The More you Learn, the More There is to Learn

In the article Principled Practical Knowledge, Bereiter brought forth a new theory in the learning sciences that I was unfamiliar with. He challenged readers to think about the “why” in the things we do. Bereiter gives the example and compares two risotto recipes: The first one instructs chefs to add liquid and rice a little at a time and repeat until you have a creamy texture; while another recommends measuring both quantities and throwing them into the pot. These differences cause a problem. “The typical food preparation recipe, for instance, represents explicit practical knowledge but not principled knowledge. It tells us what to do, but seldom tells us why. This becomes important if we are interested in improving or simplifying a recipe” (Bereiter, 2013, p. 5). Within principled practical knowledge, there is always the desire to look for the continual improvement of practice.

“Intentional learning is the deliberate enhancement of skills and mental content. Knowledge Building is the creation and improvement of knowledge of value to one’s community. You can have intentional learning without Knowledge Building and, in principle at least, Knowledge Building without intentional learning; but the two together make a powerful combination” (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2010, p. 8)

I think that the ideas brought forward in both of these articles are values to be instilled in society. I am the kind of teacher who is always looking for ways to improve my practice. I learn from and collaborating with others. This past year my professional goal was to build a strong PLN on twitter. I participated in many chats, became an active user, shared my ideas, and learned new things from others. One thing that surprised me however, was the number of times that my opinion was “challenged” during twitter chats. My first reaction was to become defensive, but ultimately retreated. I reflected a lot on why I responded that way, realized it was in fact a great experience to be faced with, and after that learned to accept it as the learning experience that it was. Having the skills to defend your opinion, listening to others, but also be accepting of the knowledge building that is taking place has been a transformational experience for me.

Scardamalia & Bereiter (2010) state that “teachers who cultivate a sense of ideas as improvable have an easier time developing a Knowledge Building community” (p. 11). Sawyer (2006) also alludes to the notion of idea improvement and their essential need in the educational realm. Through the process of iteration, students will begin to question their initial thinking. Sawyer (2006) compared two classrooms and the effects of learning: The “regular” classroom stated that the more they learn and understand, the less there is be learned and understood; whereas the knowledge building classroom said the opposite, as the more they learned, the more they realize they didn’t understand, and thus still had more to learn.

This example affected me a number of ways. It reinforced the concept and crucial importance of a knowledge building classroom, and it made me realize this is the type of classroom I want to have. I want to be this kind of teacher and create an atmosphere of “questionability” in my classroom. I want my students to think of concepts and ideas as unfinished. I want my students to challenge others’ ideas, question the world, be critical thinkers and not always accept things as they are. Providing opportunities in the safe environment of a classroom, will give them the confidence and skills that they need to continue to build their knowledge in the future.

References
Bereiter, C. (2013). Principled practical knowledge: Not a bridge but a ladder. The Journal        of the Learning Sciences, 23(1), 4-17. DOI:10.1080/10508406.2013.812533

Sawyer, R. K. (Ed.). (2006). Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. NY, USA:            Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from                                                                          http://site.ebrary.com/lib/alltitles/docDetail.action?docID=10130369

Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (2010). A brief history of knowledge building. Canadian              Journal of Learning and Technology, 36(1), 1-16. Retrieved from                                          http://cjlt.csj.ualberta.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/574/276

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Conceptual Changes Needed

Before we began our shadow measuring experiment, I had the students predict when their shadows would be the biggest throughout the day. The predictions were fairly evenly split between morning, afternoon, and evening. As we carefully measured the next day, several students were surprised by the results. We all came back into the classroom, discussed our findings, watched a video to explain the sun moving across the sky, and came to a conclusive decision. The next day, we reviewed what we had learned and one girl informed me that the sun was the biggest at noon. I was shocked by her answer and didn’t understand how after a thorough hands-on experiment, discussions, and videos that she still did not understand the concept. I felt defeat swarm over me, as I questioned my own teaching abilities.

At the time, I could not understand how my teachings did not cement the concept of shadow length with this particular student. I did not understand why she did not learn the concept and felt frustrated with the entire situation. This was just one example, but I can definitely think of more, as I am sure any teacher can. Not only does it make you question your teaching, but it also made me question the learner.

