Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Learn What You Want

Learn what you want.

This is my basic vision of school.

I think students should drive the learning while teachers use their wisdom, life experience, and talents to guide students. Teachers should not be harsh gatekeepers of knowledge, they should be facilitators of learning. Students should get high levels of autonomy and focus on things that stimulate them. It is not an easy task, but I feel it is worthwhile. Given standards, curriculums, standardized tests, and all that modern education has resolved to become, my vision seems far from reality. I don't necessarily believe we have to cave to this pressure. Teachers have the power to make learning exciting or, on the opposite, extremely boring.

What will you choose?

Over the last few months of school, I gradually released control of my seventh grade science class to the students. Why not? It is their class and they need to learn how to learn. They need to learn what drives them, their passions, and what they need help on. This is what the first set of projects turned out.

The first days we worked on a project planning guide. I tried to give students two days to think about what they would study in the given areas we needed to cover. The general section was anatomy. By the end of the year I opened up content completely, but this first project had some restrictions. This was part of the gradual release. Before they started on the project, I went over a few examples that would get students thinking. I have provided both below.

After the students came up with their basic outline, I gave them freedom to explore, learn, and tinker for about 2.5 weeks. I encouraged most groups to write down what they did and learned each day and I checked these after class. I also had many informal assessments each day with the groups to check progress and help with any snags. We had access to some laptops each day, but a lot of student work was done on my computer, student phones, and some random Ipads (including mine). Some groups spend their days building and constructing models which negated the need for constant technology. Other groups, much to my chagrin, would not stray away from PowerPoint and needed constant technology. It was a mixed bag.

Students were engaged a majority of the time, although to be honest I wish it was more. My biggest disappointment was that many students made such amazing breakthrough and learned amazing things, but would not push themselves to the end. They learned more than in regular class and figured out some truly advanced things, but were on the precipice of mind-blowing strides. Most were happy with the progress they showed and wouldn't take the leap.

Other groups or individuals abused the freedom. It was only a handful, so I will live with that. They spent most of the time off task and doing things not related to their project. Next time, it will be my challenge to find something that really excites them. I know all students learn. For example, football plays are extremely complex and youngsters spend hours memorizing them. You just have to find the switch.

Interestingly enough one of the students who was most distracted was absolutely engaged when other students presented. He loved hearing about all the different projects and was even taking notes. He said he learned more from other students than he did most of the time in school. Overall, it was great and the students said they learned more than "regular school". That is enough for me.

Here are some examples:
To see them all go to https://sites.google.com/a/ourladyschool.com/humanbodyonlinemuseum/

One student used Mincraft to illustrate artificial bones. He researched glass and titanium bones. This all started because he wanted to know if humans could be like Wolverine. By the end, he was looking into materials engineering and I could barely help him. His classmates were transfixed!

One group wanted to figure out how we get sick. They ended up using cake baking skills to show white/red blood cells in the body. They presented and shared complete knowledge of the whole system!

One pair asked an truly awesome question--how does the eye perceive reality. After learning about how the brain and eye work together and how we "flip" images, they created a model complete with a look inside the eye.

Monday, July 8, 2013

LMU Guest Lecture on QR Codes

Below is a short "lecture" I gave to an intro teaching and learning class at LMU. Feel free to use or edit with credit.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Projects and Project Based Learning

I love this chart, courtesy of Ann Mayer, details below.

© Amy Mayer, @friEdTechnology, The Original WOW! Academy www.friEdTechnology.com Please copy and use freely!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Session 9 Reads: Tinkering

For Session 9 (Yes, I am behind, but I am learning on my own terms and time), I read three articles:

* Mike Petrich, Karen Wilkinson, and Bronwyn Bevan (2013): It Looks Like Fun, But Are They Learning?, in Design, Make, Play

* Sherry Turkle & Seymour Papert (1990). Epistemological PluralismSigns (journal article).

It looks like fun, but are they learning?

I ask myself this question all the time. I am convinced of the answer. I know the answer, yet I sometimes worry what it looks like to the outsider, the casual observer. For me, engagement is the number one signal. If students are motivated by a task, activity, or project without external stimulus or extrinsic demands learning surely follows. This is a key sign of intrinsic motivation, of inherent interest. Thus, I want my students engaged as much as possible. I do not wish for feigned engagement by way of bribe or punishment, but rather authentic interest. So, yes I ditch the text book and de-emphasize vocabulary. My hope is that through the process of meaningful play, tinkering, and exploration,  "traditional" academic pursuits may follow. 

In the article, It Looks Like Fun, But Are They Learning?, Mike Petrich, Karen Wilkinson, and Bronwyn Bevan investigate the belief that purposeful activity, creation, and construction (i.e. tinkering) leads to authentic learning. They develop the answer to the fun/learning question by watching the hundreds and thousands of guests at the Tinkering Studio at San Francisco's Exploratorium.  Through time they have seen evidence of learning in people's:

"• Engagement: Active participation, which might include silent or still
observation and reflection
• Intentionality: Purposeful and evolving pursuit of an idea or plan.
• Innovation: New tinkering strategies that emerge through growing
understanding of tools, materials, and phenomena.
• Solidarity: Sharing, supporting, and pursuing shared purposes with
other learners in the Tinkering Studio, or with the artifacts they have
left behind."

The above list is wonderful evidence of learning. I would also argue they are characteristics and skills divorced from traditional classroom pedagogies such as lecture, book work, and rote memorization. There is an emphasis on meta-cognition, on the learner understanding how he/she solves the puzzle and can duplicate the process again for future success. Inherent in tinkering are the notions of persistence and uniqueness. It is very rare that one may build something or come up with a solution on the first try. Multiple attempts are necessary and there are various routes and paths to finding success. Facilitators at the Tinkering Studio realize, "one of their most important jobs is to support learners to come to care about and persist in developing their ideas." What an awesome concept! How cool would this be for the mission statement of a school? 

Near the end of the article, the authors discuss the academic concept of congruity. It is very simple for a teacher to point to illustrations in the book and have pupils memorize the definition. It is quite another thing to have students build spinning tops to discover and play around with the concept of congruity. The issue lies in who is learning. The kids that can spit back a definition sure look good on paper, as does their teacher. But are they inspired by the concept? Has the student's thought expanded? Has ambition been lifted? Was there passion? Tinkering's ability to ignite the aforementioned is evidence for the learning it produces.

In order for schools and classrooms to be transformed into design and tinkering studios, we must redefine what it is to know and learn. Thus is Sherry Turkle and Seymour Papert's argument in the paper, Epistemological Pluralism. We need to accept multiple ways of thinking and knowing. This really goes for all areas in the classroom. For too long those who can read and write have been the ones deemed successful and smart in the classroom. If we open up our conceptions of knowledge to allow for multiple pathways, we may be surprised by the students who innovate and blossom. In the past, in order to be successful it has been necessary to play the game of school. Listen to lectures, write down notes, regurgitate information, and participate in uninspiring activity. This need not be the case anymore.  We have the tools for people to explore their own interests, their own pathways of knowledge, their own passions. We have the tools for people to be engaged and interested. If they are, I bet they are learning.