Category Archives: EDCI335

Imagining The Future…. (Of Learning Environments)

It is an interesting thing to try and look to the future. I often do it in terms of my personal life, and to some degree, my professional life. I haven’t given much thought to what education as a whole will look though. After watching Sugata Mitra’s TED talk though, I began to wonder.

To me, change is not happening fast enough in education. It isn’t for lack of trying. Our buildings, technology, playgrounds, politics and curriculum need an overhaul. People tell me to be patient, but that is not one of my best qualities. This assignment, however, is not for me to lament the present and the past, but to look to the future. I need to warn you that I am looking at this through the lens of an elementary school teacher, but I believe what I envision for my future students is applicable to all grade levels. Mr. Mitra comments, “we don’t even know what the jobs of the future are going to look like. We know that people will work from wherever they want, whenever they want, in whatever way they want.”(2013) He later asks, “Could it be that we don’t need to go to school at all?” (2013) Well, as someone who would like to keep her job, my answer is yes, we need to go to school. But what could that school look like? I had some fun last night, dreaming up a classroom I would love to have. This morning, I am looking at it, and I want to start over again. I wish I could spend time sketching and doodling out my dream learning space, but reality calls.  The image I sketched last night is here:

Image

What will future learning environments look like? Physically, I envision large spaces. There won’t be rows or clumps of desks, but tables, rugs and carpets for students to gather and collaborate at. Dr. Tony Wagner (2012) mentions collaboration “across networks and leading by influence” as one of his 7 skills that students will need in 21st century learning.  A learning environment where there is room to do this will be important for, as Dr. Wagner says, “Innovation is a team sport.” (2012)  I dream of a future learning environment where there are green spaces. Ideally, I would love for the students in my school to traverse through a garden path on their way in and out of the building. I see seating and digging spaces where children can get into nature and see how the natural world works and explore how it could exist in harmony with us.  Future “physical” learning environments, I believe, should have classrooms with loose parts, art supplies, music instruments, building materials, quiet corners, yoga mats, nooks and so much more. I don’t see a lot of textbooks, but print materials and online reading in my future environment.  I envision spaces with large windows where natural light can be used instead of the horrid fluorescent. I imagine fairy lights and lamps to provide different sources of lighting which can be controlled by the learners, and not by the district. I envision each classroom with access to technology, whether it is a class set of iPads or laptops in their classroom, not one set of 15 to be shared by 200 or more students.

I imagine learning environments in the future to be open.  I am not sure how this will work, I have thought about it quite a bit, as I continue to struggle with the “giving up of control”.  I imagine learners being asked the question, “What is your plan today?” when they walk in the room, but I am honestly not sure how that idea fits with curriculum objectives and societal expectations. Perhaps it is the age level I work with, but if I allow them to explore on their own, will they learn to read and write? I don’t know. I’m honestly too scared to try it and find out.  I suppose my future learning environment would allow me, the facilitator of learning, freedom to fail and to explore with my learners. I know we are heading toward a “curriculum of big ideas” (Mitra, 2013) in our province, but there are so many questions I still have. I see the “new” curriculum and love the ideas, but I also see the way that districts and governments wish to “control” the teachers, and I don’t see how it all meshes.  I suppose my learning environment of the future also contains employers and management who support the changes and the people implementing them.

                      Image

References:

Mitra, S. (2013, February). Build a School In The Cloud [TED]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud/transcript

Wagner, T. (2012, May 31). Play, Passion, Purpose [TEDx]. Retrieved from http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxNYED-April-28-2012-Tony-Wag

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Galaxy Quest, Star Trek and the Forces In Between

“Never give up. Never surrender.”                                                                                                                                                                                                       -Jason Nesmith, Galaxy Quest

This quote, uttered by a movie character in 1999, sums up my feelings about motivation perfectly. I realize the assignment this week was to discuss how we stay motivated as learners, but my “learning” motivation is tied very closely to my “life” motivation.

I have read some of the research and papers available online discussing the nature and the models of motivation.  In Martha Carlton’s article for the National Association of School Psychologists, she highlights the various developmental stages and some strategies to help develop motivation in children from birth to age 5. As I read the article, Motivating Learning in Young Children, I recognized many techniques that my parents used to develop motivation for learning in myself and sister. However, my greater lessons in motivation have come from the beliefs of my parents and their ways in dealing with the difficult situations I have had in my life.

