Shift: A Final Reflection

Photo Credit: orangeacid via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: orangeacid via Compfight cc

As I sit and reflect after reading the final chapter of Alan November’s Digital Learning Farm, one thing comes to mind:  paradigm shift.  November gives a lot examples of teachers using forms of technology to reshape their classrooms, but really what is happening is that teachers are shifting from a traditional approach to a new hands off experiential model in which students begin to own their own learning.  November’s final example of Garth Holman and Michael Pennington sums this all up perfectly.  These two teachers through the medium of online tools have completely shifted their teaching methodology from teacher centered to students centered in which students created and took responsibility for their content and learning.  Holman and Pennington’s students creation of, and the motivation to create, their own online textbook, again,  dovetails perfectly into Daniel Pink’s motivators of mastery, autonomy and purpose.  It is important to be aware that it is good design and pedagogy that has created the awesome learning environment.  This vision combined with the embedding of technology into the design is the key.  As Kathy Schrock says in her video Connecting Your Classroom to the Future, “Technology does not drive curriculum…curriculum drives technology”.

So what are my predictions for the future? Well I think that the following video, that a fellow learner in this course Stacey Johnsen, reflected upon in her last post Digital Communication and Collaboration, speaks very strongly towards what I would like to see education become.

For me, what Pat Bassett talks about in the above Tedx talk manages to capture a lot of ideas that are constantly swirling around in my brain that I can never get a hold of all at once.  Ideas from my own reflections, ideas that I’ve read, seen or heard about. Ideas from my experience that I never have had a chance to articulate because they are fleeting.  I love hearing that education is no longer owned by the teacher.  Bassett says, “subjects will be in the service of creation”.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

Knowledge to imagine and create.                     Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

I love that he says students should do something with their imaginations and knowledge.   No longer will students just “know stuff”, but they will need to create – to engage in real world problems – and have real world solutions.  I want to be a part of a movement that can get beyond high stakes testing and move into “High Value Demonstrations”.  It’s exciting.

That is the education future that I want to be part of.

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Harnessing the Power of the “Share Button”

Students were thrilled to have someone see and comment on their work! Photo Credit: andrewrennie via Compfight cc

Students were thrilled to have someone see and comment on their work!
Photo Credit: andrewrennie via Compfight cc

I believe the power and significance of the student as a Global Communicator and Collaborator is summed up in the following quote;

“Everyday I have to decide if I will write for my teachers or publish to the world” Eighth grader talking about whether she will do her homework, or continue her work as a writer on www.fanfiction.net – from pg 71, Alan November “Who Owns the Learning”

This week I discovered such a student in my own class, though he is not at all at the scale that above eighth grader has achieved.  My fifth grader created a 20 page Google presentation about the properties of Minecraft blocks. I discovered his work purely by accident when I noticed a friend of his looking at the presentation during our time in the computer lab.  I asked the friend about the work and discovered that this student had created the presentation on his own initiative out of the love of the game.  I asked his friend how useful such information was since I am not really familiar with Minecraft.  His friend replied that a new user of Minecraft would find the information invaluable.  I asked who it had been shared with.  The reply was just this friend.

The Minecraft block presentation is definitely an example of a student creating their own tutorial, and it also connects into the Daniel Pink’s motivators of quality work, autonomy, mastery and purpose. (This student, much like the eighth grader quoted above, didn’t always hand in the most high quality work for me).  When I praised him about his initiative, and the quality of his work I could see he was thrilled.

As I was having making this discovery, my fifth graders and I were in the computer lab working on our Photo Stories (the project I initiated for this course).  Coincidentally I had a group at that moment who were finished.  We uploaded their presentation to YouTube, and then embedded it in their blog.  A few minutes later I heard an excited exclamation, “We had six views!”.  They found it incredible that someone had looked at their work.  At that moment I realized the potential of global communication/collaboration, and most importantly feedback through the internet, and the possible pool of motivation available if students tapped into it .  So I sat down at a work station and tweeted their work and asked for comments.

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A few minutes later a friend of mine in Canada, Jean-Paul, commented and re-tweeted.  Right away their was an email that said they had a comment. They were over the moon!

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Screen shot 2013-04-20 at 5.31.09 PM

 

 

 

 

I have done a lot of experimenting using technology in my class, but I’ve never actively tried to create an audience for my students work.  I find the idea of trying to get my students noticed overwhelming.  However, I have now seen first hand how motivated students become when they receive one comment and a fist full of views.  The potential is unfathomable.

So, going back to the student who created the Minecraft Block presentation, the next step for him is to get his presentation out into the cyber world and reap the potential benefits.  I have already casually suggested a few things, and plan to follow up with him.  His initiative to create the resource could potentially be rewarded exponentially.

For me the challenge now is too design global collaboration into my regular instruction, and to actively promote, and teach my students to promote, their work online.

So please click on one of the links below and leave a comment.  Make a fifth graders day!

Rethink Plastic

Say Hello to the 4th “R”, RETHINK

Our Fourth “R”: RETHINNK

Save our Earth, Buddy! Rethink!

