Daily Archives: May 23, 2013

Learning Philosophy: Participating in MEANINGFUL experiences

Learning occurs when a student participates in MEANINGFUL experiences. I have had the opportunity to see first-hand how young children learn, and to be a part of the process. my kindergarten classroom is an environment where my students gain experiences that are hands-on and MEANINGFUL to them. Through careful planning centered around the curriculum, I am able to create experiences and learning centers that help students use creativity and problem-solving skills.

The question then becomes: “How do you make experiences MEANINGFUL to students?”

I believe the first step is to get to know your students very well, create relationships with them, and relate learning to their “real-life”. It is important to connect learning to life outside of the classroom. It is important to be able to answer the question “Why are we learning this”? My school has just adopted a new reading program called Lead 21. There is a component of Lead 21 that has proven to be extremely successful this year among my students for many reasons. This component is called “inquiry”. At the end of each unit, we participate in an “inquiry project”. The reason why this project is so successful is because the students themselves create the questions and the project (with teacher support and guidance to extend learning). For example, during a unit titled “Life All Around”, my students created puppet shows in small groups that answered the question, “What plants and animals are around us?” Students brainstormed ideas, made their puppets, rehearsed, and performed their puppet show to summarize what we had learned in the unit. Using Web 2.0 these inquiry projects can be enhanced even more and can reach a farther audience.

Since these projects are so open-ended and allow for freedom and creativity, it is challenging for students. A quote from Davidson & Goldberg The Classroom or the World Wide Web? stood out to me when I was thinking about the inquiry process:
“Challenges are not simply individually faced frustrations, Promethean mountains to climb alone, but mutually shared, to be redefined, solved, resolved, or worked around-together”.
I have found that students are more motivated and successful when they are interested in what they are learning. When they create their own learning opportunities, they are MEANINGFUL, and students are held accountable for them. Students not only “dive deeper” into the subject matter, but they learn how to work effectively in a group setting and how to be a contributing group member. These are skills that they will need to use their entire lives.

This year I have seen how allowing for the shift in roles (student-created inquiry projects) helps to shape a new learning environment. In this environment, I have seen what Douglas Thomas has described.. “You get to see students learn, discover, explore, play, and develop, which is the primary reason I think that most of us got into the job of teaching.”


Thoughts from the readings for this week

Many of the big topics from the readings gave me much to think about this week as I am attending the SUNY Conference on Instruction and Technology.  Today, we had the pleasure of listening to an amazing keynote address by Dr. Bryan Alexander.  The address should be posted soon at http://www.cvent.com/events/cit-2013-transformation-in-higher-education-sharing-ideas-and-showing-results/custom-114-ae68a22f25be4574a09b09bed9ed61c6.aspx .  Dr. Alexander also maintains a blog at http://bryanalexander.org/.  As I was watching Dr. Alexander’s presentation, one of the take home ideas is that educational games appear to be the next big thing, if they aren’t already.  I found this interesting considering the importance placed on play to engage students and stimulate the imagination in the Jenkins interview from this week’s reading.  Since so many kids today play video games, it seems only logical that using games to engage learning would have huge payoffs.  My 3rd grade daughter hates working on her spelling words, but we use a fun website (spellingcity.com) to play games about the words until she has mastered them.  She looks forward to this, while the old-fashioned method of writing them ten times doesn’t excite her at all.

In the reading by Davidson and Goldberg, I had an issue with the statement on page 13 about current college students having no memory of life before the internet.  At a community college, I have had students in age range from 17 to 60 in the same class.  This has come up at the conference I have been attending as well, since those at four year institutions describe how in tune their students are with emerging technologies.  I struggle with requiring technology use, even simple things like email, because of the diversity of my student population.  In that sense, I try to incorporate emerging technologies in an optional way until I feel that the students who were non-users have gained the confidence and skills that they need.  I also can’t assume that all students have smartphones and/or tablets, which makes the use of those to encourage interaction more difficult.  One suggestion that was made during a session I attended was to have those who don’t have a mobile device share with someone else.  If students work as teams in this way, there is usually enough devices so everyone can participate.

