Relevant learning experiences

I just had a conversation with a teacher in which the fundamental question that has to be asked and answered is:  How do students engage in relevant learning experiences?  We already know the answer.

Compulsory learning does nothing for the student.  In fact, it demeans the entire goal of learning and the intrinsic motivation to do so.  Going through my preservice teaching classes, much discussion revolved around intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation to learn.  Extrinsic, from my point of view, learning is achieved when I give a student a reward – candy, bookmark, computer time.  Intrinsic motivation is learning because the student is compelled to do so.  To compel a student to learn means the learning experience is not contrived.

Contrived learning is the lesson plan that structures every step of what to learn and how to learn it.  The teacher, knowing the easy path is giving the student everything they need to learn, writes down the steps to be followed.  Students know they are not really learning.  As I frequently reiterate to myself, learning is messy.  At times there is a straight forward process to learning though, more often than not, there is no process, no steps to follow, and certainly no plan.

Real world learning is the only way we will get students to remain engaged but this means a shift in teaching.  The shift is from teacher centered to student centered.  Many claim to be student centered in planning, teaching, and assessing, but the reality is that we, as teachers, do what is easiest.  It is easy to lecture, use the teacher manual, use online textbook resources, and download content.  However, we already know that the degree to which the content is learned is much deeper than traditional teaching models.  The same mantra is repeated in spite of this and that is there is too much content to cover and little time to teach all of it.  We cannot call downloading of content teaching.  We can call it a speech with information but no student is really engaged as a teacher speaks to class for an entire period.  Teaching would involve inquiry by asking important questions to solve real life problems today, and not just creating the presentation that show regurgitated content.

We already know the answer to high quality teaching, it is transforming ourselves to do it.

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Frustration of innovation

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photo by Mirari Erdoiza

I have been thinking a great deal about the future of education:  how teachers will adapt, new pedagogies, brick and mortar vs. virtual, and new technologies.  It is a frustrating experience because I find myself on the verge of knowing what it should be but not being able to put it all together.  I also began a Google + community called InnovateEdu as a forum to get my thoughts out into the education community and get other’s ideas to innovate the practice of education.

Over the past two weeks I learned something about being an innovator.  I learned that I can be an innovator, generate new ideas, look at old problems and find new solutions but what I can’t do is make the change by myself.  This is the part of education we, as the global community of educators, fail to realize.  This isn’t about me being closed off and secluded., but it IS about a collection of people with the same goal in mind working together to achieve a larger goal.  The goal is to innovate education or transform it.
Transforming education is easier said than done, a simple truth.  The issue isn’t that educators don’t know what is wrong. The issue is that we are separated by the walls of individualization and the what is mine is mine attitude.  So, we end up with “I will do what I do” never creating a systemic change that is needed.  Politicians and government have hijacked education because of the United States low test ranking in the world.  Suddenly there is something so wrong with how kids learn that people who have no business making education policy and decisions are doing so.  Sadly there is little to be done about this because the politicians, though we many contact them, continue to do as they choose.  The real issue is that the U.S. is no longer #1 in the world and we have a hard time dealing with that.  To transform education means there needs to be a greater collective of cojoined voices creating a seamless plan while getting poor decision maker and leaders out of the way.

What questions do we need to be asking to innovate education?

The role of innovation and creation

David Hughes, founder of Decision Labs and professor at UNC Chapel Hill, argues that innovation is an essential skill for our global economy. In talking about creativity in schools he says, much of the blame for a lack of creativity, and therefore innovation, can be traced to our traditional educational systems.

What we do now to educate students will not be, cannot be, what we do five years from now.

As much as the innovation of the wheel changed how folks got around, the innovations that are taking place with technology are changing how we learn.  This is no secret.  The question is how will we as educators innovate all pop tab floweraspects of education to truly address the learning needs of students we teach.  This means we must also be proponents and users of 21st Century Skills that include collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and personal reflection and not just a mantra that is rattled off to impress.

Suppressing creativity in light of our own desire for control over learning and classroom atmosphere is what stifles a child’s ability think in non-linear ways because they know that we prefer control and power over legitimate demonstration of learning.  We have a knack for telling kids how we want it done, how it is to look, how big, how small, how many words, what colors to use and not use, and on and on and on.  With all of the restrictions we place on a child’s creative juices, it is no wonder innovation solutions are not created to complex problems – we have caused in box thinking while cutting out the out of box creativity.

Doing school the same way our predecessors did is simple neglect.  It is neglect to not address that we no longer live in an agrarian society.  It is neglect to tell students to keep their devices in the bags and lockers not allowing them to use it as a learning tool.  It is neglect that teachers need to be connected to each other in a variety of ways but many choose not to.  In the very near future, and I believe this is in the next five years, students will come to expect informal collaboration where the technology is secondary to the learning experience with others to achieve goals.

Creative thinkers and doers create solutions we have not now but do need to transform education from its traditional roots to a completely different platform.

photo credit: Urban Woodswalker via photopin cc