Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Artistry in Creating Learning

It's doubtful you have ever witnessed a student become filled with joy and meaningful satisfaction upon completing a worksheet. With the only sense of accomplishment coming from completing such a task, any given student most likely would file the "learning activity" under "things that suck". A simple observation from this simple educator: happy and engaged are students that are given the opportunity and freedom to be expressive, to discover, to create. 

For too many students, school today is filled with redundancy of the abstract. Ideas and symbols, linguistic representations and mental models that are rarely fully developed. We generally learn best when we can actually create something concrete; when we turn an idea or thought into a product. More important, the learning from the process itself is purposeful, creating that "stickiness" that only experiential learning can provide. Every day, our students could and should have the opportunity to develop and test their ideations and prototypes - items that become refrigerator door and counter top masterpieces for the world to see.

I doubt the same joy & fulfillment referenced earlier is shared by the teacher who copied the generally insignificant worksheet for the students. Where is the brilliance in this? The highest quality
of life is filled with creative expression. It should include a broader definition of who we think as artists. Barbers, cooks, gardener, and janitors have as much right to claims of creative artistry as sculptors and painters.  This includes school staff, teachers and administrators, who are indeed entitled to the same innovation license as designers and architects to model valuable creating and learning opportunities.

Every learner and educator has a unique contribution to make toward impacting the quality of life, both for themselves and for others.

These past few years have been an extremely exciting learning time for many in our district I'm fortunate to be a part of.  Our district has decided it was time to put action to school reform ideas that have been spouted for years  From a diverse group of students, parents, educators, business, and community leaders, we have developed frameworks around what "Learning shouldn't be" and what "Learning should be" (Check out more on twitter at #ImagineSPS).  Here are a few shouldn't and should's...

1. Learning shouldn't be quiet- Given the chance, learners of all ages want to talk and share their learning experiences. Master teacher guidance is important, and given the framework and purpose, learners work to solve a problem and understand solutions. They talk about their personal learning experiences, hopes and expectations. Feedback from teacher and peers filled the room with purposeful energy - a creative buzz.

2. Learning should be messy- Meaningful learning is not divided into subjects. Outside of school, we rarely find segmented time for subjects; so why do we treat school this way? Life is messy; let's help our prepare them for their future by integrating and embedding authentic learning activities.

3. Learning should be fun- I specifically watched adults fabricate mental models to solid structures using various items from a maker-table. The passion of their creation came in building and articulating their experience. They smiled and laughed through discouragement when their prototypes didn't work, and became animated in pressing forward. Interesting side-note here: the adult learners' hands continued to manipulate objects such as Play-Doh, straws, pipe-cleaners, and other items from the maker-space table as they tested and discussed their process. This was not a distraction, even seeming to add to the creativity and discussion process.  Yet how many times do we insist that students clear their desk and put things away so they "won't be distracted?"

4. Learning should be personal- I love this has become our district mantra, and three words came to mind through this imagining process as we worked to make the mantra real: For learning to be personal, learning needs to be engaging, meaningful, and relevant. Learners today have access to knowledge at their fingertips.  This shift means the teacher is no longer the keeper and giver of knowledge.  Rather, the artistry of teaching becomes guiding, fostering, mentoring and facilitating how to use and apply the knowledge. For this reason, teachers are more important than ever.

It is a critical time in education, and never has it been more exciting!