Thursday, February 28, 2008

Classroom learning...without boundaries

I can tell you very little of what I learned during my school years...and the things I can remember are activities that were project based or relevant to me. I remember when Mr. Vernon turned us into paleontologists and we had to create "artifacts" based on our individual "cultures"...then we unearthed the artifacts and had to determine what kind of society the other group was based on their artifacts.

So when Will Richardson this week wrote about the idea of The Distributed University which asked some interesting questions about how we encourage learning that includes all kinds of experiences.

Once you put all this together, students can self-organize with teachers and fellow students to learn what they want how and where they want. My hope is that this could finally lead to the lifelong education we keep nattering about but do little to actually support. And why don’t we? Because it doesn’t fit into the degree structure. And because self-organizing classes and education could cut academic institutions out of the their exclusive role in education.
I couldn't stop but think about the futures of my 3 kids...and what I would to see for them...

Recently I got the opportunity to participate in a live blogging project with Anne Smith and Maura Moritz's 9th grade classes and if I had to define authentic learning, this would be it would be this project. Now I want to start off by saying that these are High School Freshman and the topic of this book as I reread it was quite profound. The first thing that struck me was the way these kids COMMUNICATED, both in writing when I worked with them in January and again in February as well as orally in their class discussions (which we were able to listen in on using mebo room) and with Mr. Pink today. I continued to read and keep up and it was so interesting to keep up with the kids writing, but also their awareness of the impact that this project had and their ability to reflect on their own learning through this project.

Their concluding activity was a video conference with Daniel Pink himself. I was impressed not only with the depth of the questions but how well they defended and articulated themselves both in writing (there was a group of students who were LIVE BLOGGING during the session) and orally. I loved listening in as the kids were asked to discuss a topic and they said things to one another like "does this idea sound smart" In the words of the kids....

AnneS asks: (of Dan Pink) Where are you with the ideas in this book now, several years after completing it?
[Comment From MorganT]
I think that high school students are starting to think what they want to do with their lives. Like Kristinah, younger people are easier to influence, and to get these concepts into our heads is probably a good idea.
[Comment From LiaP]
I think that we need to read it {A Whole New Mind} in high school so that we can be better prepared for our future and take classes that help to prepare us for the new future Mr. Pink describes
[Comment From amyw]
Jordan---Also, since English deals with right-brain abilities, English teachers want to encourage us to develop them.
[Comment From Bud {a Teacher from CO who was listening in via}]
Jordan, should high school students only read fiction in English classes? Or should non-fiction be there, too?
[Comment From Kristinah]
To Jordan- I think that it is important to explore other forms of literature in English so that we can experience other things and think in other things which will make us a more rounded person.
[Comment From MorganT]
Bud, I'm not Jordan, but I would like to answer. I think it is good to get a balance in reading literature. It is good to just not read fiction, again it is good to have a balance with literature.
[Comment From Jordan]
Bud- I think that there should be good combination of fiction and non-fiction. Fiction teaches us about the real world througha story and a morale, but non-fiction is the cold-hard facts.

And this went on for almost 2 hours. These kids had a live audience who were participating both in the live blog as well as holding their own "back channel" chat in the ustream channel.

At the end of the day, was it about the technology...ABSOLUTELY NOT... the project itself wasn't about the technology...

At the end of these days these kids learned:
  • How to read, reflect, analyze, evaluate and defend what they read.
  • They learned how to write critical questions and conduct a conversation
  • They learned how to work together.
  • They learned how to use research to support an argument.
  • They applied writing skills
  • They learned how to express themselves clearly.
among other things...
Could these skills have been learned without computers...ABSOLUTELY

BUT, what the technology ADDED to this project
  • Students showed proficiency in the use of technology...yes, but they also gained...
    • the ability to see things from other perspectives...folks from around the world with many different experiences took time to work with these kids including the author himself
    • an understanding of the ethical, cultural, and societal issues related to technology.
    • an understanding of what it means to publish, and interact with peers, experts, and other audiences globally
    • they were able to use technology resources for solving problems and making informed decisions and solve problems in the real world.
take time to read Karl's description of the project on his wiki
take time to read Ann & Maura's Blogs: there is SO MUCH beyond this project here :)
take time to watch the UStream of the final event
take time to read the live blog from the day of the event
take time to think ... are these kids engaged and are they LEARNING? Is this the type of authentic learning experience that will prepare them for their futures?

So in thinking about the futures of my 3 kids, and what I would to see for them in school...

I would like to see them have the types of learning experiences like the kids are having at Arapahoe. I want them to have thoughtful teachers like Anne who summarized this project
Overall, I am so impressed by my students from their willingness to try something new, for being put in the spotlight with a number of really intelligent people having to blog what they think of these senses as ninth graders, and for most of all, caring about the process and learning and education. They honestly want to change the way learning looks and I hope after this experience they realize the power resides in them to make the change.

I want this for them at all levels. Do I think this is possible? In the state of PA, where we have initiatives like Classrooms for the Future and the Keystones developing leaders in this area...Teachers who are asking kids to "think math" and make connections with kids around the world. Teachers who are asking students how they can make a difference and teachers who are charging their kids to take action and actually do so,

Thanks Karl, Anne & Maura for continuing our minds & eyes to what is possible the kids at Arapahoe are surely lucky!

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  1. evslink10:41 PM

    Your post is cool. It only shows that technology of today, when introduced and used well, will really be a great aid to learners. It won't only help educate them but I think it will also give fun and enjoyment.

  2. We are using our ideas on our blog!