Through reading and exploring the research in the learning sciences for the last two weeks, it is apparent that examples like this are common. DiSessa noticed that “educators saw vivid examples of students responding to apparently simple, core conceptual questions in nonnormative ways” (Sawyer, 2006, p. 270). Another research noted that after explicitly teaching a lesson on photosynthesis, when students were asked where a plant got its food from, there were numerous incorrect responses (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000). Through these examples it is clear that “formal instruction had done little [for students] to overcome their erroneous prior beliefs” (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 70). Where do these misconceptions come from? As a teacher how do we break down the barriers to student learning?

Students come into our classrooms with an already previously developed knowledge based. They can be influenced by their families, values, beliefs, cultures, and social surroundings (Illeris, 2008). They come with preconceived notions and understandings of topics, and as teachers we need to work through these barriers and incorrect knowledge to help reform their learning. Hoadley & Van Haneghan (2011), state that in order “to foster conceptual change, learners need to deeply engage topics in ways that may radically shift their concepts, even while building on their existing conceptions” (p. 16).

Although this sounds like a task worth beginning, I question how one starts. With my ELL students, I find there are even more struggles and concepts that they’ve already developed these deep preconceived notions. How do I break through these? How do I find the time in my day to understand why they think the way they do? How do I work with the parents and help them with their own conceptual changes? The task seems daunting, but perhaps it is not my role to ensure these conceptual changes happen. If I continue to expose students to ideas, have them challenge their own ways of thinking, and question why they think the way they do, maybe they will experience transformational learning all on their own.

References
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind,                experience, and school (Expanded edition). Washington, DC: National Research                Council.

Hoadley, C. & Van Haneghan, J. (2011). The Learning Sciences: Where they came from        and what it means for instructional designers. In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey (Eds.)        Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (3rd ed., pp. 53-63). New            York: Pearson. Retrieved from                                                                                                  http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/scmsAdmin/uploads/006/742/Hoadley-VanHaneghan-draft.pdf

Illeris, K. (Ed.). (2008). Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their          Own Words. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge. Retrieved from                                                   http://site.ebrary.com/lib/alltitles/docDetail.action?docID=10296951

Sawyer, R. K. (Ed.). (2006). Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. NY, USA:            Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from                                                                          http://site.ebrary.com/lib/alltitles/docDetail.action?docID=10130369

Tech Skills for Elementary Students

Removing the “teacher hat” can allow you to reflect and contemplate the varying aspects and teaching methods within your classroom. Being on spring break has allowed me to do just that. What’s working? What would I change? What skills do the students need before the end of the year? How can I integrate technology to enhance student learning? Thinking about the last question led me to contemplate what technology skills students need to have. Is it enough that they can navigate a tablet and create amazing projects? Am I really driving home the concept of their digital footprint and do they truly understand what it means? Do they even need to know how to type effectively in a tablet-based society or is that skill becoming obsolete as well?

The rapidly, ever changing technology has led me to reflect on what exactly students should be learning. Should you be teaching to the present, or attempting at teaching to the future? Are fads in technology here or stay, or simply a fad?

Curious about what other educators thought on this topic, led me to twitter and a chat I participate in tonight, #mdeschat, whose focus was on tech tools in the elementary classroom. Here’s a summary of our discussion and the thoughts around technology and it’s place in the elementary classroom:

Question #1: Thinking about elementary students, what technology skills do you feel our students need these days?

Question #2: Given this wide range of skills students need to be exposed/master, how do we ensure that our schools offer kids experiences?

Question #3: What tech projects/tools have caught your teachers’/students’ interest recently? Where are you experimenting technologically?

Question #4: With so many skills and apps/sites/tools should we try to rein it in and plan an organized tech curriculum in elementary?

Question #5: How do you think elementary schools should be using social media?

Question #6: How can each school train students in DC?

Question #7: What are your top three favourite/recommended technology tools/sites/programs you recommend for everyone else?

When it comes to technology, the answers seem to be endless and ever-changing, but also seem to build on previous skills. I think that in order to be an effective teacher in this day in age, you need to stay on top of the trends, and find the time to experiment. Don’t be scared! Learn from your colleagues and learn from your students. Remember we are all students of technology!