“The principle goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done—men who are creative, inventive, and discoverers” (Piaget, n.d.). This quote embodies the idea that education is supposed to be focused on developing our students into life-long learners. However, much of our current education system is still operating in the same capacity as it did over 100 years ago. Much of this is due to state standards being forced upon schools in which engaged learning takes a backseat while passing the standardized test takes the wheel. This promotes a teacher-centered classroom in which the teacher is the master of knowledge, and solely responsible for transferring that knowledge in a “one size fits all” approach. A good education by the state’s standards equates with passing test scores. This is unfortunate because it robs our learners of creativity, discovery, and self-efficacy.
In an age of standardized testing, of covering the content, of checklists masquerading as rubrics, and the need to regurgitate the right answer, getting learners to struggle with challenging questions is unfortunately a foreign concept. But learning has never fundamentally been about spouting off the right answer; it has always been about making meaningful connections and to make those meaningful connections you have to start with the questions. The type of questions that open up the spaces in our thinking and motivate us to want to know and to make those meaningful connections—only to have the whole process start over. This is learning—this is life. (Harapnuik, 2016)
In his Ted Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” Sir Ken Robinson exemplifies the importance of a holistic view of learning. He advocates for designing an education system that cultivates creativity through authentic learning opportunities. Robinson (2007) defines creativity as “the process of having original ideas that come from the way we experience the world around us. If we are not prepared to be wrong, then we will never come up with anything original.” He states that we are all born curious and full of wonder, yet schools managed to effectively educate us out of creativity.
Thomas and Brown argue in A New Culture of Learning (2011) that the old method of “educating” students is described as a “mechanistic approach” (p. 35). This notion describes learning as a series of tasks to completed as though students were learning how to operate machinery. They even go on to compare students to the machines themselves in which they are programmed to produce a specific outcome. The goal in this approach is to treat learning as a race to learn as much of the provided information as fast as possible, take a test, pass or fail in hopes of being promoted to the next grade. There is so much information to master that it strips any time left for creativity, invention, or discovery. The results of the assessments are valued more than the meaningful connections that were made in the process.
So what is the best way to help our students learn? Thomas and Brown (2011) encourages educators to think about learning in terms of the environment. Current research provides proof that transforming the learning environment can create a generation of life-long learners. With access to limitless information through digital tools, we need to design learning environments that help students understand how to use these tools responsibly, and in ways that promote students’ choice, ownership, and voice. The fundamental difference in a teaching-based approach and a learning-based approach is “the first case the culture is the environment, while in the second, the culture emerges from and grows along with the environment” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p. 37). We should encourage our learners to take responsibility for their learning, and adopt more of a mentor role as we guide them to inquiry. As an elementary educator, my goals for next year is to apply the ideas from the book, A New Culture of Learning (Thomas & Brown, 2011) to my learning environment and inspire other educators to do the same. These ideas are organized below.
Peer to Peer Learning
Thomas and Brown suggests “people learn through their interaction and participation in fluid relationships that are the result of shared interest and opportunity” (2011, p. 50). This type of learning will shift my role as a teacher into one as a mentor, facilitator, and even co-learner in which we can all learn from one another. As the mentor, I will provide structure by empathetically responding to students’ needs, and group students based on their interests or experiences. It is important that I reinforce my learners’ voice, ownership of their ideas, and even encourage the student to take the role of “teacher.” When learners take the role of the teacher, the responsibility to educate others on a topic they care about helps them understand why they are learning in the first place and boosts intrinsic motivation. Peer-to-peer collaboration provides opportunities for learners to bring their unique backgrounds, expertise, and then build on that knowledge through the exchange of ideas. With access to 21st century tools, they’re able to fill in their gaps in knowledge through a bit of research at their fingertips. Living and learning in the digital age has brought on a whole new learning territory of limitless information. An effective learning environment connects learners with their passions, all while providing numerous outlets for learners and mentors to function as more of a collective.
Within a collective, students are active participants within the learning community. Thomas and Brown (2011) state “in communities, people learn in order to belong. In a collective, people belong in order to learn” (p.52). The strength from a collective comes from active participation. In the words of John Dewey (n.d.), “Give the students something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” Thomas and Brown (2011) argue that traditional methods of education have shifted from that of explicit knowledge (that which is “easily identified, articulated, transferred, and testable”) to one of tacit knowledge (that which is “understood as a product of experience and interaction”) (p. 74). Tacit learning is essentially knowing more than we can tell, and “plays a key role in shaping the process of inquiry” (Thomas and Brown, 2011, p. 83). With this in mind, the new culture of learning promotes the process of inquiry in which we ask ourselves “what are the things that we don’t know and what questions can we ask about them?” (Thomas and Brown, 2011, p. 83). In an inquiry-based system, answers are not the answer, but an invitation for another question. Inquiry invites us to ask questions and cultivate curiosity.
Beginning next school year, I propose to implement Project/Problem-Based Learning model within my classroom. PBL is an inquiry-based model in which the project is inspired and structured by what is known as the “driving question.” Driving questions are meant to “initiate and focus the inquiry” (Miller, 2015). This model cultivates an ongoing act of learning utilizing different competencies simultaneously. Students engage with real-world problems in their collective, gather evidence, and present their findings through a variety of 21st century tools or platforms. An effective driving question creates the constraints and boundaries needed for learners to tap into their imagination. When students begin asking questions, Thomas and Brown (2011) state that it is “not an act of demonstrating whether knowledge has been transferred, but instead an act of imagination” (p. 83). The act of imagination brings me to my next essential implementation of “learning through play.”
