Teaching “how to” Self-Direct Learning

 
Student:  I am easily distracted from the work I have to do.
 
Teacher: What are you distracted by?
 
 
Student: Stuff like the latest article about the Redstone update in Minecraft <that allows you to use the concept of electricity, pistons, electrical flow, breakers) or by the book that is screaming my name, or distracted by the story that I’m co-writing with my friend <the one I want to publish>, or by the new world I’m creating in Minecraft that allows collaborators to co-build and discuss in real time or by the new mode that I’m creating and why the Java Script isn’t working…….
 
Teacher thinking: How can the distractions become the learning focus? Would this then eliminate the distraction?

 

One student writes,

“I was shocked when I found out how much I was self directing my learning, about a voxel platform called Minecraft. I learned almost everything there is to know about Minecraft, and I was shocked to find out that I found it all out through <a concept called> self directed learning. I learned it all through tutorials, Wikis, and finding stuff out just by fooling around in game.” http://dwtim24.edublogs.org/

As a teacher of a special education classroom (Gifted Education), my prime directive is not to teach content, but to teach my students to recognize their own learning needs, to advocate and then to reflect on what works or doesn’t. It is to have them ask, ‘What do I need?” instead of “How can I meet your expectations”? It is my hope that these students can begin to see the difference between education and schooling and between teaching and learning.  Ultimately, it is so that my students can drive their own learning and understand the structures that they need in place in order to be successful.

With the concepts and examples of Flipped Classrooms, Khan Academies’ (and the like), Massively Online Open Courses (MOOC), and variety of online courses such as Harvard Open Online Courses or MIT Open Courseware, the structures and tools are available for learners to access whatever content they need in order to solve the problem or complete the project they have in front of them. Therefor, my role as teacher is clearly redefined.

I showed my students the video, “If Students Designed their own Classrooms” and asked them to think about how this could relate to their own learning. I wondered how they conceptualized the concept of self-directed learning.  Initially, they didn’t see a connection to themselves. Why would they?

Students at this age still need structure, guidance and ongoing support and feedback. These students have been faced with teacher directed lessons, schedules, and goals. The concept of Inquiry (in the classroom) is somewhat foreign and like any skill or knowledge based lesson the students need scaffolding and monitoring each step of the way.

A student of mine wrote the following piece.  Alexander is a student that hasn’t had success (as he explains) with traditional teaching methods and has felt disengaged for much of his schooling.  After watching the video he felt inspired (even optimistic) that, in some instances, our system can create learning environments that are based on choice, interest and passion and can be driven by the student. Alexander asked me to post his thoughts where others can hear his voice.

Kids go to school to learn, right? To expand what they know? Then why do teachers decide what the students learn? What if they already know it? What if they are ahead, or behind? The student will know that better than the teacher. They know what they know. They know how to most easily do it. The student knows how they learn. So let them learn that way. Let the student choose how to learn, and what to learn, because THEY KNOW. Each needs to learn their own thing, their own way. Each needs different work, and, sometimes, special attention. So let them learn. School is a learning environment, not a teaching one. How would an adult answer a tough question? Look it up. So let kids do that too if they want. Let them do projects, or paragraphs, or a diorama, or even a model in Minecraft! If they want to do it,  then they probably do it better that way. If they say that they know that already, then teach them something new! A teacher’s role should be to help learning, not to tell kids to do something. I skipped science today because we had to do stuff on circuits that I knew in grade two!!! I came to school to learn, and I wasn’t learning anything except how to be bored, which I learned enough of in grades two to five (in grade one it was still mostly games). As I said, people come to school to learn. SO LET THEM.

What works for me?

  1. RELATIONSHIP – In order to implement this approach of teaching there has to be a significant understanding of who the student is as a learner. We take a significant amount of time reflecting on how to communicate what we know, how to reflect on how we know it, and how to synthesize what is next.
  2. BLENDED LEARNING – Each day, I provide individual tasks via Edmodo or Google Docs. Students will either choose a goal or be assigned one to work on. The Blended Learning structure allows students to access his/her individual plans and to communicate with teacher. It also allows for parents to be involved. Uploading plans and activities ahead of time has also been effective!
  3. TOOLS – I try to provide time for students to explore and learn how to navigate the tools (ie: Khan Academy, Math apps) and let them pick out the activity or app that interests them to share with the class. The “Resources” section in the classroom is important.
  4. TIME – Provide enough time to allow students to work on a given task. It often takes them 10 minutes to get going on a task. This time for “small chat” is important – like it is for adult learners.
  5. FEEDBACK – Ensure students aren’t just ‘doing the work’ but that there is a purpose. Give feedback to each group, or individual. I find myself walking around the room, prompting, checking, and reassuring.
  6. DIFFERENTIATION – Allow students to use the tools or apps they want rather than assigning. Some may use Educreations, while others are using the Livescribe.  The marker and chart method works too, although the students always upload what they’ve done to Edmodo or Evernote.
  7. INDIVIDUAL EDUCATION PLANS – I print out their IEP’s and allow them do fill it in or comment/edit what I have already done.  This is significant in helping them recognize that they have a VOICE.  We do this several times a year and then hang them up on clipboards.

