My Learning Philosophy

As an educator who has taught for more than twenty-five years, I have often reflected on my own learning philosophy. My reflection is a typical part of my role as an educator, and comes as a result of my experience in a private school, where I created my own curriculum, rather than having one assigned to me. My subject matter is also not typical, as I have taught visual arts and technology throughout my career. Both of these subject areas are quite contrary to the traditional “one-size-fits- all” educational philosophy, and in almost every situation in which I’ve taught, I have been the master of the subject, without guidance or administration to advise me in how to address the concepts I was presenting. So as I planned my curriculum each year, it was necessary for me to reflect on what I needed my students to know, and how I could most effectively accomplish what I need to do.

While art history is something that may require study of books and notes, the process of creating art is a personal one. Sure, there were standards by which I taught my courses, but I was never sold on the idea that my students had to be able to answer standardized questions to demonstrate their understanding of what we were learning in class. Instead, they did so through their personal critique of their own and one another’s creations. Their ability to recognize elements and principles of art and design and analyze how they are used together was much more important to me than their memorization of the definitions of those terms and concepts. I enjoyed promoting their individuality and celebrating their differences. Everyone had strengths that set them apart, and the climate of my classroom was one in which those strengths were acknowledged by all of us. There was a lot of work required in my course, and yet my students enjoyed coming to class because they could be comfortable challenging themselves without fear of failure. I like to think I did something right, as a number of my students are working professionally in creative fields where they continue to apply those skills they practiced in my classroom.  

My love of art often extended into my technology courses. My objective as a technology instructor was to teach students how to use the tools available on their laptops. In our 1:1 school, it was important to me that they were able to independently accomplish whatever they might need to in their other classrooms. So after demonstrating tools and processes in an application, I presented my students with real-life problems to solve. I honestly didn’t care what processes or tools they used to find solutions. I was more concerned with whether they could solve the problem at all. It meant that every student had a different result, and that was fine with me. I also made it my personal mission to challenge them by integrating subjects in ways that their teachers wouldn’t think to. Creating animations of a ball bouncing around a room required a plan that was built on a number of steps, requiring their understanding of physics and how direction would change as the ball bounced off the walls. And when March Madness rolled around and they were constantly looking up basketball scores on their laptops, the old saying “If you can’t beat them, join them” inspired me to assign a project in which they would plan a trip to the final four. They used online research to find flights, hotels, and plan for food and transportation. They put it all together by creating an expense report in Excel.  We accomplished a lot of tasks in that one assignment, while at the same time preparing for something they will likely do again in the future.

I don’t like labels, and am not one to define myself or my learning philosophy. I believe that experience shapes who I am and that I’m constantly changing because of that. But having read through a number of articles and reports this past week, I’ve recognized some consistencies in the way I learn, which strongly affects the way I teach. And I’ve done a lot of thinking about whom and what has inspired me along my educational path.

My Inspiration

Many consider John Dewey to be the most influential educational thinker of the twentieth century. His concept of education placed the central focus of learning on meaningful activity and was based on a philosophy of Pragmatism, which is that that real problems faced or experienced by the students themselves should be emphasized, rather than theoretical problems from textbooks.  He saw learning by doing as crucial to children’s education. While I share Dewey’s philosophy, I can’t give him all the credit for influencing me to think that way.  Much of my learning philosophy has been inspired by a 15th century learner by the name of Leonardo da Vinci. Not only was he a talented artist, but he was a scientist, engineer, and inventor as well. His creativity and thirst for knowledge pushed him to break the rules in the name of knowledge.  His incredibly scientific illustrations of plants and flowers and the inner workings of machines came from his mind organically. But his medical illustrations came from a curiosity that could not be satisfied without stealing bodies from a morgue and dissecting them himself.  He was a pragmatist.  He believed that the world was a laboratory. His hands-on, experiential methods of learning were necessary for gaining knowledge. Granted, the printing press had just recently been invented, so books weren’t an easily accessible resource. But Leonardo didn’t rely on others to educate him. He found opportunities to discover knowledge on his own. He was the ultimate learner.

Leonardo’s sketchbooks contain many of his own thoughts about learning. One of them reads “Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in”.  That, in essence, is the theory behind my educational philosophy. John Dewey is credited with this philosophy. He believed that real problems faced or experienced by the students themselves should be emphasized, rather than theoretical problems from textbooks. It was his argument that children must be interested in a topic in order for meaningful connections to be made and optimal learning to occur. Under pragmatic methods of learning, subjects that result in struggle or difficulty for a student should be re-designed to build motivation. (Zappia, 2016).