In the Davidson and Goldberg reading, on p. 32, the description of the importance of “connectivities and interactivities made possible by digitally enabled social networking” was especially significant to me.  Over the years, I have seen a change from students in a competition mode to them being in more of a collaborative mode.  Perhaps I was selfish, but if I prepared notes from a class, I wouldn’t share them with other students.  Now, I see students sharing notes, flashcards, pictures, and videos with each other.  So in that way, it seems that social media has encouraged students to share resources with each other, just as they are constantly sharing their thoughts, interests, and pictures with each other.

Learning Philosophy 1.0…Not Memorization!

As a community college educator with many first semester students, I am trying to prepare my students for the college experience, for their academic program in the health sciences field, and for potential future transfer to a larger four-year institution.  Therefore, I am not only trying to teach content in my subject area, but also trying to teach my students the skills they will need to succeed in college.  That covers a little on my teaching philosophy, but what about learning?

Learning for me is shown when a student can take the basic information that is presented to them and comprehend it at a deeper level.  This can be shown by being able to discuss and apply the material to a particular situation.  For instance, in teaching anatomy, students are expected to be able to identify anatomical structures from a model.  This is usually a fairly easy task for most students but doesn’t really show learning if the student is unable to recognize that same structure presented in a slightly different way during a future class.  Many students have become accustomed to memorization to succeed in their prior educational experience, but if they can’t apply that information later in the course, they didn’t really learn it.  Since my courses are designed as a two semester sequence that builds on prior information, memorization is not going to be adequate to succeed.

How learning takes place really depends on the student and their learning preferences.  I try to allow the students to determine the way that works the best for them.  This includes online quizzes, flashcards, videos, reading the textbook, meeting with me for discussion, study groups, online games, and laboratory simulations.  So many of the tasks that help students learn involve experimentation, interaction, and collaboration.  I have many students who have formed their own online learning groups via email and social media sites to share notes and learning strategies that they have discovered.  Instead of a competition between each other, they work together to help and encourage each other in their learning.

As an educator, I do need to assess the students at regular intervals to see if learning has taken place.  I love the moments in class where a confused look on someone’s face turns into an excited look of comprehension.  But those looks can’t always be recorded, so there does need to be evidence that learning has taken place.  For tests and quizzes, I try to use a mixture of both basic knowledge questions and some more difficult application and synthesis questions.  I also repeat basic physiological concepts over and over, so that if they can apply material from a previous section to the current section, they can determine how the new scenario will work.  For instance, a common physiological mechanism is negative feedback, in which the body sends signals to return something such as a hormone or body temperature back to its normal level.  This is a concept that is described in the first week of class, but is continually brought up for many situations as the two semester course progresses.    If the student can understand that concept early on, they can then continually apply it to new physiological processes.  In class discussions and tests, this type of application indicates that learning has occurred.  In addition, when a student brings up a particular real life disease and can recognize how the information just presented shows how the disease occurs, it indicates true learning, instead of memorization, has taken place.  Many of my students will soon be in clinical situations where they need to work on plans for patient care, so the more I can encourage higher order thinking, the more they will truly learn and be better prepared for their future academic and professional careers.

Melissa's wordle

Learning Philosophy

My philosophy on learning has changed and mutated over the last couple of years, as have the opportunities and resources that have become available. To this point, I think it is important for us as teachers to remain agile in our thought processes and agile in our methods.
Our job as educators both changes rapidly every year and stays the same. At the core level we will always want students to learn something new, experience something new and learn to love to learn. Encouraging exploration and play will unlock the human potential and will help us make sense of this ever changing world. While I believe that students need to form their own knowledge through relating personal experiences it is their peers and teachers that should be there to push them and challenge them to reach new heights.
Technology is all around us and so much of it can be used for educational purposes, yet we do our students a grave disservice by teaching them in classrooms built a century ago. We need to start looking at technology not only as a tool to engage our students now but as a critical tool they will use in the future.
One could differentiate between learners and teachers by the level of passion they have for the subject and their ability to inspire others to find their own passion. Each student learns differently and instead of always trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, as we have done for so long with our “one size fits all” educational system, we should be celebrating these differences and use them as a chance to learn new ways of teaching.  Remaining agile will be the only way we can keep relevant.