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.

 

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