“Education is not preparation for life: Education is life itself”. John Dewey (1859-1952)

Dewey’s was also a contributor to Constructivism as a learning philosophy. The theory behind constructivism is that all knowledge is constructed from the learner’s previous knowledge, regardless of how one is taught. In his book Democracy and Education Dewey argues that “education is not an affair of “telling” and being told, but an active and constructive process” (Dewey, n.d.). He proposed that education should work with students’ current understanding, taking into account their prior ideas and interests. Under this philosophy, it is the role of the educator to take students’ prior ideas, experiences, and knowledge into account when providing opportunities for students to learn something new (D’Angelo, Touchman & Clark, 2009).

21st Century Skills also play a major role in how I teach and learn. As a technology educator, I am an enthusiast of all things technology and media related. They allow learning to take place everywhere, all the time, on any possible topic, supporting any possible learning style or preference (Palmer, 2015). The resources provided by technology and the Internet are without limits. They are constantly evolving in ways that make learning more effective, more global and more meaningful. And they allow students to individualize learning, which is perhaps the biggest benefit of all. Technology allows students to work with tools that best apply to them, individualizing their lessons. It allows them to be contributors to the learning process, rather than just consumers, by producing a variety of media that can be shared with classmates, or even the world.  It teaches them global citizenship and prepares them for careers that may not even yet exist.  And it offers them views of the real world and experiences through virtual reality, simulations or even interactive exploration.

My Philosophy

In classifying my learning style, I would declare myself a Constructive 21st Century Pragmatist.

Here are some characteristics of my learning philosophy:

  • Activities are interactive, including cloud-based technology that allows for online collaboration and communication.
  • Activities are student-centered, allowing for individuality in process, response and self-expression.
  • Activities are based on real-life, practical problems.
  • The learning environment is a democratic one in which students help one another to understand concepts and processes, and the instructor is a facilitator rather than a distributor of information.
  • Students are allowed to take risks without fear of failure.
  • Student understanding is measured by the process and end result of creative, project-based lessons.
  • Students can research to find information that helps them to complete a task.
  • Projects integrate a variety of subject areas in a practical, real-life manner.
  • Innovation is welcome.
  • Student work is welcome in a variety of forms.
  • No textbook is required.
  • Students are challenged in fun and rewarding ways.

I enjoy watching my students learn, and appreciate the diversity with which they solve problems. I think that their learning experience is one that should be rewarded no matter what the results. The learning environment of my classroom reflects that and allows my students to feel comfortable with the learning process without fear of failure.

My learning philosophy is reflected in my innovation plan, which may be quite different from the philosophies of my colleagues. The fact that a blended learning environment promotes both 21st century skills and experiential (pragmatic) learning, means that my research here will provide any support I need to help encourage my colleagues to consider the shift. I am seeing some support from a number of educators already, due partly to my introduction of cloud based lessons in the lab that are being shared by students with their classroom instructors. Since I’ve provided the introduction (the hard part) more of them are willing to continue using the cloud. But I am worried that with our upcoming assessment window, more teachers will revert to their traditional methods as they prepare for STAR testing. I will just prepare for another push toward the blended learning environment with the start of our second semester.

Annotated Bibliography

Younkins, E. (2016).
Dewey’s Pragmatism and the Decline of Education
According to John Dewey, the contradiction between the students’ real interests and those of the traditional school alienated students from their schoolwork. He believed that students’ energy, talent, and potential could not be realized within the structure of an archaic school system.

Cohen, L. (1999).
Philosophical Perspectives in Education
John Dewey believed that learners must adapt to each other and to their environment and that schools should emphasize the subject matter of social experience. All learning is dependent on the context of place, time, and circumstance.

Keller, D. (2011).
Constructivism
Each of us generates our own “rules” and “mental models,” which we use to make sense of our experiences. Learning, therefore, is simply the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences.

Brooks, J. and Brooks, M. (1999).
The Courage to be Constructivist
Requiring all students to take the same courses and pass the same tests contradicts what research tells us about learning. There are five central tenets of constructivism that motivate students to learn.

Brooks, J. and Brooks, M. (1993).
The Case for Constructivist Classrooms
Learning is a complex process that defies linear precepts of measurement and accountability. There is much evidence that classrooms that are designed to prepare students for tests do not foster deep learning.

On Purpose Associates (2011).
Funderstanding: Constructivism
Each of us generates our own rules and mental models which we use to make sense of our experiences. Learning is simply the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences.

Lynch, M. (2016).
Social Constructivism in Education
In order to apply social constructivism theories in the education arena, teachers and school leaders need to shift and reshape their perspectives. Both must move from being “people who teach” to being “facilitators of learning.”