When I was 7, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I have had many, many situations arise where this disease has challenged and threatened to defeat me. Throughout all, I had my parents saying, “Do not give up. You can control this”. Those very simple words became ingrained in my brain at an early age. As I struggled with fractions in Math during Grade 3, the words, “Do not give up” echoed in my head. When I was having a difficult time with organic chemistry, those same words popped into my brain.  Dirksen writes, “Self-efficacy can be described as someone’s belief in their own ability to succeed.” (Design for How People Learn, 2012, Ch. 8, p. 12) This self-efficacy that I gained came from the repeated words of my parents and their unwavering support of my challenges and my goals.

My life motivation has also been influenced by what many would consider a frivolous source: the world of the geek. I spent a lot of time in my teen years watching shows and movies like Star Trek, Star Wars, X-Files and reading the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Piers Anthony and Lloyd Alexander. The influence of these shows and stories showed me that my motto, “Do not give up” was a central theme for all of the heroes in these stories.  Between Aragorn’s speech in front of the Black Gates of Mordor, the persistence of Taran as he fought the Dark Lord Arawn in Prydain, and the wise words of Yoda, I found inspiration to continue travelling the challenging path of honours courses, IB courses and Royal Conservatory Exams.

You may be thinking that this inspiration does not fall under motivation, but I disagree. You see, to this day, I still think of the wise words of Yoda “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” when I desperately want to give up. At times, I think of characters like Katniss Everdeen, and tell myself, “Hey, if she could survive the Hunger Games, you can survive report cards”.  When the feeling of drowning under a pile of homework, school work, health problems and union issues arises, I think of dear Samwise Gamgee proclaiming, “How could the world go back to the way it was when there’s so much bad that had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing, this shadow; even darkness must pass.” I know this darkness, I fight with it every morning when I wake up, but I also know that every morning, I have woken up. This is my motivation.

Despite all of this, I have found myself looking at my marks for motivation this term. I have begun to complete assignments with the thought of “jumping through the hoops”. I don’t like how this makes me feel. When I look at Dan Pink’s TED Talk, I hear him speak of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose in the Puzzle of Motivation.  I want to be energized in my learning journey right now, but I do not feel in control of it.  My reasons for completing assignments are now to get me to the next level, to allow me into the next phase of my education.  Pink refers to Mastery as “The desire to get better and better at something that matters.”   Getting better has been replaced with getting through. Where I would have had inspiration, I now have frustration because I do not have the time to delve into topics I find relevant to my learning, as new assignments are out, report cards are due, and sleep is needed to stay healthy. But I will dig deep, I will follow the advice of my  mom and dad and I will not give up. I shall look to another hero of my adolescence, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and I will remember “That is what it is to be human. To make yourself more than you are. “ (Star Trek: Nemesis)

Sources:

Carlton, M. (2003). Motivating Learning in Young Children. National Association of School Psychologists. Retrieved from http://www.nasponline.org/resources/home_school/earlychildmotiv_ho.aspx

Dirksen, J. (2012). Design for How People Learn. Berkley, United States: New Riders

Pink, D. (2009, July). TEDTalk: The Puzzle of Motivation [Online Recording] Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation

 

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Nature, Mindful, Patience, Arts

wordle 3

I discovered all of these fantastic words in my readings about Skills for 21st Century Learning this week. I tried to make a Wordle, but the fact is my limited technology cannot keep up with this ever changing world. (Thank you to Mardelle for coming to my rescue!) After searching, reading, hitting my head against the desk and threatening to throw my computers out the window, I came up with 4 skills/attitudes which I think need to be brought to our 21st Century Learners:

