Friday, January 24, 2014

Deeper Learning MOOC: Random Thoughts, Week One

I feel like a garden is sprouting in my mind as I meander the Deeper Learning MOOC.  Many seeds are germinating with new ideas, plans, and thoughts.  Hence a post of random, yet related, thoughts.

"Follow the Yellow Brick Road"
As I read, listen, think, and employ the deeper learning notions, I keep returning to Dorothy and The Yellow Brick Road.  One of my son's talented teachers used to read The Wizard of Oz each year to her students.  I want to read that story to my students this year, and I want to listen carefully to the lines L. Frank Baum wrote and learn about his life too.

Learning Paths
As my colleagues and I work to revise a traditional learning unit we will create a chart to guide students' learnng path creation.  As I imagine it now the chart will have the following column headers:
  • problems, questions, ideas
  • research: books, websites, interviews, videos, museum visits, observation, exploration, play. . .
  • writing: Google doc, Google Presentation, movie script, play, letter, musical script, songs. . . 
  • creation: invention, sculpture, painting, play, musical, tour, interactive event, instrument. . .
  • share: presentation, movie, life performance, Google hangout, Skype, webinar, chat. . .
As students explore the chart and think about their learning path, we'll follow a process like this.
  • planting the seed: I have actually already planted this seed.  Students know that we will have this project time, and they are already thinking about what they will study/create and how they will navigate the path.  I am taking notes too about specific learners so I will be ready to guide them well. I typically plant the seeds of new ideas in myself and in my students well in advance of production--that's the garden of ideas I continually nurture. 
  • learning about learning: I will continue to introduce students to the research and current thought about "learning to learn." For example yesterday we had a powerful discussion about learning discomfort and when discomfort is okay with learning and when it's not.  That was a new notion to students and we had a terrific discussion that helped all of us understand our own learning and each other's learning well.  
  • collaboration: I will build more lessons and opportunities to learn about and practice this skill at a deeper level. 
  • project start: I will give plenty of time upfront for student idea generation with the following questions and more:
    • What do you want to do? 
    • Who do you want to work with?
    • What do you need to do your work?
    • What will your end product look like?
  • standards: I will embed multiple standards in the project requirements--standards that naturally fit into any project such as those related to writing, reading, research, speaking, and mathematical reasoning. 
  • backwards design: I will lead students through a "loose-tight" backwards design planning process for their project. 
  • scheduling: I will help students schedule spaces, dates, and times for presentation and supports. 
  • project work: I will coach, mentor, guide, and counsel as students embark on their learning journey. 
  • assess, reflect, and revise: We will regularly stop to assess, reflect, and revise along the way.
  • presentation/celebration: At the end we will make the time for the varied presentations and celebrate the wonderful learning.
  • reflection: I will leave time at the end of the year for significant reflection to inform future learning. 
The Classroom Belongs to the Students
Last night's Deeper Learning MOOC panel emphasized this through a number of important questions and examples.  For example, we need to ask students about the kinds of feedback and assessment that is most meaningful for them, and then we have to use those techniques to encourage, support, and forward learners. Also students need to have ownership and understanding about the classroom events and practice--it is their learning environment, and they are the most important people there.  Further we can't forget the importance of engagement, voice, collaboration, and meaning. These are critical notions and should be the first questions discussed whenever a child is facing issues at school.

Standards and Balance
The common core standards give us an opportunity to develop a common learning language and foundation with students--the standards are rich and deep, but if we don't take care to embed those standards in worthy student-teacher, interdisciplinary learning design, then they simply become a shopping list of dull learning events.  Further, the quantity, breadth, and depth of the standards are potentially an issue. While I'd rather the standards to stand tall like a majestic mountain that creates a wonderful challenge and vista from the top; I don't want the standards to overwhelm learners--hence educators need to choreograph the year or year's curriculum with care, creativity, and meaning.  Truly teaching with the standards well takes artistry which, in the best sense, could serve to create schools that are better than ever. 

Last night I was striving for some synthesis, and this morning I have found some.  I look forward to week two of the Deeper Learning adventure, but for now I'll take a bit of a break as I engage with Educon 2.6 thinkers/doers in Philadelphia beginning tonight.  

One last thought, the Deeper Learning MOOC facilitators posed the question, What has been an example of deeper learning in your life?  I have to say that while I had many rich learning experiences in my life, now is the deepest learning I've had.  The integration of technology, the global idea share via social media, the deep, rich common core standards, open minded students, terrific tools/materials/structures at my fingertips, and the latest learning research which supports the notion that we're all capable of learning have propelled my learning forward, and even more meaningful, have given me the tools, support, and knowledge to teach students with much greater capacity, success, and joy.