Boss, S. (2012).
A Parent’s Guide to 21st Century Learning
Discover the tools and techniques today’s teachers and classrooms re using to prepare students for tomorrow. This guide tells parents how they can get involved.

Blair, N. (2012).
Integration for the New 21st Century Learner
Educators need to re-envision the role of technology in the classroom. Students need access to a constantly evolving array of technology tools and activities that demand problem-solving and decision-making.

Couros, G. (2012).
21st Century Schools or 21st Century Learning?
The mass purchase of devices for schools is happening way too quickly, without conversations about what learning should be happening in the classroom. Shouldn’t we try to decide what learning should look like before we purchase the devices?

References

D’Angelo, Cynthia M., Touchman, Stephanie, and Clark, Douglas B. (2009).     Constructivism. Education.com. Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/constructivism

Dewey, J. Democracy and education (1st ed.). Champaign, IL.: Project Gutenberg.

Palmer, Tsisana. 15 characteristics of a 21st-Century teacher. Edutopia.Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/15-characteristics-21st-century-teacher.

Zappia, Susie (2016). The relationship between pragmatism and progressivism in education. Seattle PI. Retrieved http://education.seattlepi.com/relationship-between-pragmatism-progressivism-education-2444.html

Creating a Significant Learning Environment

my-boys-2001

My boys in 2nd grade and Pre-K

One of the brightest minds I’ve witnessed was that of my now 23-year-old son when he in primary school. He was a curious child, and one who observed and soaked in everything around him. He was also extremely creative, and all it took for him to learn is the idea of being challenged. When he started 2nd grade, he told his teacher that I had already taught him everything he needed to know about 2nd grade. Her response was to challenge him. “Oh yeah? Well what’s the square root of 64?” she asked him. When I picked him up after school that day, the first thing out of his mouth was a question about square roots and the number 64.  I explained, and it was enough for him to ask me to quiz him on some square roots. He just got it. He was exceptional with numbers, and his teachers and I really had very little to do with it. As problems arose, he did what he had to, to solve them. I’m sure the process of learning math isn’t that easy for everyone, but he thirsted for knowledge of numbers. He never once used his fingers to add or subtract, and math is a concept he has always understood.  My second son had no interest in mathematics, but he too, was able to learn what he needed to on his own. His passions were more practical, and before he was 1 year old, I could finding him standing on kitchen counters trying to get cookies out of the cabinet, with a chair pushed up to the junk drawer, where he could climb.

The process of learning is a natural one for all of us. Babies learn by observing, and putting things in their mouths. They imitate what they see, and they solve problems naturally. No instruction is needed for them to figure out how to move across the living room floor. It starts with rolling over and evolves into crawling. Ultimately, they build on those basic skills to figure out that they can hold on to the furniture to navigate their way around a room. And eventually, they take the risks involved with letting go, and walking independently.

Knowledge comes from experience and events that occur by chance. It’s organic, and doesn’t necessarily require planning or instruction. But it’s based on necessity and challenges that we need to solve. So why do we focus so much attention on how we teach our kids? Does it really need to be the teacher’s job to give them the knowledge they need? Doesn’t it make more sense that we offer situations and experiences that promote their independent learning?

In a video I watched last week, Professor Dr. Douglas Thomas discussed three areas that are required in fundamental learning (Thomas, 2012). First, there must be passion, because where there is passion, you can’t stop people from learning. Second, imagination must be encouraged, because change comes from those who think “what if…” Third, there must be constraints, because motivation comes from obstacles, or challenges that must be overcome. It makes sense, because these three characteristics of learning occur naturally. And yet this idea contradicts the traditional education system, in which information is transferred from the teacher and the student.

Shouldn’t learning be focused on the student? Doesn’t it make more sense to create environments that encourage independent and natural learning?  Professional educators, philosophers and administrators think so. Evidence overwhelmingly supports the importance of creating significant learning environments, rather than providing information to our students.

Professor Tony Bates stresses the importance of teaching students how to learn. His idea of an effective learning environment allows students to work independently. He compares the educational environment to a garden (Chang School, 2015). It is the teacher’s job to create an ideal environment in which students can grow.

Dwayne Harapnuik agrees. His video about Creating Significant Learning Environments clearly supports the idea that a majority of today’s learners thrive in collaborative and media rich environments (Harapnuik, 2015). In his argument, the network is the focal point of the environment. Allowing students to use the cloud to connect and share with one another teaches them to use technology when and where necessary.

