Friday, January 27, 2012

Educon 2012 Prep: Educon Principles and Learning Design

I am on my way to Educon.  I decided to take the train so I'd have time to think, read and write as I travel.  It is not everyday that a teacher gets to travel to a conference, so I want to make the most out of the experience.

I'll begin by reflecting on the Educon principles and where those principles fit into learning design for effective education.

The guiding principles behind Educon:

1) Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members.

This principle leads me to wonder about the role inquiry plays in our fourth grade program, school and system?  

First, what is inquiry?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines inquiry in the following way:

Definition of INQUIRY

: examination into facts or principles : research
: a request for information
: a systematic investigation often of a matter of public interest
When, how and for what purpose do students inquire during the year?  Is this inquiry thoughtful and empowering?  

Currently, we teach a number of integrated units that include inquiry, yet inquiry is more explicit in some units than others. As I think about increasing inquiry, empowerment and thoughtfulness in our curriculum program, I believe the following steps will strengthen our approach:
  • Establish essential questions for each unit, and use those essential questions to guide the unit work.
  • Display and share the essential questions with students. Revisit and possibly revise the essential questions during the unit work.
  • Explicitly teach children about inquiry by explaining the process used to establish, review, revise and rewrite essential questions. Welcome student insights and ideas.
  • Foster student inquiry by giving students time to reflect, create, investigate and present their own questions.
  • Through varied learning paths, investigate questions.
  • At the end of each unit, reflect on the essential questions and the inquiry work.  Discuss the process including both success and struggle.  Make decisions about future inquiry-based processes. 

    2)  Our schools must be about co-creating - together with our students - the 21st Century Citizen

    When students are content creators, they work and learn with greater investment, interaction, effort, confidence and results.  How can children co-create the curriculum with their teachers?

    Unit choreography has to leave plenty of room for discussion and personalization so students have time to connect the essential questions of a core topic with their own experiences and questions. For example, our grade level recently launched the Immigration/Family History Museum project.  It's a project where students are introduced to the story of immigration in the United States and the many cultures that make up our landscape. During the unit, each child creates an exhibit representing a country of origin and their family history for our culminating event, The Immigration/Family History Museum.

    This year, several African American students in my class didn't know where to begin. They could trace their roots back to many states, but not countries.  They began to inquire which led teachers, students and parents on an investigation. At this point, we're co-creators of curriculum. Questions have been posed.  Teachers, parents and students are investigating, and there is excitement and investment in the air.

    Therefore, the process of co-creation is inspired by inquiry, and inquiry for children begins with  questions (created by teachers and students) then leads to co-creation of content that responds to those questions.

    3) Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.

    Technology inspires, and technology used in purposeful inquiry is a powerful tool that presents students with multiple paths of investigation.  Once essential questions have been determined, then it's time to plan an investigation path.  Choosing and using apt tools is an important part of that path.  Those choices are led by the question, What tools will help us to solve our problem or find the answers?  

    Students' ancestral questions led us to email first.  We emailed experts in our system for advice and help.  Then it led to YouTube to find first-hand accounts of others who had delved into those questions with success.  Now, students have a starting point for their inquiry.  We will continue to learn more, investigate and co-create curriculum as the inquiry continues using apt tech tools along the way.

    4) Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate

    Classroom pedagogy must be choreographed to give students time to research, create, communicate and collaborate.  Explicit, spontaneous and responsive discussions about the value and process related to each concept should be embedded into unit design.  School design, role definition, schedules and other structures should support this essential activity.

    5) Learning can - and must - be networked

    At fourth grade, we've dabbled in this with ePals and collaborative cross-state information exchanges, but we have yet to connect our networking to inquiry with depth and meaning.  That's a next step.  

    As I continue to explore the actions and information related to learning design, I realize that Educon's principles offer a wonderful template:

    Unit Design
    1. Topic: A broad, umbrella topic determined by school, system, State and national frameworks.
    2. Essential Questions: Guiding Principles created collaboratively and responsively by teacher teams.
    3. Students' Guiding Questions: What do students want to research and find out about related to the umbrella topic.
    4. Investigation Process or Path: The determined steps, tools and networking utilized to inquire and discover.
    5. Content Creation: Students and teachers creating content together as a result of inquiry and investigation.
    6. Presentation: Sharing knowledge with others near and far in purposeful ways.
    7. Reflection:
    • Thoughts and assessment upon completion.
    • Thoughts and decisions about future inquiry, processes, tools and networks.
    • Next steps.
    Learning Design Template to Guide Work

    I'm starting my Educon experience with this framework.  I look forward to any thoughts and ideas you may have related to this.  Also, if your Educon conversation relates to this post, please let me know and I'll try to attend your session.  Thank you.