Community and Urban Planning – Project Based Learning and Minecraft

The following pictures/slides provide some information about how we are using PROJECT BASED LEARNING, INQUIRY and MINECRAFT in the classroom.

Recently, a reporter asked me, “So what have you learned through this project?”

 

I’ve learned that I need to step back and trust my students.

I need to provide time, support and facilitate the groups and activities and allow them to discover for themselves the different possibilities, avenues and perspective of an issue.

I learned how important it is to use tools that they themselves are familiar with and to explicitly provide situations where they can be leaders and facilitators themselves.

The Barton and Tiffany area in Hamilton remains vacant. These students, while their concept plans may never get to play out in the real world, have had their voices heard.

Minecraft in the Classroom

I think my lessons are fairly engaging. But the second that bell went – literally, the second – the students gathered to discuss their next plan of action. Their next build. Their next tutorial on how to use Red Bricks, how to rewire a city, how to build the underground plumbing system. It was then that I realized that the most authentic assessment I will ever get with regards to creativity, problem solving, divergent thinking, oral communication, thinking (etc.) was during the lunch hour, when they were “playing” Minecraft.

(Also posted at http://Giftedclassroom.edublogs.org)

As a mother of two boys that use the Minecraft platform to build and design, I feel fortunate to have come into this classroom with a familiar knowledge of the potential of what this game can offer as it relates to learning, specifically around the concepts of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).  The last few years, watching my children play and learn has led me to interest in the relevance of game-based learning platforms and to the awareness of both the benefits and pitfalls. Included HERE are a few current articles and links about Minecraft in education, along with examples and pictures.

In this video, a student demonstrates a world that he works on outside of school hours. The planning, thinking and co-authorship of this design and creation is at a level that I rarely see in the classroom. In fact, I can’t imagine anything that I could teach him to match the intricacy of thinking and design here. He incorporates math, science concepts, business, and art. He uses language skills to plan, think and communicate with his peers and spends hours reading and learning about servers, plugins and how to create his own Mods for game improvement. In the midst of all this, this same child reads about 2 – 3 novels per week.

I urge you to watch at least part of this video,

Minecraft in our classroom – next steps: 

-> Three students will moderate and control the server. All students and other members are ‘whitelisted’ which will ensure safety, privacy and protection.

-> Students will begin their first build – a school designed around the concepts of STEM and that will meet the needs of every single person (including teacher) in the class.

-> Students will begin designing the “Light Rail System” and will investigate the current discussions about the issue – http://hamiltonlightrail.com/  This initiative will support the Geography, Social Studies and Language curriculum (Ontario).

-> In teams, students will propose and design a space that is currently under much debate at the Tiffany and Barton street area in Hamilton in the Harbour West. They will have an opportunity to investigate current and past discussions and debates about the issue and then use their designs and ideas to propose solutions

We welcome collaboration and hope that parents, community and other students tap into our Twitter Stream @dwcatalysts or instagram pictures as we document and share these experiences.

 

World of Sand Challenge – Problem Solving, Inquiry – and fun.

“Salt and water combine to form salt water, which sinks below pure water. Heating up salt water causes it to split back into salt water and steam. Steam rises and condenses, eventually forming water droplets. Plants drink water and grow, but die if exposed to salt water. And that’s just three of the nineteen materials available for you to draw.” – World of Sand

What I’ve discovered most about my students in this Gifted program, is that they want challenge. Not just any challenge, but a challenge that doesn’t have just one answer, but a myriad of possibilities. They want a challenge that can be done, and re-done over and over, with different results or possibilities. They want to create the challenge, to ask the questions, and to discover solutions. The epitome of inquiry?

Today, one of the students finally got to implement HIS challenge. Details posted on his blog post – “World of Sand Challenge” (A comment on his post would result in a  smile).

Using the REFLECTION app on the SMARTBOARD along with the iPad app World of Sand, he demonstrated how to combine the elements, tools and chemicals to create reactions. Once the students had a chance to practice, he set specific guidelines: Acid, Liquid Fire and Acid to be set as “automatic” – in that order. The problem? Combine the other elements so that these elements/chemicals do not touch bottom of screen.

 

Here is one student explaining their result. I feel humbled to be part of their learning journey.