  • Natural World
  • Mindfulness
  • Patience
  • Fine Arts Matter

Natural World

There is a phenomenon occurring more often nowadays which concerns many in education, including myself. Richard Louv calls it “nature-deficit disorder” in his book, The Last Child in the Woods. Louv (2009) describes it as “the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature.” (para 2) Many educators know that their students are spending more and more time on phones, tablets, video games and TV. The amount of screen time has increased and outdoor play is slowly vanishing. Even many of our local school grounds are devoid of trees to run around, hills to climb and natural space to explore.  People also have a disconnect to the food that we are consuming. I know that I have seen a growth in processed, pre-packaged food in school lunches. Many parents do not realize what they are feeding their kids; it is quick and convenient.  Our 21st Century Learners need to be brought back into nature. Spaces need to be “designed” for them to grow food, find bugs, and discover the ecosystems that exist in our natural spaces.  I was shocked to read (2009) of “the decision by the publisher of the Oxford Junior Dictionary to replace dozens of nature-related words like ‘beaver’ and ‘dandelion’ with ‘blog’ and ‘MP3 player’.” (para 5) I have seen “environmentalism” on many lists of skills for 21st Century Learners, but how can our learners be environmentally aware without knowing the environment they should be protecting.  Louv (2009) quotes artist and conservationist Robert Bateman saying “If you can’t name things, how can you love them? And if you don’t love them, then you’re not going to care a hoot about protecting them or voting for issues that would protect them.” (para 5)

Mindfulness

I had the pleasure of hearing a man I admire, Dr. Stuart Shankar, last month at our Shared Learning conference.  He spoke at length about the stresses our students are under and the anxiety that they bring into our schools and classrooms. I believe we need to teach our 21st Century Learners how to be mindful, how to be in the now and how to self-regulate in order to achieve their goals. As Dr. Shankar writes, “Self-regulation is the ability to manage your own energy states, emotions, behaviours and attention, in ways that are socially acceptable and help achieve positive goals, such as maintaining good relationships, learning and maintaining wellbeing.” (para 3) There has been an increase in primary classroom teachers teaching “Mindfulness Programs” where educators are trying to help children identify their own state of arousal. By teaching a child to recognize how fast their “engine” is running, educators can then help students discover if a physical activity like jumping jacks, stretching, belly breathing or even chewing gum will help them reduce the stresses on their system and allow them to be in the now.  Listening to Andy Puddicombe’s TED talk, “All It Takes Is 10 Mindful Minutes” reminded me that our older students need this skill as they become more stressed. The overstimulation of  texts, alerts, and updates doesn’t give these adolescents a chance to breathe and be still. They too need to learn the techniques to slow their engines down and be present in the now.

Patience

I truly believe that 21st Century Learners need to learn to be patient. There is something so lovely about instant gratification. It is fantastic to put a tweet, a post, a picture, an idea out on the lovely internet, and have people respond to it quickly.  It is an instant feedback tool for our triumphs and our failures. But I have learned though dysfunctional document cameras, battery sucking iPads, computers that don’t have all the updates and more, that we also must be patient. My age of students expect everything NOW, and do not understand that sometimes the learning process takes longer than 3 seconds. Even on this past Friday, while doing a painting time, I had students tell me how happy mummy would be with the painting they had created. I had to explain to them that paint needs time to dry, that we can slow down and paint more than a single sheet of green. I look at the beautiful and intricate pointillism of Seurat and see the hours of patience he must have had to create his works of art. Would he have the patience now to create? Patience is no longer just a virtue in my mind, it is a skill and we need to teach it.  Jennifer L. Roberts,(2013) in her article “The Power of Patience” discusses patience and her art students. She writes, “just because you have looked at [a painting] does not mean that you have seen it. Just because something is available instantly to vision does not mean that it is available instantly to consciousness. Or, in slightly more general terms: access is not synonymous with learning. What turns access into learning is time and strategic patience.” (para 8)

The Fine Arts

I cannot tell you that one of the Fine Arts is more important than any of the others for a 21st century learner. I know people will want to point out that Fine Arts falls into the “creative” category on many skills lists. I disagree though. I can be creative while I tell a story, can create a fabulous new app for tracking student progress, and I can be a creative being, but I still think we need to teach the Fine Arts to our 21st Century Learners. I discovered Mae Jemison’s TED talk from 2002 and I almost wept. She goes into such detail about teaching the arts and sciences together. I believe we are getting our science back, but I worry about the arts. As Jemison states, “the creativity that allowed us, that we were required to have to conceive and build and launch the space shuttle, springs from the same source as the imagination and analysis it took to carve a Bundu statue, or the ingenuity it took to design ,choreograph, and stage “Cry.” Each one of them are different manifestations, incarnations, of creativity, avatars of human creativity, and that’s what we have to reconcile in our minds, how these things fit together.” The Arts are one of my passions. Learning the difference between whole, half, quarter and eighth notes helped me with fractions. Studying the form of Mozart and Beethoven in piano showed me patterns beyond the boring “AABAAB” of my classroom.  As I learned about light and shading in art, I began to think of refraction and reflection from my science classes. Sculpture and dance helped me think through the muscular system and learning how to project my voice for theater made me pause to consider echo and echolocation. We want our 21st century learners to be problem solvers and thinkers; give them a lump of clay and let them explore it. We want them to collaborate; preform a puppet show about the life cycle of a butterfly. We can use the Fine Arts to help our students develop so many of these “listed” 21st Century Skills. As Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience in the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”

