Sunday, November 25, 2012

Curiosity, Imagination and Engagement

Don't we all want to be engaged in what we do? Don't we all want to be curious and imaginative? As a child, I was wrapped up in my fantasy world, as many children are. When I became a parent, I was pretty sure I would have no problem taking part in my children's fantasy play. I wasn't going to be too busy like my mother who always had chores and errands. So naive... of course I was too busy. Even when I did consciously make the time, I discovered something horrifying. I wasn't able to occupy the fantasy world I once made my own. What happened to me?! Obviously adulthood happened and with it came a whole host of responsibility. I couldn't quite leave my real world as easily as my kids could. It was work for me to walk away from everything that "needed" to be done and when I did make time (and my kids invited me!), I found the ability to think up dialogue as an imaginary character was gone. I was out of practice. Such simple concepts, curiosity, imagination and engagement, and yet they were as far from me as if I had never had them.

Is this what happens when adults plan educational units? Did we forget to include the opportunities for speculation and wild imaginings in favor of dry explanations and concrete outcomes? What happened to amazement and delight when something unexpected happens? We have spent this course discussing knowledge - how it is obtained (or not), what we do with it, how we communicate it, how we grow more - and how to make knowledge accessible, shared, and relevant to our students. The following video from DML Research Hub and the following questions from the "Dangerously Irrelevant" blog emphasize the importance of curiosity, imagination and engagement.

Connected Learning: 'ENGAGED' from DML Research Hub on Vimeo.

Questions from Dangerously Irrelevant

  • we are fundamentally starting with the wrong questions 
  • we start with learning outcomes – and content defines everything – rather than “what is the experience we want kids to have?” 
  •  our core question is around engagement; if you ask “is a kid engaged?”, you have to pay attention to and start with the kid 
  • we have to make room for curiosity, we don’t have enough opportunities for kids to take things apart and wonder about them
  •  little opportunities to fail and iterate are also opportunities to play with identity 
  • we need opportunities to explore who we are in the world and how the world works, particularly as teenagers 
  • we so decontextualize learning for kids, we’ve forgotten we have a passion for learning in school they could care less, but in complex games kids demand that they learn how to do something so they can move on 
  • as adults, we have to deeply connect content and students’ activity, otherwise learning has no meaning
As an adult learner in the field of education, who has spent a grand total of two and half months learning about educational theory, I believe that connectivism and constructivism are keys to student engagement, a lively imagination and offer us and our students opportunities for curious exploration.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

PLEs vs. T(raditional)L(earning)E(nvironment)s

Our resources this week covered Personal Learning Environments and what learners can do to enhance their own understanding. Salman Khan discussed his cousins and the origin of Khan Academy, a 7th grader talked about what she wants to study, and the Xtranormal video pitted a digital learner against a traditional teacher (who happened to think he was appealing to digital learners by scanning in worksheets/information). The last resource I listened to was the Xtranormal and one of the YouTube choices that showed up on the side was: "Schools out - Personal Learning Environments."

In this video, the narrator talked about the powerful devices many students carry around - their smart phones - and the administrator/teacher reaction which was "turn it off." He also said, at the 2:30 mark (in case you don't want to watch all of it), that schools have lots of technology but much of it is designed to "manage learning, not to facilitate learning and not to share that learning." The video was made in 2008 and when confronted by technology that conflicted with the then current style of teaching and assessment, the trend was to back away from it or manage it.

It's been four years since the video was uploaded to YouTube and for many folks, the tendency is still to turn away or attempt to "manage" new technologies, lock them down or allow them in a substitution kind of way.  At times, in our Traditional Learning Environment (TLE), administrators, threatened by being "identified," will turn to "canned software" designed to raise scores, rather than encouraging tools that allow for sharing and collaboration. Perhaps the thinking is: if we're using this kind of software which is technology, we must be indulging our digital learners. If anything, this software is emphasizing the same types of learning that digital learners are trying to move away from - that of isolated, one size fits all type of learning. Even though students can move at their own rate and teachers can pick assignments from a list of topics, it's being presented in exactly the same way for each child. Students can't share this knowledge with others and experience "aha" moments as others take their ideas, expand upon them and share them back with new meaning. Canned software also doesn't allow for students to go elsewhere online just because they want to know. It provides knowledge about but it stops short of allowing for knowledge of.