Creating My Learning Environment | A Response to A New Culture of Learning

As referenced in my last post, my most recent read was a book called A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Brown.  This is a book that takes a really close look at what learning environments should look like in order to cultivate critical thinking and higher learning, but one will notice within reading the first few pages, that Thomas and Brown’s take on this is not what you would expect.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of decades, you’ve seen first-hand the rapid advancements in technology that are all around us. Anything that we might have a question to can be answered by a quick search on our smart phones.  There’s no need to pull out our Encyclopedia Britannica because we have the accessibility to answers right at our fingertips, 24 hours a day.  Society has adapted to changes in technology with open arms because we are constantly trying to keep up- walk by any Apple store and you’ll see it packed with people looking at the latest gadgets.  So, in a world of rapid development, why are we still teaching our children with the same dated methods our parents and grandparents received?

Just as it is outside of the classroom, things should be constantly evolving inside of the classroom

 Take a moment and think about a child.  If you think about the first 3-4 years of a child’s life, the growth that happens within that time period is immense.  During these years, we see children learn how to crawl, walk, then they might learn how to say a few words, and then by age 4, they are speaking in complete sentences.  How do children master these milestones?  They learn it through exploration and play.  The curiosity that sparks a child’s mind is what leads them to explore things further.  When my daughter was born, my son was 3 years old, so we spent a lot of time outside together.  I remember a time when my daughter was about 6 months old and I was playing with my son in the front yard.  I sat my daughter on the grass, and no sooner than when I sat her down, did her hands go straight to the grass to pick a handful out and stick it in her mouth.  This was her way of discovering.  The feeling of the prickly grass against her body sparked a curiosity in her to want to feel it, and then taste it.

How can we ignite the spark in our own student’s minds in today’s classroom?

Many of today’s classrooms do not produce the sort of learning that needs to take place in the 21st Century, rather, students are bogged down with worksheets, quizzes, textbooks and tests.  This isn’t what I want coming out of my classroom.  I’ve made a conscious effort, in my middle school photography class, to not stand up at the front of the room and simply relay information to my students, but instead to create a space where discussion happens among the each other.  We’re learning digital photography, so everyone has their “tool” (the camera) and they are learning how to operate it in manual by experimenting (playing) with the settings.  I can stand up at the front of the classroom for as long as I want and talk about exposure, aperture and ISO, but the students are not going to be able to learn the information if they aren’t the ones physically doing the work.

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Also in my last post, I gave a great example of how this new culture of learning combines passion, imagination and constraint through a professional development opportunity at our school.  Another example that Thomas and Brown repeatedly referred to as an environment for learning was through MMO games, or Massively Multiplayer Online games.  I’m not a gamer myself, so I found this bit surprisingly interesting because I had no clue as to what all it took to play games like Star Wars Galaxies and World of Warcraft.  I think because I’m not a gamer, I found the information on the communities, guilds, forums, wikis, battles and raids to be a bit overwhelming.

I have to admit, I have always been one of those people that wondered how others could (dare I say!) waste away their time playing a video game.

 I still don’t have much desire to learn how to play MMO games, but my eyes have been opened to the amount of questioning, imagination and play that comes from it (Thomas, Brown 2011).

As I’m reflecting on the fundamental ideas from A New Culture of Learning, I realize that we are on the right path to honoring our students passions and allowing them to connect those passions with things they need to learn in school.  Similar to the “Knowing, Making and Playing” framework that is outlined in the book, Presbyterian School has initiated a “Think-Make-Talk” Paradigm

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Learning is an ongoing, never ending process.  We are always in collaboration with each other- Thinking, creating and continually talking and reevaluating our work and ideas.  If you’ve been following my plan to implement ePortfolios in middle school,  I’m very excited to say that I will be able to begin piloting student ePortfolios in my middle school classes next school year.  I’m excited to allow the students to explore different ways in building their own ePorfolio website.  I know this will be such a powerful tool that they will be able to take with them even after they leave our school.  As with any new project, this will be a learning opportunity for both the students and myself.  Some of the main challenges we are going to be faced with is space and available computers and/or laptops.  Depending on what blogging platform students go with, once their sites are set up, they will be able to post new content and reflections straight from their iPads.

I know and understand the hesitation that accompanies change, especially from teachers in schools.  We are human and as humans, we like routine, however, after sharing my proposal with my Director of Fine Arts, I see the excitement that comes with starting something like this and the results that come from it will be invaluable.  It is my hope that after this year of piloting ePortfolios with my students, that we can expand it to all of our middle schoolers.

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Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace?

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