 

 

Sources:

Louv, R. (2009). No More “Nature-Deficit Disorder. Psychology Today.com. Retrieved from  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/people-in-nature/200901/no-more-nature-deficit-disorder

Shankar, Dr. S. Self-Regulation. Retrieved from http://www.self-regulation.ca/download/pdf(2)/Foundations%20Magazine.pdf

Puddicombe, A. (2012, Nov. 9). TEDSalon: All It Takes Is 10 Mindful Minutes [Online Recording] Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/andy_puddicombe_all_it_takes_is_10_mindful_minutes/transcript

Roberts, J. L. (2013, November-December). The Power of Patience. Harvardmagazine.com. Retrieved from  http://harvardmagazine.com/2013/11/the-power-of-patience

Jemison, M. (2002, February). TED2002: Teach Arts and Sciences Together [Online Recording] Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/mae_jemison_on_teaching_arts_and_sciences_together

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Mom Knows Best

I am the child of a teacher, so I have seen the hours of work involved in this job, as well as the amount of emotional and physical exhaustion it brings. I went into this profession with my eyes open. I had a fantastic role model in my mom, who I believe was a master teacher.  I started in my own classroom 17 years ago and I know I have grown and changed a lot over that time. When I tell you of probably the biggest misconception I have had in this career, I ask that you be kind.

I started in a Grade 3 classroom in a rural school. These kids came from 2 parent homes, were talked to, read to, sang with and nurtured. There were monkeys and there were those “perfect” kids who sat in their desks in neat rows of 2. I had charts on the wall, duo-tangs at the ready, and these great unit plans developed. Don’t get me wrong, these kids worked, talked, laughed and learned. But there were a lot of worksheets, a lot of textbooks, different coloured notebooks and a LOT of photocopying. A few years later, I chose to go to a full time grade 1 classroom. I thought I could continue with photocopies, workbooks, charts, and neat rows of 2. Boy, was I wrong!!

Thankfully, my mom taught Grade 1, and helped me through the transition to these very excitable, often louder than a train, busy children. The clientele changed but my teaching methods really didn’t.  I won’t tell you the many long, tearful discussions we had each night, but my mom kept telling me one thing over and over again, “Read The Primary Program, Liane. It will help you.”

I didn’t read it. I slogged through, trying my mom’s lessons (she was in a very different area than I) and I failed more than I succeeded in bringing joy to the lessons I taught. We did laugh and have fun, but after 9 years in K/1, 1 and 1/2 classrooms, with many worksheets and workbooks, I knew that enough was enough. I was not happy with the type of teacher I had become. I sat down, and I read the old 1990 Primary Program document.

The document states that the 4 year primary program is from K-3, and the goals are simple but mighty: intellectual, career, human and social development. The whole child is the most important thing through these areas of development:

  • Aesthetic and artistic
  • Emotional and social
  • Intellectual
  • Physical development and well being
  • Social responsibility

(The Primary Program: A Framework for Teaching, 1990, p. 14)

The answer to changing my teaching was suddenly horribly clear, fantastically simple and utterly frightening: PLAY. I was trying to isolate these areas of development and they needed to be explored and used in play. As the authors wrote back in 1990, “Meaningful and varied experiences in the primary years provide a strong foundation for children’s growth in all areas of development; they also enable children to benefit more from instruction. The curriculum areas provide a wealth of ideas with which to engage children so that they expand their knowledge of themselves and their world.” (The Primary Program, p.32) We had centres time, but it wasn’t facilitated or planned. It was simply a time for the children to burn off some of their energy. I needed to learn how to teach through play.

