Next Generation Learning [Next Generation Learning, Bill & Melinda Gates Learning Foundation].
In many high schools and colleges, instructional methods fail to engage students or help them understand core concepts, retain learned material, or apply their learning to real-life situations. Learning models are often inflexible and do not account for students’ diverse learning needs. Organizational processes are too rigid to make use of data that could improve the teaching and learning environment. Too often,
postsecondary programs are designed without regard to the real-life challenges that many students face—such as work commitments, family obligations, and financial constraints.
Re-framing the formal curriculum [ Randall Bass]
Our understanding of learning has expanded at a rate that has far outpaced our conceptions of teaching. A growing appreciation for the porous boundaries between the classroom and life experience, along with the power of social learning, authentic audiences, and integrative contexts, has created not only promising changes in learning but also disruptive moments in teaching. We might say that the formal curriculum is being pressured from two sides. On the one side is a growing body of data about the power of experiential learning in the co‑curriculum; and on the other side is the world of informal learning and the participatory culture of the Internet. Both of those pressures are reframing what we think of as the formal curriculum. These pressures are disruptive because to this point we have funded and structured our institutions as if the formal curriculum were the center of learning, whereas we have supported the experiential co-curriculum (and a handful of anomalous courses, such as first-year seminars) largely on the margins, even as they often serve as the poster children for the institutions’ sense of mission, values, and brand. All of us in higher education need to ask ourselves: Can we continue to operate on the assumption that the formal curriculum is the center of the learning experience? . Now Randall Bass is primarily exploring the issues with undergraduate education but these points are pertinent also to high school education when we think of the changing landscape within the high school education system here and around the world.
A second pressure on the formal curriculum is the participatory culture of the web and the informal learning that it cultivates. Several years ago, Henry Jenkins and his colleagues published the report “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture.”7 They looked at a range of web cultures, or participatory cultures, including Wikipedia, gaming environments, and grassroots organizations. They compiled a list of what they considered to be the shared and salient features of these powerful web-based communities:
- Low barriers to entry
- Strong support for sharing one’s contributions
- Informal mentorship, from experienced to novice
- A sense of connection to each other
- A sense of ownership in what is being created
- A strong collective sense that something is at stake
Teaching kids and teachers to PLAY again [Henry Jenkins, White Paper as cited above]
There is a much vocalised set of ‘one liners’ within the innovation industry which revolve around this idea of play. The thinking goes that we are born creative and it is life that sucks it out of us. That children look with fresh unbiased and more importantly, un-self aware eyes, and that in order to be truly creative and engage with the magic of the thinking process, we too, should try to return to that state of mind. Look and listen like a child. Ask childish questions and play with the subject areas. Don’t try and rote learn too much established information, just play with an idea or a challenge and try to engage with it more simply.
Play is “the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem solving.” We are pushing beyond thinking of play as merely a skill. Play, we believe, is also an outlook on life and learning – it is a way of seeing oneself and the world through a new, creative lens. Play is not a solitary occupation but a collective ethos, a shared set of experiences that encourage us to think beyond our disciplines and “see with new eyes.” Play supports constant learning and innovative responses to our surroundings. Through an iterative, playful process, we support each other to try new things and encourage a process of innovation and creativity. This idea of Play also gives educators permission to engage their passions, to experiment collectively on problems, and to produce projects that bring pleasure back into the classroom.
And a bit closer to home now . . .
My father-in-law Russell Kerr and a whole bunch of very clever people over at Hands on Learning in Melbourne are currently working on a really gnarly challenge; > what should education look like in the future for Australian school kids? If we shift our thinking from just stemming the tide of disengagement as young kids scramble their way through school to actually finding ways to engage and connect all kids with what education should really be about – ways to interact, understand, appreciate and engage with the real world, and the tools to continue the progression of this as they get older.
They’re not the first people to tackle this kind of challenge but to date, no one has really been able to come up with a new model of thinking which addresses the core issues with our education system today.
