How to Push the Boundaries of School with Dynamic Learning
Does your classroom offer one-and-done types of learning activities, or does the learning grow, inspire, and evolve throughout the year and beyond? With digital tools like G Suite for Education that are available 24/7, the learning doesn’t have to stop when the bell rings at the end of class, or when the worksheet is turned in, or even when the school year ends. The learning takes on a life of its own; it becomes dynamic. This concept alone should change the way you think about learning in general and change the way you facilitate learning in the classroom.
Education, just like anything else, is loaded with trends, buzzwords, and enough acronyms to create alphabet soup! We are constantly trying to find new ways to support our students and often times we are attracted to the next new thing–the next magic acronym that’s going to solve all of our problems. Teaching isn’t that simple. Teaching is much more art than science. Formulas don’t work because one size doesn’t fit all–it doesn’t fit all teachers and it doesn’t fit all students.
Download the Dynamic Learning Infographic
I’m not trying to invent the next new thing. A lot of us are trying to disrupt the system, break down the barriers, and shake up learning. I’m trying to find a way to bring some (not all) of the great ideas for transforming teaching and learning into a meaningful framework for teachers. Most of us do not work in ideal schools with an overflow of funding and resources. The bottom line is that we have to figure out a way to make meaningful change in our classrooms in a way that works within our systems, our districts, our campuses, our classrooms, our walls.
The idea of dynamic learning is something I have been exploring a lot lately–some way to describe and put together all of the ideas and ways that technology can take learning to new heights and push the boundaries. Traditional teaching has to change. It has to. It’s simply not enough anymore. Why do we still have so many static assignments and activities that never get the chance to transform learning for our students? We have to move past the idea of doing old things with new tools and truly make the most of what this wonderful, 21st-Century world has to offer.
You will see that the ideas presented below (and in the infographic) are not new. We have no shortage of new ideas in education. This is just a new way to organize the amazing ideas that are out there help teachers see the big picture, making meaningful strides, and take it one step at a time! The infographic included in this post is version 1.0, as I expect to continue to revise and grow these ideas.
This was an idea that I introduced in a previous blog post: Move from a Static Classroom to a Dynamic Classroom. Since then, I have decided to change the vernacular to focus on the learning, especially since the foundation behind it really should move us beyond the classroom.
Static Learning v. Dynamic Learning
So here are some working definitions for you, definitions that are my own and still in development:
Static learning is learning that is lacking in movement, action, or change, especially in a way that is not engaging–where learning happens in short bursts and is often demonstrated in one-and-done activities, short-term assignments, or worksheets (even digital worksheets), that are confined within the traditional bounds of the school system, school day, and the school walls.
Dynamic learning is learning characterized by constant change, activity, and progress–where learning lives, grows, connects, and is extended beyond the boundaries of the class day, beyond the physical location, beyond using tools as digital substitutes, and even beyond due dates.
When you think DYNAMIC, I want you to think BEYOND:
Beyond the Bell (a mindset)
Learning doesn’t have to end when the bell rings. With digital tools and devices that are available 24/7, students can continue to learn, collaborate, grow, and dig deeper into their learning on their own terms. This idea of going beyond the boundary of the class day doesn’t mean homework. This is a mindset for students that means that learning can take place anytime, anywhere and students can own it. Why shouldn’t we take advantage of this? How can we encourage students to think of learning as something that goes beyond the school day–building lifelong learners in the process and helping students to learn and think independently.
To become a more dynamic learner, students need to take ownership of not only their learning but their time. This requires that students think beyond the “Game of School,” and realize the power they have in their hands–the power to connect FOR learning, the power to teach themselves new skills, the power to solve their own problems.
Strategies to Move Beyond the Bell:
Discussion: Start a discussion with students about their learning. What do they like? What do they struggle with? What would they learn if they had complete control over time and place? Remember, this is more of a mindset than a specific skill.
Learning Goals: Help students write their own learning goals, both goals aligned to what they are learning in class, but also BEYOND. What problems would they like to solve? What’s something they’ve always wanted to learn?
