Monday, February 3, 2014

Creative Learning and Shifting our Paradigms.

This post has had me in neutral for a while.  it is so hard to put into words my thoughts on the subject of what is learning.  Mostly because what is learning to me may not be what is learning to my student.  If we all could have our own individual educational plan in placed and revised daily.

I am constantly redefining and fine tuning the lens of what learning means to me.  It was a natrual occurrence and needful transition for me when I observed in public education that much of the daily learning was a grind of conditioning the child to obey and do as they are told, with that being the red herring goal and the focus of many hours of the school day.  This just wasn't in a special needs classroom either.  It is a big part of what I saw public education doing to all children.   It feels like it grinds us down as individuals to be manageable test takers and obedient workers.  The rout memorization of daily public education learning with only a vague and limited understanding of what you are memorizing and the relentless constant teaching to a standardized testing policy forced me to shift my views as to what education is or what it should be and more importantly focus a clear lens onto what is learning.

The symbols of knowledge and the point of learning in measurement for me are more on the lines of the Bloom's Taxonomy of Knowledge click here for charts
Learning could consist of a measurement based on observations and assessments in the following areas: Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation.  Not to confuse learning with a widget or product either.  Is the product a true reflection of the learning that happened in making it, is just one question in an assessment to what I see as learning.  A true or false or multiple choice test as a measurement of learning fails to show many areas of non cognitive learning and only a fraction of cognitive learning.  Yet be hold those measurements of the grades in such high standards. To me Bloom's definitions of the components of learning, synthesizing a reflection of mastery are more in tune with a holistic approach to learning.  As an educator it may means letting go of the scripted lesson plan an allowing learning on the child's terms to happen.  This is a difficult thing for teachers to do, as we tend to be performers and work hard on our dog and pony shows.  Even school administrators have lost their way to what they should and could be doing, like offering support and encouragement and creating whole communities of learning, instead of forcing lesson plans to align with state and national standards for the testing multimillion dollar business.  It amazes me how this testing industry that doesn't have anything to do with learning has infested our school system like a parasite.  A great example of how our blind and unquestioning obedience to authority has dumbed down our work force and limited critical thinking skills.  What would happen if all of the parents and teachers just refused to allow testing to take place?

Back to Bloom's
I am also referring to, by using the phrase, "What Does Learning Look Like", to the process the individual uses or needs to define and classify in applying knowledge and differentiate data while then taking that process to the next level to create, develop, assess and summarize the material for themselves into something in their own paradigm of consciousness.  This process is where the assessment needs to take place.

Assessing the Assessor
I am constantly reassessing what learning looks like to my learner, subject by subject and day by day. Forcing my consciousness and or agenda on my child is not learning either.  That is a hard power to let go of and I will speak more about controlled learning verse open learning later here.  You almost have to let your brain get use to the concept of "allowing learning to happen" and "allowing the child to lead".  These phrases take a while for us to soak up.  Most of us are conditioned to "I teach, you listen" models of education.  Teacher student roles that are ridged and give little time for learning through experimentation and/or trial and error. We get stuck in the "repeat after me" or "Are all eyes on me?" language of teacher to student and that is about control and isn't so much about learning as it is driven by ego of "I as your teacher want your full attention, you do not think now but listen and repeat what I say."  We use words like sit up straight, hands in you lap ready to learn, eyes up here to set the tone and condition behavior. That by the way is a trick in conditioning and control, it is not learning, it's being made to shut up , be still and listen to the teachers show.  Learning isn't all a lesson in power and control or it shouldn't be.  We need problem solvers not more crushed down obedient performers who can not think and have never worked on learning their strengths with a individualized, self directed learning plan.  Could this be done in public education, yes but.  Open learning where people have the opportunity to play, discover, experiment, create and collaborate with other learners is a much more conducive way to allow learning to happen.  Unfortunately this kind of learning can't be measured on a standardized test.

So enough of me waxing on about it.  Here is some examples of open ended STEAMS learning.

The materials above are Lego Education curriculum and resources.  My son is working on this projects.   He is creating an original robot.  This material allows for open learning and I am merely a supportive aid to him.  He is learning.  I may throw out ideas or trouble shoot for him.  Most of the time we use lesson ideas from Lego ed or other open source lego educational sights..  We have several books that teach us programing for the bricks that come with the Lego Mindstorm and EV3 robots.  My son may choose one of those lessons and he self directs to it.  I provide the resources and environment and research materials and he teaches himself.  I also act as an assistant to him in finding parts and organizing materials.  Lately I am the one who records what he does, but he use to film his work and photo journal it more.  I think he will go back to filming and journaling but he is creating right now.
My job is to support the creative learning.  With this material I become the parts girl.
If I as teacher can let go of my lesson plan and agenda and allow my son to learn on his own, following his natural learning plan.  This take me working on my ego and character as an educator.  I no longer have to perform but encourage, engage and support.  Our roles become a relationship of equality as we both learn and explore the material in a new way. As my son examines and rearranges and predicts what creating with these Lego materials will do, he is learning.  He is learning in a way that I as an educator cannot teach him in a lesson, or book and a test would not show how he is learning here either.