Learning Through Play
“Culture does not create play; play creates culture. Play is not something we do; it is who we are” (Huizinga, 1971). The reason play is such a powerful learning tool is it creates the setting for experimentation, failure, and learning from failure. When we engage in play, we are interacting in an environment for more than mere entertainment. We compete, negotiate, socialize, empathize, create meaning, invent, and submerge ourselves in inquiry. Jerome Bruner (1961) states “a small but crucial part of discovery of the highest order is to invent and develop ‘puzzle forms’ that can be imposed upon with good effect. It is where the truly powerful mind shines.” Play also addresses the social-emotional needs of the learner. Hillary Conklin’s study found the following:
One of the casualties of current education reform efforts has been the erosion of play, creativity, and joy from classrooms and lives, with devastating effects. Researchers have documented a rise in mental health problems—such as anxiety and depression—among young people that has paralleled a decline in children’s opportunities to play (2015).
Given this information, I plan to implement play as much as possible within the curriculum both inside and outside of the classroom. I recently came across an online role-playing classroom management system called Classcraft (Young, 2013). It is a gaming community that can be tailored to classroom curriculum for learners to engage in massive multi-player online role-playing quests. It will elevate the level of play in learning through an imaginative digital platform. The challenges that I will face will be that of administration buy-in. Much of their view of the learning environment reflects a more traditional approach. However, with proper planning, communication, and student progress, I believe we will be able to compromise.
I expect realistic challenges when shifting my classroom into more of a holistic, truly learner-centered setting. The challenges will be personal, managerial, and organizational. When I consciously release the grip on controlling what and how the students should be learning, I may find I am fearful of what my administration will think. Shifting into a facilitator role will need to balance with high expectations and meaningful driving questions to maintain a sense of organization. Students value boundaries whether they would like to admit it or not, so it will be my role to set clear boundaries yet balance those with freedom and access to resources for the class to take learning to the next level. From a managerial perspective, I will have to actively let go of previous expectations to have a quiet room. Constant business and heightened noises are triggers for my anxiety, so I will certainly need to find the most efficient way to group students based on interest, experience, and personality traits. I suspect I will have more of a trial and error situation until I find which grouping works best. My goal will be groups that represent mini collectives that are actively engaged in the learning environment as a whole collective. My last challenge will be one that will impact my organization. When making innovative changes in the classroom, it does not just stop there, it catches the eye of other teachers, staff, and administration. For some schools, they are fortunate enough to already have administration buy in, but I expect to have push back if and when they observe, they cannot check a specific box on their observation sheet. If we are working on a project that takes weeks to complete, administration will be unable to see a clear beginning, middle, and closing of a lesson which is more aligned with traditional methods. They expect each subject to be separate, with a specific time frame for each so that when they walk into the room, they can look at the objective on the board and match it to what is happening. Project-based learning and learning through play will look quite a bit different from the more traditional approach of “sit and get.” My goal is to continue positive communication and feedback with my colleagues, showcase students’ achievements, share students’ testimonies, and provide relative research as proof to hopefully sway my organization to get on board.
Influencing Holistic Thinking
“The only time we have is right now in this present moment. When we learn how to extract the full meaning from each moment, we are practicing to do the same process in the future” (Dewey, n.d.). I am encouraged by A New Culture of Learning. Thomas and Brown (2011) challenged me to change my attitude in how I seek to make innovative changes both at the classroom level and organizational level. They encouraged me to look at every opportunity I have with my learners as a chance to create a significant learning environment. I recommend this book to anyone seeking a new perspective about life and its immediate connection to learning. It has helped me consider my own learning philosophy, and how to bring my own unique experiences to the learning environment. My ultimate goal is to change the world for the better one learner at a time. Sir Ken Robinson says it best:
We must see our creative capacities for the richness they are, and see our children for the hope that they are. Our task is to educate their whole being so they can face this future. We most likely won’t see the future, but they will. Our job is to help them make something out of it. (2007)
Stay encouraged my friends, we have a great responsibility to light the way for generations to come.
Bruner, J. S. (1961). The act of discovery. Harvard Educational Review, volume 31, pp. 21-32. https://digitalauthorshipuri.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/the-act-of-discovery-bruner.pdf
Dewey, J. (n.d.). Retrieved June 6, 2019, from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/43425-we-always-live-at-the-time-we-live-and-not
Conklin, H. G. (2015, March 3). Playtime isn’t just for preschoolers-teenagers need it, too. Retrieved from http://time.com/3726098/learning-through-play-teenagers-education/
Harapnuik, D. (2016, September 7). Opening up spaces for answers. Retrieved from http://www.harapnuik.org/?p=6564
Huizinga, J. (1971). Homo ludens: A study of the play-element in culture. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Miller, A. (2015, August 20). How to write effective driving questions for project-based learning. Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/pbl-how-to-write-driving-questions-andrew-miller
Piaget, J (n.d.). Retrieved June 6, 2019, from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/75488-the-principle-goal-of-education-in-the-schools-should-be
Robinson, K. (2007, January 6). Do schools kill creativity?. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY
Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.
Wolpert-Gawron, H. (2015, August 13). What the heck is project-based learning? Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/what-heck-project-based-learning-heather-wolpert-gawron
Young, S. (2013). Classcraft – Make learning an adventure. Retrieved from https://www.classcraft.com/?utm_expid=106313100-29.Bbrc8z9mSdWCWXQKx10F_g.0&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.classcraft.com%2Foverview%2F