*Note: This mindset pairs very well with the strategies below: beyond the grade level and subject area.
Beyond the Grade Level and Subject Area
As Sir Ken Robinson tells us in his TED Talk, “How Schools Kill Creativity,” the education system we have today is still based on a factory model, where students are basically placed on a conveyor belt. What they learn is dictated by their age and grade level, just what fits inside the factory “box.” Why? Can’t we work within the confines of the system to open up more opportunities for students to explore their own interests, give them more voice and choice, and collaborate with other teachers to create more interdisciplinary activities and projects? Let’s take kids off the conveyor belt of education and give them opportunities to learn about the things that interest them beyond the subject areas we teach, while still drawing connections, and even beyond what it says they should learn in each grade level. Learning doesn’t have to fit inside a box.
Strategies to Move Beyond the Grade Level or Subject Area:
Genius Hour: where students are given time to explore their passions and interests, learn, and create.
Maker Projects: where students learn by doing! They can tinker, build, engineer, craft, program, and create with anything from cardboard to sophisticated technology projects.You don’t have to have a fancy Maker Space filled with expensive equipment. You can start with something as simple as a Cardboard Challenge. Also, check out this great article by Vicki Davis: How the Maker Movement is Moving into Classrooms.
Entrepreneurial Learning: Did you know that by 2020, 40% of the workforce will be self-employed ((2017). Intuit. Retrieved 15 April 2017, from https://http-download.intuit.com/http.intuit/CMO/intuit/futureofsmallbusiness/intuit_2020_report.pdf). With little to no start up costs, online businesses can be started by just about anyone, including students. Help cultivate entrepreneurial skills like risk-taking, practicing the art of curiosity, perseverance, problem-solving, and taking ownership of the learning and enterprise!
Design Thinking: Design Thinking is a creative problem-solving protocol to create innovative solutions. The four phases of Design Thinking: (1) gather inspiration, (2) generate ideas, (3) make ideas tangible, and (4) share your story. IDEO’s Teacher’s Guild is a great place to start for ideas in the classroom. Also, check out this great article from Edutopia about Design Thinking in Education.
Beyond the Walls
Bring the world to your students and bring your students to the world. Every student in every grade should have opportunities to connect and learn globally as well as publish their work online for a global audience. I ask this question regularly across the county, “How many of you allow your students to publish online for a global audience?” The answer is almost always the same, very few hands go up.
Now flip that around. How many of you are bringing the outside world into your classroom through global collaboration, social media, video chats, and more? This is growing, but I don’t think every school values this the way they should. The opportunities for students to publish their work online are almost endless. I still can’t believe how many school districts do not allow students to share, communicate, collaborate, and publish for a public audience.
Strategies to Move Beyond the Walls
Publish Student Work for a Global Audience: It’s our job, as teachers, to give students a global audience. It is so easy now to allow students to publish their work online for the world. It’s amazing how much this will change the quality of what they publish. As soon as they get their first comment, a shift has happened. When I taught middle school writing, I would try to teach my kids how to write for different audiences, but they knew that I was the one that would be reading and assessing their work. I can hear them now, “Why am I writing to an audience of NASA experts? Miss Bell, aren’t you the one reading it?” They never really took the idea of the audience seriously–that is until I gave them an authentic audience. The moment I allowed them to publish online, it gave new value to their work. Every student should be publishing their work online, not just writing–everything!
Globally Connect, Collaborate and Communicate: It’s simple and it’s too easy to not bring the power of global collaboration into the classroom. Why can’t we tap into the experts and other classrooms around the world? Bring NASA astronauts into the Kindergarten classroom in Kalamazoo, or connect with another classroom on another continent. Just a few years ago, this meant you had to have expensive video conferencing equipment, now you just need a good Internet connection, a webcam, and a Google or Skype account. And it’s not just video conferencing, it’s learning to communicate individually and collaboratively through digital mediums. It’s discovering the culture outside the location of the school. This is the way the world operates. Let’s prepare students for a connected world.