MY TOP 10 LEARNING SPACES – A Universal Design, in a Gifted Classroom

The learning environment is what will help create community. Before anything, students need to feel safe. Not just physically safe, but safe to learn how they learn, safe to think “outside the box”, safe to ask questions, safe to make mistakes, safe to be who they are.  I recently read a post by Jackie Gerstein, a friend and mentor who talks passionately about the importance of community in the classroom (It’s About Connections Not Content). Below, I talk about the learning spaces to honour all learners.  It is my intention to help these students find their passions, their gifts, and their understanding of themselves.

The Circle

Each day, we start off in a large circle. We might play a game, talk about a current event or gather our ideas for upcoming lessons. The circle gives brings the class together as one team, a group of co-learners and a support structure that they will need.

Comfort and Escape

A few years ago, I taught in a brand new school with small classrooms. A quiet “comfy” space was not an option and was strictly forbidden by fire regulations. I yearned to provide my students with an area to go when they needed to unpack and reflect. As we know, this 7 hour day, surrounded by an assortment of individuals can be overwhelming and draining. This classroom (an older school) allows for this space.  Students can use it to work collaboratively using the bulletin board or small table or even the floor as a workspace.  Of course,  reading a book, plugged into a good song is also pretty fantastic for any learner.

It only took about one hour before a student crawled into this “getaway”.  A calming environment that is still in the same room is a true gift for any classroom.

 

Exercise – Meditative, focus~refocus, transition

I truly love to Hula-Hoop. Not only because it is great for the abdominal muscles, but the repetitive motion is soothing. After a long day, or a long think-session, there is nothing better then grabbing a hula-hoop,  with a little music (or quiet is good too) and finding a place to gather thoughts and re-fuel for the next “thing” to come. Another true gift that this classroom offers – enough space.

Game

There has been much debate about the use of Gaming in the classroom and its integration into core subjects like math, social studies and language. The Kinect offers an incredibly fun way for students to work together in solving problems, debating stories and characters, and thinking through puzzles and math games. Allowing students to move around, challenge one another and discuss the creation and process of the game itself is incredible insightful and meets them in their world. We will be integrating Minecraft in our classroom this year, as a way to plan, think, and discuss through creation and collaborative building.

Apple TV, Reflection, Interaction.

So often, we use the projector and whiteboard to deliver instruction and content. But with the Reflection App or Apple TV, students can broadcast their work and designs on a larger surface. To show the students a quick video, or demonstrate an iPad tool, I can stand anywhere in the room and broadcast quickly and safely. Even better, students can broadcast their work.  Only a few years ago, I found myself stumbling trying to improve my motor skills when using the Smart tablet.

Group Think-Tank and iPad Center

One of my students asked, “Too bad we can’t just write on this table!”. I wonder if “Idea Paint” would work here.  To move away from their desk workspace to a group workspace is valuable. It is also valuable to have an option to go back to ones own individual space. With the use of the HWDSB iPad program and the School iPad purchases, I have about 10 iPads in the classroom. We will start of with interview videos. A favourite app used today was WORLD OF SAND. I highly recommend it. Highly.

Weekly Schedule, Handouts and TEA.

Posting a daily overview is important, but to see it in context within the entire week is essential. Like adults learners, our younger students want to know what is next and why, and especially how it relates to their learning. There is a definite accountability attached to this practice, but it is so worth it. At the end of the week, I brew tea and together we work on the next weekly schedule. It empowers them and gives them voice.

Choices and Voices

This image keeps changing. As students become more comfortable with me – and more confident, they start adding more ideas and information here. It is fascinating to see how many students ask to get away from the brick and mortar. They want field trips, walks, and to learn outside.

 

Online

Blended learning is not only going to provide more solid communication and on-going information for students and parents, but also more access to content and learning. While it might be surprising to some (ha, ha!), I am not the bearer of all knowledge and information.  Neither is the Internet. A blended learning platform (where students can also learn online) such as EDMODO (something new I’m trying this year) will allow me to facilitate content that is rich and diverse to a group of students that vary greatly in learning needs.  As well, each student will be given a personal blog, and will have access to my daily plans through Google Docs and our classroom blog (another huge accountability risk that is worth the immense outcome).

 Community

My favourite learning space – The real world.  This year, I’ve established a partnership with the Hamilton Farmers Market where students will get a chance to learn stories of the lives of real Hamiltonians. Students will learn to shop, cook and share resources.  Most importantly, they will have an opportunity to socialize and interact with citizens and with each other in authentic ways. With some structure and guidance, they will have a chance to apply what they have learned at school to something real.

 

We have also arrange for several community walks. Our school location is surrounded by hundreds of acres of forests (Royal Botanical Gardens) and wooded trails. The colours, smells, sounds and wildlife are the inspiration I’ll need when teaching poetry and creative writing. Perfect for finding space and time to talk, share and develop a real sense of self.