Assignment 5: Digital Story Telling

Immediately I am drawn to how Sylvia Tolisano describes digital story telling because it is immediately apparent to me that this is another example of a great approach to teaching that has been redefined with technology.  As Tolisano points out, stories are inherent in all cultures, and contain knowledge and wisdom that needs to be taught and passed on.

Photo Credit: JD Hancock via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: JD Hancock via Compfight cc

In my classroom when I teach Social Studies, I frame the content as a story, and we often discuss whose stories we are learning about, and who gets to tell them.  It is a powerful exercise for students to learn how to shape a narrative, and to understand that once they have created and shared an event or idea through story, that it will become part of a bigger story.  This is acutely more possible when we can teach learners to share their stories with digital storytelling tools.  Most importantly are Tolisano’s three “Cs” of connect, communicate, and collaborate. Through interactions such as these three Cs learning can be designed using digital storytelling that can create authentic learning experiences that reflect Daniel Pink’s idea of mastery, autonomy and purpose that Alan November talks about in Who Owns the Learning?  Learners can create a real world experience that demonstrates their learning and their interactions with others that made the learning happen.  They can then continue to build on their knowledge through the ongoing connections that are made through sharing and collaboration.  The learner will not have to be an elder to have their story passed on and learned from, but rather they will get to experience that “passing on’ of a narrative in the digital domain.

A Reflection on Alan November’s “Who Owns the Learning?”

Alan November welcomes the reader the to the Digital Learning Farm by quoting Daniel Pink‘s book Drive.  Pink points out that predictors of high quality work are when individuals experience autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  November then wonders how well our traditional education model allows for these three elements.  Essentially in my mind it doesn’t.  November points out that the idea of purpose is one of the most important predictors of quality work, and yet the traditional education model offers no real purpose for its learners.  For me it is crystal clear why Pink’s three indicators are useful in providing meaningful learning,  and what November is saying about them in terms of his goals that drive the Digital Learning Farm model.  To make myself clear it is necessary to share how my teacher brain was shaped early on in my life.

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Photo Credit: Mike Roach Jr. via Compfight cc

Before I became a classroom teacher, and actually quite awhile before I got around to even going to University, I worked as, for lack of a better term, an outdoor educator.  What this means is that I was employed by an organization called the Camp Chief Hector YMCA, which is located just west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  In the fall, winter, and spring seasons we ran experiential education programs for schools in the region, and in summer I ran month long adventure leadership programs for 15-16 year olds.  There is an amazing amount of learning that goes on in a centre like this, and I believe it has everything to do with the fact all the programs, regardless of whether it was a curriculum based program such as the IEE‘s Sunship Earth, or a month long Outward Bound style backcountry adventure, they were designed around motivating participants intrinsically.

In experiential learning environments, learners are given direct instruction on certain skills they will need to be able to participate as the program becomes more complex.  They are given time to practice and become comfortable with their new knowledge and skills (mastery).   Learners who return again  each year are given even more opportunity to develop these skills as they progress through various programs. It is also quite clear (most of the time) that the skills they are learning are going to serve a very clear purpose very soon.  Meaning when the van drops them off 90 km from nowhere, those who were not able to internalize the purpose of mastering the necessary skills and knowledge will soon suffer the discomforts of the backcountry, or the wrath of their peers.

Photo Credit: zkruz via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: zkruz via Compfight cc

As the programs move forward learners are put into situations where they must take the initiative to use the new skills and knowledge to solve a real world problem.  They may need to lead their peers for a day through the mountains using their map and compass skills, or run a belay station to get their group down a glacier’s headwall.  The sense of accomplishment from being successful, or from experiencing several failures that eventually lead to an accomplishment, ultimately gives that learner a true sense of autonomy;  the sense they can master the world they live in.

To me this is learning.

So as I begin to read Alan November, I see his Digital Learning Farm as the “outdoor adventure for the classroom”.  It’s a paradigm shift for the education establishment.  It’s a shift for both students and teachers.  November talks about shifting control of the learning.  I know from experience trying to give a task to students that involves some initiative and problem solving can be painful for all involved.  This is particularly true of students who expect you to just hand everything out so that they can fill it in and give it back.  The Digital Learning Farm model will take careful scaffolding to bring learners to a place where they can begin to have the skills to take on their own learning journey.  Unfortunately a lot of our current paradigm has disabled students.  They just want to be taught.  This is not their  fault.  It’s what they are used to.  The ideas of the Digital Learning Farm could change that.

For me I don’t need to be convinced of the possibilities of the Digital Learning Farm.  I’ve seen the ideas in a different context work effectively time and again.  I also know that this kind of learning model cannot be taken on by one individual teacher.  It has to be an initiative from educational leaders in schools to shift their learning environments to a place where teachers do not hold all the keys to the learning.  A place where it is ok to lead your learners into the woods, and leave them to figure out how to get back.   A place where students can see the purpose in their tasks, master relevant skills, and feel the sense of autonomy that comes with working through a problem that leads to useful and real outcomes.