There is little argument that technology should play an important role in effective education today.  The U.S. Office of Education has pushed for the inclusion of digital resources in American schools since 2010, Technology Plan. (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). As a result of the push for inclusion of technology in education, a growing number of online resources exist that focus on instructional technology strategies. Many curriculum plans have been designed to include an online element, and a number of grants have been offered to with the purchase of digital devices that provide online opportunities for all students at school.

serbiaMaking the shift toward a significant, student-centered, media-rich learning environment requires our willingness to accept change. Those who support traditional education believe that “knowledge exists that is both worth communicating and doesn’t tend to change much over time. (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011). While such information may exist, it is becoming increasingly hard to find. Technology presents new opportunities daily and even “traditional” concepts are being presented in new and creative ways.

The Internet began as a source of information we thought to be most relevant (much like our traditional teachers), but it is now changing constantly, as users create tools and media of their own. Many users think of the Internet more as an activity than a source of information. It’s taken on a life of its own, and is constantly being changed and reshaped by the people who use it.

That is perhaps our most important reason for making a shift in how we teach our students. We need to recognize that today’s youth think of technology not just as a resource, but as a means of exploring, imagining, and challenging themselves. Educators who think of their role as the sole presenters of information do not prepare today’s students for the ever-changing world around them. Their focus needs to be on the process, and not the content.

moble

My innovation plan, Motivating Blended Learning Environments (MoBLE), encourages a shift in the way students are taught. Based on the theory and evidence that a blend of traditional instruction and digital learning would create a more effective and significant learning environment, I have created a proposal and timeline for the development and implementation of a number of activities promoting the use of digital tools in classrooms throughout my building.

Since the initial creation of my plan, I have already made efforts to encourage my co-workers to think differently about their learning environments. I’ve introduced O365 to my third, fourth and fifth grade students, and we’ve created presentations, research documents and graphic organizers that I’ve had them share with their classroom teachers. In my mind, it encourages my co-workers to work with their students, and to use tools they may have been afraid to introduce in their own classrooms. I’ve also accompanied a number of educators in their classrooms as they’ve introduced new digital strategies of their own. I’ve even encouraged some of them to allow their students to help them explore the use of tools for the first time. (It’s fascinating to me how quickly kids understand those tools that it takes some of my co-workers weeks to figure out.)

It helps that a recent staff meeting included discussion of our own lesson plans, and which levels of “depth of knowledge” we were using. It provided me with a great opportunity to share how digital tools could make some of those lessons more significant. I decided to create some helpful ideas to post in my restroom posts of Tech Updates.

 Cited Works:

[Chang School]. (2015, December 14). Dr. Tony Bates on Building Effective Learning Environments. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/3xD_sLNGurA.

Ed.gov. (2010, November 10). Learning: Engage and Empower. Retrieved April 19, 2013, from Ed.gov: http://www.ed.gov/technology/netp-2010/learning-engage-and-empower

National Conference of State Legislators. (2015). Educational Bill Tracking Database. Retrieved October 14, 2016, from NCSL.org: http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/education-bill-tracking-database.aspx

NMC. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Education. Austin: New Media Consortium.

North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL). (2003). 21st Century skills: Literacy in the Digital Age. Retrieved April 12, 2013, from http://www.ncrel.org/engauge: http://pict.sdsu.edu/engauge21st.pdf

[TedxTalks]. (2012, September 12). A new culture of learning, Douglas Thomas at TEDxUFM. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lM80GXlyX0U&feature=youtu.be.

Thomas, D., & Seely Brown, J. (2011). A New Culture Of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. CreateSpace Independent Publisher Platform.

U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education. Washington, DC.: Office of Educational Technology.

 

Putting It All Together

Creating an innovation plan has been an eye-opening process. Establishing where change is needed was not a difficult task, as I am reminded daily of the problems teachers face with using technology in their classrooms.

While accessibility to technology devices is a challenge in many school districts, it is not a problem in mine. With more than 500 devices in our building, many classrooms are 1:1 iPad environments. But even with the access to the tools they need, a majority of my colleagues lack motivation to creating innovative, blended learning opportunities for their students. Instead, the devices remain in their carts, and are occasionally used for activities unrelated to the curriculum or what the instructor is teaching in class.

Blended learning is not a new concept. It’s proven as an effective strategy in classrooms around the world, and as data continues to indicate its effectiveness, more and more teachers around the globe are becoming more motivated to including it in their own classrooms. And yet, in many school districts, there is still a reluctance to do so. My research of literature associated with blended learning and technology in schools indicates a couple of reasons for this lack of motivation. It is on this research that my plan for Motivating Blended Learning Environments (MoBLE) has been based.

