Just this week, I had a conversation with one of our partners that reminded me of the importance of keeping everyone in our community apprised of the changes that are happening in our classrooms. In this age of rapid transformation and educational innovation, we need to remember that it’s sometimes the adults who have the greatest challenge understanding what’s happening. After all, most of us went to school for our entire childhood lives, and to us school has a particular shape and form. When we see school take a different shape there is bound to be questions.
I’ve become fascinated by an activity my students have found and shown me, for several reasons. First of all, it was the students who brought it to me and asked if we could do it, so there’s motivation. It allows for individualized pacing, and is a great activity for students to learn partner skills of teamwork, collaboration and sharing. Thirdly, it’s a fabulous problem solving activity, allowing children multiple opportunities to explore, make mistakes and learn from them, restart without penalty and arrive at a satisfactory solution. When they do they graduate to the next level, which is a form of individualization. Finally, I appreciate the activity because it allows me to patrol the room in the background, troubleshooting partner conflict, coach pairs on resolution strategies, and assist with different parts of the problem that they get stuck on. The level of engagement, and the intensity with which the students all do this activity, is quite amazing.
Looking back at my description of this activity, it would appear to be a gold standard for what we’re aiming for in our 21st Century learning world. Choice, motivation, problem solving, individualization, mastery learning, personalization, child-centered, all the pieces are there. Unfortunately for me, some of us cannot see those things because they’re concerned the activity happens on a computer.
Once a week, for 30 minutes, I have the children work in our computer lab to explore web based problems, games and challenges from a variety of different sites. These are all sites I’ve researched, activities I’ve done myself beforehand and examined for appropriateness. There is no violence, advertising or exposure to content that would violate our district tech policies. All the children do the same activity each week, and in many cases they continue exploring them at home in an attempt to master the levels.
Now, in my mind, I’m seeing 21st Century skills, district and provincial goals around technology to strengthen learning, and the philosophical underpinnings which support this kind of activity. But the lesson here for me as a leader of learning is, I need to make this explicit to our parents, partners, school trustees, and anyone else who might see our students hard at work on these tasks. The message is; these are powerful activities that strengthen so many parts of our students skills, they just happen to be on the computer. Can we unpack the term “computer game”? Come watch these children at work, let’s see through the lens of powerful learning opportunity and future skills so we’re all on the same page.
So that’s my thinking this week. Conversation before transformation. Keep the adults in the loop, and pave the way for our digital natives to learn and explore in ways that work for them.