I’ve been holding this issue in the back of my brain for a while now, hoping maybe that one morning brilliance might poke itself out of the sea of mundane musings and create some pithy progressive thought but alas, this is not the case. Those of you who know me, know I am a big fan of the ‘quick and dirty’ idea mapping. Suffice to say, that sometimes the longer we ponder, the harder it feels to articulate a solution. Sometimes it’s better to just write the answer as if you know you have the ultimate truth, just to get the thoughts out. You can always retreat later and disown any ridiculous musings or polish the bits that have merit. So here goes…
We would create a system where in every high school, each child spends one day on high impact ‘brain building blocks’ [for want of a better term’].
We would create a structured program which outlined 5 high impact sessions around these ‘brain building blocks’. The aim would be to cover a variety of topics which draw out and develop real skills that are relevant to the real world, but also creatively engaging so as to stimulate students and stem the flow of what can be terribly boring rote learning in traditional subjects. For example:
Period 1 > Communication [Hear, See, Write, Speak, Think]
Period 2 > Community [Live, eat, work and play]
Period 3 > Creativity [Visual / Ideas / Writing / Thinking]
Period 4 > Content Areas [Architecture, Design, Music]
Period 5 > Collaboration [Creating / Performing / Designing something together]
Finding content for the building blocks
We would create an online digital network whereby Hands on Learning staff actively seek out ‘everyday experts’ in the world [both in Australia and overseas] and ask them to commit some time to either:
a] Creating an online ‘building block’ which is effectively a lesson which can be accessed virtually at any time from anywhere [but may be done in a class environment] – similar to the Khan Academy
b] Creating a one hour ‘building block’ lesson that they would deliver to a live class of students in their local state or town [it makes sense for this to be geographically appropriate in order to be sustainable in the long term].
c] We would also create a ‘kit’ for each subject area [Communication, Creativity, Content, Collaboration etc] which outlined the purpose of that period and what the ‘everyday expert’ should seek to communicate about their subject area. It would also include a set of Building Block Cards which suggested activities, thoughtstarters, provocative questions etc to really get kids engage and to move away from mirroring the rote learning of traditional schooling. The focus here is on facilitation, engagement and provocation. Think Ideo Method Cards in form and purpose.
How would we create the content for each building block?
Let’s use communication as an example…
The focus of these building blocks is to ensure that the content for the lessons is focused around the core value in each subject area, and moreover, that the subject areas are diverse and engaging in the way they are structured and communicated. Let’s explore one subject area for example > Communication.
1. We would identify a whole bunch of different ‘everyday experts’ working in some form of communication that the program would like to work with – advertising creative [whose job it is to communicate], poet, online blogger, codebreaker or morse code specialist, fiction writer, journalist, translator.
2. We would create a ‘building block’ lesson structure [however loose] around the topic area. The key focus is to draw out the core value of the person’s experience so that they can engage the students and let them see and experience the world from this everyday expert’s point of view for an hour. If we worked with an advertising agency creative, the building block might be around coming up with ideas. How do agency creatives come up with so many ideas? Do you ever run out of ideas? How do you communicate the ideas in different ways? We might ask the school students to create their own communication campaign with the everyday expert.
If we were working with a poet, we might talk about expressing things differently. We might explore how we can say things by creating a picture in someone’s mind, we might pick some poetry and talk about what pictures it evokes in our minds. We might select a poem online or from a book and read it to the class to explore what it made us feel and why.
If we were working with a codebreaker or a morse code specialist we might talk about ‘joining the dots’ and code breaking. We might broaden that out to look for clues that tell a story in life. We might look for ‘clues’ as to why kids don’t always love school as much as teachers do. We might look for clues which tell us more about other people and how to get along with them. We might even create our own code for our school ‘building blocks’ program so that we all have signs and symbols that are meaningful to us.
How would we encourage ‘everyday experts’ to participate?
In the first instance, we would have to identify these people and encourage them to participate ourselves. The next stage of the program would be to monitor and measure the outcomes.
A few examples worth checking out on:
Anyway, this is an ongoing conversation which I’ll keep referring back to over the coming months. Think of this as a thoughtstarter…
For those of you who missed previous postings on education, check them out here >