I’m already off to a great start in motivating my colleagues to use technology. I’ve posted newsletters, offered ideas, and helped teachers learn how to use apps that I’ve made available on their iPads. I’m teaching students in the computer lab how to use O365, and I’m having them share their cloud-based documents with their classroom teachers, which makes it easier for my colleagues to use the tools with their own lessons. Some teachers have come to me for assistance in using new tools and have already made arrangements to meet with me for help this week.

I’ve made it my goal to work with each of the apps I’ve made available to teachers on their iPads. I plan to use my Professional Learning Networks to help learn how best to use them in the classroom so I can help my colleagues use them effectively. These networks include EdTech Magazine
TechLearning
LinkedIn groups (Technology Leadership Network, Education 2.0, K12Tech, ISTE and TechinEDU)

I’ve also discovered a book called Innovate with iPad: Lessons to Transform Learning in the Classroom by Karen Lirenman and Kristen Wildeen. The book includes a number of great tools that are useful in teaching the core curriculum.

Please view the video I created to promote my plan. And please read more about my literature research, MoBLE and my plans for its implementation.

 

Inspiring Action

I created the video above using Windows Movie Maker. Narration was recorded in Audacity, and photos came from a variety of sources, mostly my own photo collection. (I enjoy taking photos of successful technology lessons in my computer lab, and keep them as a resource in my own teaching portfolio.) I included an example of a faculty email regarding technology integration, which I recorded using Screen-cast-o-matic and the Snipping Tool. These emails are typical in my role as a technology integration specialist and instructor.

The Backstory…

My digital story is based on experiences in my own school and district. Devices are easily accessible in every K-5 classroom. But they are not used as often as they should be. While some teachers use them daily, others might use them once each week. Blended learning is an intimidating concept for many teachers.While a majority of educators in my building are open to the idea of including technology-based lessons many are reluctant to do so, because today’s students are so comfortable with using technology. Many teachers are concerned with losing control over the learning process and some are more concerned with the technology being a distraction for their students. Generally, most of my colleagues aren’t confident enough with their own use of technology to guide students in how to use it.

I recognize that time is really is the educators’ most valuable asset. It’s the most common excuse I hear for them not taking advantage of my offer to help them use technology in their classrooms. Their time spent in the classroom is focused on meeting goals, addressing standards, collecting data, managing behavior, and using strategies that they have experience using. They are comfortable with what works. After school, they are grading student work, and planning lessons for the following day. It makes sense that they don’t want to waste their valuable time trying something new, when they don’t know whether it will be effective. Their priorities are on student achievement, after all… and not technology.

District administrators understand the importance of technology in a successful learning environment, and they’ve done an amazing job providing devices in the classrooms. They also offer and present professional development opportunities for our teachers, so that they can learn how to use the tools that are made available by district approved software and apps. But professional development typically takes place in a leader-centered environment. It doesn’t provide practice or opportunity for teachers to experience technology-based classroom instruction. And it certainly doesn’t provide them with time to develop innovative technology-based lessons.

If administrators want to encourage educators to use blended learning strategies they need to provide them with the one thing they need most; time to get comfortable with technology as a learning tool.  Restructuring professional development opportunities to include more learner-centered opportunities for our teachers would help to ease their burden. Allowing teachers time to communicate with one another, to learn from one another, and to collaborate in an informal environment where they can share their experiences with using technology in their classrooms, shows a district’s commitment to the shift to blended learning. Teachers with experience are perhaps the most important resource to teachers without. When allowed to get together to discuss what technology-based lessons are working successfully in a colleague’s classroom, they can individualize discussions in order to learn most effectively. Hearing from colleagues which technology-based lessons work and which don’t, makes it easier for educators to develop plans of their own. When an educator can create and introduce an innovative lesson with minimal risk, they will be more motivated to do so.

I created a plan that I call Motivating Blended Learning Educators (MoBLE for short).  It’s a proposal for my district to help their teachers make the shift from traditional education to a blended learning environment. This proposal includes a background of blended learning, with evidentiary support for its success as a learning strategy. It also includes steps to motivate educators through in-house learning experiences as well as a request for collaborative time during which educators can share and collaborate to create engaging and effective blended learning strategies. The role of district administrators should not stop at providing the tools and “how-to’s”.  They should do what they can to motivate and inspire educators to use the devices effectively. Providing teachers with dedicated collaborative time would demonstrate their commitment to making a shift to blended learning.  

 

 

Literature Review

The above link will take you to literature research for my Innovation Plan, which is currently in development. Please feel free to comment on my findings.