting can be an absolutely fascinating job…….  

    course title:  "When I grew up I got to be…"

    course objectives:

    1) raise childrens awareness of the diversity of ways of living/jobs

    2) generate awareness of how different jobs may actually be from the impression of intitial description,  for example is a police detectives job really like what you see on the TV?  Where can carpentry skills take you? (e.g. boat builder)

    3) provide a strong introduction to the notioon that they own their future,  and ours

    4) have fun in class and outside class

    5) practice conversational research skills (interview an adult)

    6) practice presentational skills (produce .ppt slide-deck)

    Course content:

    Guest ‘speakers’ selected based on the following criteria:

    1) diversity of job-roles and life-styles represented in the set covering the course

    2) entertaining speakers,  construction of class activities during session –  ie not just speaking they give the children activities to engage in.  Each speaker uses a .ppt slide deck that is a role-model for the childrens coursework in form and content (teacher may have to produce these in liaison with guest speakers)

    3) include at least one person that might broadly be considered as a societal failure (e.g. unemployed drug addict – how does this person live?)

    Coursework for assessment:

    Interview someone about their job.  Based on this interview make a 20 slide power-point presentation that

    a) describes the job/lifestyle (with pictures)

    b) highlights the fun and exciting parts of the job/lifestyle (with pictures)

    c) describes what the person needed to do to before they were able to get the fun bits (with pictures)

    d) explains the parts that are not fun but need to be done (with pictures)

  • Mahendra says:

    As an adult, I would want a course in basic life skills.

    It would cover things like

    1) How to tie a knot (or several kinds)

    2) Basic survival (if you get lost while camping)

    3) Basic cooking

    4) Basic repair (can you fix a flat tire? Change oil?)

    5) Understanding human behavior (know that some people only want your money)

    6) Urban / rural living (depends on your locale but rural kids will get to experience a week in Harlem and Bronx  kids will get to milk a cow for a week)

  • Mikkin says:

    Where I live, in Los Angeles, there is a big push to roll out a "Life Skills" class in middle school (7th-8th grade).  It will be mandatory, not elective, and it’s not about what you might expect:  The core of the course is conflict resolution and anger management.  I find it just depressing that there is such a pressing need for this.

  • Igor says:

    From what I have read here, I get the impression that the learning potential of U.S. kids at the age of 12 is completely underutilized.

    Furthermore, it seems that many people believe certain (easy) things to be "way too hard for a 12 year old" and frankly, that worries me a lot.

    You seem to be too easy on your children for their own good.

    I agree the most with critical thinking, logic and reasoning or simply "How to use your brain".

  • Mike C says:

    Course:  How to talk to girls and understand women!

  • Melvin says:

    As a 7th grader I would have loved a directed  applied chemistry elective on blowing stuff up.  As it was I taught myself on the sly but looking back it’s amazing I’ve got all my fingers and senses.  

    In my mind the course would have extensive instruction on performing explosive chemistry safely. It would be structured in such a way that students used experimentation to develop a low explosive, say black powder from something that can barely burn to something impressive.

    ""It’s not like in school where you can submit an assignment late and still expect to receive credit for doing it."

    You can do this in school? That’s kind of dumb. Indeed, I assumed "deadlines" would be adequately covered by the usual curriculum."

    One of the strangest realizations of having fallen into a bad habit I had was on leaving school and entering the workforce. Most employers have a strong "No fooling, we expect you to complete this task" policy.  16 years of school had taught me that as long as you got it 90% finished and correct you’d be rewarded with the highest compensation possible.  So why kill yourself over the last (and undoubtedly hardest) 10%.

  • Do not attempt to adjust the picture.

  • ::Wendy:: says:

    girls raison d’etre is not to be objectified by boys

  • Igor says:

    Course:  How to talk to girls and understand women! — DOES NOT COMPUTE! BZZAAP!!!

  • Alex says:

    I would introduce a course that teaches children how to communicate properly.

    Dialogues are a great tool, we can use them to convince someone to follow our lead; we also need to understand when in a dialogue the other party attempts to ‘convert’ us to their vision (it is like selling your soul to the devil by agreeing to some terms which were not thought out thoroughly).  Most of the times this is done in a very subtle way, and we don’t notice until it is too late.

    Social skills can be a good offensive weapon, as well as a good defensive mechanism, depending on the circumstances. They didn’t teach me any of this in school, and I had to figure things out myself by making mistakes and then learning from them. I am still learning.

  • If you could decide what you would learn.

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