Part of this shift in my consciousness of "What is Learning" was instigated by meeting the people at Self Design Global.  Monica Cochran the Director of Global Learning at SelfDesign was instrumental in my shift of what learning is.  The creator of SelfDesign, Brent Cameron's writings also were catalysis in my shift to natural learning.  My son and I were lucky to be matched with a mentor, an educator Michael Bender who with his wife Lori Bender are creating a new educational paradigm of their own with facilitating a MineCraft group of learners.  All of these people have given me a new perspective of What is Learning.  This has been life changing.
Here is our Michael Bender's Bio on SelfDesign Global's network.
Michael Bender's Bio
The SelfDesign method use a interest based learning modality called Natural Learning.  It is all passion based.  The assessment and measurement for learning they use is a concept call Observations for Learning.   You can read more about that HERE

Another step in this journey to observe my student and understand how my son's mind is wired to learn, was the class I took on line last spring at MIT's Media Lab.  The course was Learning Creative Learning taught by Mitch Resnick.  It was free, and being offer every spring now.  Something I found by clicking around the media lab at MIT's web sight.  During this class I found out more about open learning and interest based learning.  One of our 1st exercises was building a structure out of uncooked spaghetti noodles and marshmallows.  The object was to see how high you could go. My son and I did this together.  We quickly learned that triangles are the strongest shapes to support weight and our base need to be wider to support the height.  We also learned about pressure and gravity and how those factors relate to the strengthen of our materials.

All of this creative learning brought me back to a roots in Montessori's Method of learning through play and how important it is for all of us to learn through hands on projects and how and what we learn through out the process of imaging, creating, reflecting and experimentation.  Our society desperate needs creative problem solvers, yet we as a nation here the US, we are so sold on testing and measuring success by that test that the test has become the symbol of learning, the edification of mastery.  Yet in all this testing and scoring how much is usable to our society?  A test score that the state can hold up as progress is not creating learners who can solve problems, think out side the box and rarely after 12 years of this formula will most people have a desire too. We are loosing to many learners to this system of ed is just not worth it to me.  More and more young people are dropping out or failing to learn the skills that will make them successful learners at a college level.  Our students drop out statistic proves to me that kids weigh out all those years of education and testing and often come to the conclusion, that an education, as they know it, is a worthless thing and not worth the effort.  Open learning teaches the child that effort is everything.  If you do not put in the effort of creating and experimenting you do not get results.  If the learning plan is based on the learner's passions and interest  they will work on the project and do whatever it takes to make it work.  Even if the project doesn't work they are learning through the mistake process of experimentation.  I can not teach that process, I can only create the environment and support system where a learner can get there on their own.  It isn't about the widget they make, the process is the learning, not the widget.  You often can not look at the widget and see ALL what the student learned.  What they learned though the project is harder to measure.
This brings me to Non Cognitive learning and how important that is to our society.  None of these factors show up in Standardized testing, yet they are imperative to how we use what we learn and how we contribute as individuals for the greater good.  Here is a list of Non Cognitive skills to give you an idea about what I am talking about here.

I find that when you follow you passions and pursue learning what interest the learner, teacher's roles become mentors and directors of learning,  we stay on the peripheral of the classroom, just wandering into learner's line of vision when the need arises.  Teaching becomes less of a performance and more of relationship with the student of mentoring.
Once my mind shifted to included a supportive learning environment for creative learning I began to finding all kinds of educators to teach me more.  One of those educators who sparked me and my son was Arvind Gupta. Mr. Gupta is an engineer in India who appeared on TED Talks. Arvind Gupta
He has a web sight as well which shows more of his experiments with turning trash into toys and how he uses that process to teach children creativity and problem solving.

Carol Dweck has also changed my mind on how to educate by her research on Mindset and how it  effects everything.  She reiterates how important mistakes are to our learning process and that effort is everything.   She speaks of how our mindsets cripple us from learning and keep us tethered to a idea that we cannot learn because we are not good enough, smart enough or unable to learn.  I love how she uses the phrase when a learner tells her they are not good at math of:  "You are not good at it YET."  Leaves room to change your mindset and keep trying.
Here is a wonderful video on her research.

I just found the Froebel Gift's and am planning a summer camp enrichment session.  I'll blog about it.  Here is a wonderful educator named Tiffeni J. Goesel, who works as a consultant for the Gift's. here is link to her sight which will take you to the shop to buy them as well.  here for

Please feel free to add your resources below.

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