This summer I had an opportunity. The opportunity to attend Constructing Modern Knowledge. The opportunity to interact with many of my educational heros. To experience the joy and hardship of making a challenging project. The opportunity to have thought provoking conversations and to work with an amazing group of educators who inspired me to try things I never realized were possible. All of these experiences were amazing and transformative but the most transformative moment of the workshop for me was not any of these moments. It was when a group of educators with the same opportunity as me walked away from thiers and left the workshop early.
It left me dumbfounded. The story I heard was that they had been unhappy with the workshop so they called their administrator who told them to go ahead and fly home. I felt frustrated that they had given up so easily, that they hadn’t chosen to take advantage of such an amazing opportunty. I couldn’t understand how they could make such a choice.
David Loader, associate professor at Melborne University had a different reaction. “I know why they left.” Loader said. “They were teachers so they were used to school.” That statement got me thinking. David Loader was right. There was clearly a disconnect between these teachers expectations and what Constructing Modern Knowledge was. Most likely that disconnect stemmed from their experience as teachers. So what was that disconnect?
Constructing Modern Knowledge was nothing like any school I have ever been to or any conference I have ever been to. There were no classes, no workshops, no presentations, I didn't sign up to learn about Scratch or Arduino’s or how to create a maker space. Knowledge was not disseminated in the traditional way from the so called expert to the student. Instead we were given a chance to choose a project we wanted to work on for four days. During those four days the experts did not talk at us, instead they walked around and stepped in as we needed. We learned as we worked. We learned about the learning process, we learned about ourselves as learners. We learned about content that was related to our project. For example my group created a shoe that converted energy from walking to useable electricity. So I learned a great deal about circuits and energy.
Video courtesy of https://catcomputerteacher.wordpress.com/
All of this was extremely valuable learning but it certainly is not the way that schools usually work. Which is sad because how amazing would schools be if they did have more of that style of learning. Students would be engaged, learning would be relevant, understanding would be meaningful.
But all of this is very hard to do as teachers because of the big T word. Time. We don’t have time to let our kids create because we have to make sure to cover the standards. We need to cover the content that will be tested and reported on. The content that parents and colleges will ask about.
This led me to the realization that what is wrong with schools is not the teachers or parents, administrators or even funding. What is wrong with schools is the way we think about learning. We frame our educational system around an outdated view of learning. I call it the block tower view of learning. I’ll explain it in my next blog post.
Mindy Slaughter is a classroom teacher at UNIS Hanoi. She started learning to code when some of her students wanted to study it for the PYP Exhibition. She has since help start the Elementary Coding Club and is a founding member of the Global Codeathon. She believes coding opens the doors for student creativity and is working to integrate it into the curriculum.