Beyond the Tools
Think beyond using digital tools to do traditional things, like typing a paper. Use digital tools to do NEW things! Just going paperless or digital isn’t enough, use tools to go further, deeper and extend the learning, and consider using tools in alternative ways–beyond their original purpose. Reach beyond what you think a digital tool can do and should be used for. Consider alternative ways that tools can be used to do new things.
Strategies to Move Beyond the Tools
Using Digital Tools to Do NEW Things: Think beyond just using Microsoft Word or Google Docs to type a paper. For instance, did you know that you can create an eBook with Google Slides? Presentation applications alone can be used for many more things than just a presentation. Matt and I even did an episode of the Google Teacher Tribe Podcast on this topic: Google Slides Can Do Whaattt??!! Think about how you and your students can get creative and use new digital tools in unexpected ways.
Consider the dreaded worksheet. Now, there may be very good, critical thinking questions on that worksheet, but once it is turned in, that’s the end of that line of thinking. Paper activities make it difficult to allow learning to grow organically and can stifle creativity. Now compare that worksheet with a Google Doc, a blog, or a website, these are tools that allow us to be more dynamic and move past simple substitution.
Giving Students Choice: Probably one of the best ways to explore this idea is to give students choice in creating and demonstrating their learning. This will open the door to not only more creative content but creative uses of digital tools. Don’t automatically dismiss a tool because you don’t think it’s perfect for the job. Every time I have ever done this with students, a student has blown me away with an innovative use of digital tools.
On the flip side, students also need to learn the art of letting go when a tool isn’t working. Decision-making is something students struggle with and we want to encourage students to take their own risks and make their own decisions.
Beyond the Due Date
Consider allowing students to continue the work that interests them beyond the final assessment of the assignment or task. Thinking, learning, exploring, shouldn’t be stifled simply because it was time to turn it in. I think this idea may be the one that teachers will struggle with the most. Remember, we are trying to move to more dynamic learning experiences that have less focus on the one-and-done.
Strategies to Move Beyond the Due Date
With digital tools like G Suite for Education, the learning can continue to grow even after it has been officially “turned in,” and/or assessed. A Google Doc is a LIVING DOCUMENT. It doesn’t have to be forgotten. Students can continue to learn, create, and grow in different directions, going wherever their interests take them. Now, this may become an enrichment project or simply a passion project for students to work on in their have time.
Teacher Becomes Coach or Mentor: This is where the role of the teacher becomes that of a coach or mentor, encouraging exploration without the bounds of a final test or assessment.
Social Learning and Collaboration: Help students to share their learning and projects with the social media world outside of their friends. Encourage ways to use social platforms for feedback and collaboration.
Share Your Voice, Share Your Story: I am a firm believer in sharing your story, your reflections, your journey and this is something that we can also cultivate in students. Help students to document their learning, reflect, and share with the world continuously. (Also see my previous posts: The Share Your Voice Challenge, and Part 2.)
Always Be Learning: Going beyond the due date also helps students to become lifelong learners. Still curious about a topic? They can dig deeper in the parts that interested them, the history, the problem-solving, another question. Help students learn how to learn and cultivate this skill throughout the learning process and beyond.
Take it One Step at a Time
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am not living in a “pie in the sky,” world of education. I realize we still have to operate within the confines of the systems we have, but I do believe that we can meaningfully incorporate more dynamic learning strategies in our classrooms without ignoring all of those things we have to do and are required to learn in our classrooms. I don’t think it is a choice. We are doing students a disservice if we aren’t moving BEYOND traditional learning with the technology we now have within our grasp. Just small pushes against the walls, against the system can bring about meaningful change.
at a Time
That’s all it takes, just one small step at a time. I’m not asking anyone to immerse their classrooms in these ideas overnight. I’m just asking that as educators, we consider the transformation that is possible and try new things. Even in small increments, we can make a big difference, and better prepare our students for the future.
What do YOU Think? What would you add to this post or infographic? Leave a comment!
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17 Things to Try in 2017
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