As someone who's spent time in a number of classrooms recently (both high school, community college, 4-year university, and military training), one important thing that stands out to me is the importance of interaction. While a lecture or handout might physically get the information across, the only way to ensure that students know the material is to involve students and teachers in learning. Whether that comes in the point of a debate or some form of activity doesn't necessarily matter-without fail, every one of my favorite classes involved the teacher interacting with students constantly and consistently. Classes which have little or no student-teacher interaction tended to be not only less interesting, but more difficult to retain information.
Now, I know that a significant number of modern college courses are lecture-based-or, in this tech-centric era, completely online. However, even then it is possible to feature student interaction and debate. It is even more crucial at that point to maximize the amount of interaction between students or between students and professors. Let me use a current example.
To make it personal, I am currently enrolled in two online courses. Both are offered through the same university, through the same department. They are extremely similar, in fact, and I have used information from each to benefit the other. The only major difference I have found has been in the level of interaction between students. For the rest of this, I'll simply refer to them as Class A and Class B. In Class A, students are required not only to write a short essay every week regarding the week's topic on a board viewable by all students, but they are required to respond to at least two other students' essays in order to encourage debate back and forth on the issues. In Class B, student interaction is minimal, and information is tested only through quizzes and papers submitted directly to the professor. Now, which class do you think has forced me to learn more-and to retain that information? That's right-the student-to-student interaction allows everyone the chance to refine what we each take from the lesson, and forces everyone to defend our ideas on a regular basis. This back-and-forth encourages us to spend much more time refining our ideas, which results in not only significantly more learning actually being accomplished, but in students having much more fun in learning.
It comes down to this: we have to find a way to improve the educational system in our country. Common Core is a highly controversial (and, most would agree, highly dysfunctional) attempt to solve this problem. However, Common Core or not, if teachers don't engage their students, they do a disservice to everyone. It's a problem that's far more difficult to solve, and it involves everyone getting involved. School boards and administrators must provide incentives to teachers that foster student engagement. Parents must involve themselves as well in ensuring that those who teach their children actively are committed to doing so. Finally, though, students need to do their part-both participating as much as they can in those settings which allow such engagement, and complaining if teachers don't meet the standard. Jeff Bloom showed the extreme. Students want to learn-at this point, it's up to everyone else to give them an environment in which they can.