You may read this, and say, “Oh Liane, that was written back in the 1990s. Things have changed.” They really haven’t. In fact, I believe play is even more important now than ever. In the British Columbia Early Learning Framework from 2008, it states, “In playing, children express, explore, combine, and extend what they have learned about the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of the world around them; about the words, signs, symbols, and customs of their language and culture; and about their own and other people’s thoughts, feelings, ideas, and sensations. In the play scenarios children invent and explore by themselves and with other children, they bring together everything they have learned and are wondering about. In play, children represent and transform the world around them, providing other children and adults with a window into their thoughts and perceptions, and often helping adults to see the world in new ways.” (British Columbia Early Learning Framework, 2008, p. 12)  Play has now become my passion, my philosophy, my educational goal. I started off believing that children were meant to absorb information, to sit quietly as I imparted the pearls of knowledge I had gained over my life and to learn to be good students. Now, I know that they need to be great thinkers, inventors, questioners and explorers.  In this new world of assessments at the age of 4, where achievement seems to outweigh curiosity and creativity, I am proud to say that I believe in play.

Oh, and I also listen to and do as my mom says now. I’ve learned: Mom knows best.

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Life-Tech Fit

Our Blog topic for this week focuses on the never ending debate on technology in the classroom. I emitted a very LARGE sigh when I read this, because I have been knee deep in this debate for a couple of years now. The topic of debate this time, however, is not centered around ”Play vs Tech”, but whether the technology we are using in class is contributing to the deterioration or development of student attention.

 In 2012, the PEW Research Centre’s Internet and American Life Project released a study titled, How Teens Do Research in the Digital World.  This study focused on teenagers and their research habits, but part of the survey asked for teachers’ views towards the broader impact of technology on their students. Out of 2500 teacher, “77% thought that the internet had a ‘mostly positive’ impact on students’ research work”. (Jefferies) Yet, despite this positive impact, “87% felt modern technologies were creating an “easily distracted generation with ‘short attention spans’.” (Jefferies) I confess I did not read the very long study by the PEW Centre, but from what I scanned, I noticed that these teachers were not referring to technology in the classrooms as the reason for the “short attention spans”. Perhaps, just perhaps, the lack of life-tech fit is the reason behind the attention deterioration. (Life-tech fit in my world is the ability to turn off the tech, and go have face to face contact, be in nature, clean the house. It is the ability to “balance” the instant gratification of tweeting, updating, instagramming with the long, drawn out process of being in the moment.)

 I look at the technology being used in the classrooms I have access to, and I have to say that I don’t believe it is deteriorating student attention. I see teachers using what we have to help inform students, aid in problem solving, assess knowledge and skills, and learn how to use technology in a respectful manner. In the article, Texting, TV and Tech Trashing Children’s Attention Spans, Ellen Galinsky refers to a teacher (Hope Molina-Porter) interviewed by the New York Times, regarding Ms. Molina-Porter’s altering of her teaching style to keep the attention of her learners. Ms. Galinsky has, in my opinion, the best answer to this perceived attention deterioration and it is “to teach children to pay attention and to be persistent!” In that vein, I see teachers who try to fit technology into their day as a learning tool.  These teachers, however, are still doing group projects, arts afternoons, science labs and many more activities where students are learning HOW to pay attention and HOW to regulate themselves so they can persist at a task.

 I firmly believe that we, as teachers, need to teach our students how to use this technology responsibly and respectfully. We also have to teach them though, when to turn the technology off, and to collaborate, communicate, create and to push through when things are difficult or challenging. As James P. Steyer said after releasing his organization’s study on children and digital media (Galinsky) “This survey is yet another reminder of how critical it is to consistently guide our kids to make good media choices and balance the amount of time they spend with any media and all of their other activities.”  

 I suppose this very wordy post needs an answer to the original debate topic. Do I think technology in the classroom will contribute to the deterioration of students attention OR help students attention for learning? After all of my pondering and reading, I think it will help student attention because I believe we will continue to use the technology as a tool fo better understanding, not as a digital behaviour plan or classroom management system.

 References:

 

http://www.pewinternet.org/files/old-media//Files/Reports/2012/PIP_TeacherSurveyReportWithMethodology110112.pdf

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ellen-galinsky/kids-and-technology_b_2068862.html

 http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2013/mar/11/technology-internet-pupil-attention-teaching

 

 

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