In the “Future of Learning Agents” workshop that Steve Hargadon (and Will Richardson) attended earlier this week, Steve reports about how learning will look in the future. As I looked over his notes, the following statement jumped out at me:
“That the character traits of self-learning, self-motivation, and self-determination–in a world of increasing choices and niches–will become key end-goals for mentors working with learners.”
Yes. This is my goal as a high school computer teacher. In the short seven years that I have been a technology educator I have come to realize that this is my primary goal – to create an atmosphere where kids learn how to learn.
Because everyone knows that the technology is going to change so WHY spend all of your instructional time teaching to a specific piece of software. I know why … because that is what educational software/textbook companies offer. A nice clear-cut “cookie” curriculum where you can “teach” specific skills over the course of a term. I know. I did it my first few years. But then I noticed something. Kids were learning specific tech skills but then couldn’t take that information and transfer to another project or another class.
So … I started creating “projects” so my students could “practice” the skills. And they did. And they enjoyed creating their own work but still too often I had to remind them to “take the project seriously. This is a school assignment – not entertainment”. That should have tipped me off right there. But (I thought to myself) I had this textbook and there were so many skills to “cover”. So I plowed ahead.
I admit it. It’s A LOT easier just to follow a pre-scribed textbook curriculum day after day. But … the problem was that my students were too dependent on asking me how to do things. They were absorbing (some) information — but were they learning? I knew things weren’t quite right and I did TRY to tweak things and bring new things into my curriculum but I struggled. I knew I needed a major overhaul – but was I up for it?
Were they learning? Those words haunted me. What I began to focus on was HOW were the kids learning. Were they dependent on me for all the answers? Were they trying to figure things out for themselves? Were they more concerned about “just getting it done” or “getting an A” than really absorbing and applying what they knew? Were they motivated to learn new things.
A lot of the research I started reading stated that separate computer classes that focus on skills do not work. What was needed what to integrate the technology into the regular curriculum. I had known this all along and had tried to help my fellow HS teachers to do that – but what about my beginning computer applications course? Was it even working?
I know my classes weren’t completely bad. Students had reported that “they learned so much” and seemed interested enough. But I knew that wasn’t enough for me.
I wanted students to be excited about learning new tech skills. I wanted to see that eagerness to share what was just learned with a friend. I wanted to give students choices about what they learned. I wanted to see engagement in the learning process – not just focusing on “getting it done”. I wanted my students to have REAL experiences that meant something!
So, I started from scratch. The book Understanding by Design helped me immensely. I began to see the bigger picture. I started handing over the control of learning to my students. I created opportunties to learn instead of “assignments”. I encouraged students to colloborate. We uncovered reasons to use technology. We collected data, analyzed it and then asked ourselves “what does it mean?” We shared our discoveries. We had an audience and we realized that others appreciated our technology skills so they could discover and learn. I saw students learning from each other and relying on resources other than myself. I began to feel like we were doing something real and important.
Am I 100% there yet? Heck, no. I don’t think I ever will be “there”. But I do know that my focus is different now.
I look to the future and ask myself, “what do these kids need to know” and in my own little world – I try to provide a place where they can test their ideas and maybe sometimes fail .. but that’s ok … we are all learning together.
This is the road that we will follow this year.
Photo credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Middle_Age-road.JPG