I’ve been having a transformative experience here in the Department of Education in PEI in many ways. One of the most rewarding is the digital practices course that i’m currently teaching. I’m working with some very experienced teachers, coaches, assessment folks and curriculum people. They are willing, engaged and challenging. The best kind of students. I’m learning tons about what can practically get done with change in the system. What can teachers manage? What is too much? What are they really looking for?
One of the core concepts in the course is that the abundance of information available on the internet fundamentally changes what is possible in the classroom. It also, potentially, changes what we should be doing. I mean… i don’t think its ‘potentially’. I think it should change it. Finding and ordering are now more important than remembering.
And, to the point of this blog post, we need to prepare people to learn random things. They need practice dealing with uncertainty. Dealing with things where they might be the first person they’ve met who has ever come across it. Something we can’t prepare them for.
Learning something really new
Our classroom activity last week was hard. It was hard for me as a facilitator, and it was difficult for them as a group (one group found it more challenging than the other). I gave them random microbit parts and said ‘start’. I was trying to recreate the feeling that many people have in the world right now… people confronted with a new phone, people confronted with taxes, with a new social network, with cambridge analytica… people seemingly expected to know how to do, and how to understand, hundreds of different things. Things that we didn’t know we were going to know how to do. Things we are going to have to figure out with whatever is available to us.
One of the main items of feedback from the students is that they prefer a gradual release methodology to learning about things like the microbit. Some structure up front. Goals clearly outlined. Targets identified. Scaffolding in place. You acclimatize to the water by slowly lowering the temperature of the pool from a balmy 85 degrees all the way to a proper maritime 66 degrees in the summer. This is certainly an effective mechanism for getting people to acquire certain skills.
It’s also not how much of our world works now.
But i don’t like technology
This was an excellent critique from a number of participants. The challenge I gave them was not really a level playing field. If you already understand code, or you have an existing interest in tinkering with technology the activity is going to be much easier to adapt to. You’re going to dive in and play around with it.
I don’t know how to adapt this activity to this objection. More thinking needed here.
What are the new practices?
We had some talks. I don’t think I rolled it out as well as I could have. They pulled it together. Their reflections (which for a variety of reasons are not public) are exceptional. Their home activity was to do an instruction activity for ‘something’ in the microbit and write a reflection on how they felt about it. They have written amazing instructional pieces that we’ll be able to use in classrooms. They are now reading each other’s manuals and learning how to use the microbit. Student centred, student driven, student guided.
I’m torn to be honest. One part of me thinks – here is the way we need to be able to learn in 21st century. We are confronted with too many situations where we don’t know what to do and we need to learn how to get that first instructional video, that little bit of help from our friend (or whatever) to get ourselves started. We need to deal with the frustration of a task we don’t understand and use our connections. That’s the practice.
The other part of me thinks that if we can save people the frustration, shouldn’t we just go ahead and do that?
I’ve heard lots of complaints recently that ‘kids these days’ are helpless and unwilling to try and solve their problems. They’re constantly looking for guidance and to find an expert to solve their problems. Firstly… that sounds like a survival mechanism for a generation that has 100 times more decisions to make than I did. 1000 times more personal choices and options available to them. 1000000 times more things that they could watch or read.
Also, it just might be that the way we help them learn makes them a little too dependent. Doesn’t make them struggle quite enough. Doesn’t quite manage the learning they need to do in the world.
I’m looking forward to difficult discussions with the group tomorrow.