Why students learn appears in many schools’ visions and mission statements that use words such as ‘inspire,’ ‘empower,’ ‘innovate,’ and ‘make a difference.’ But how many students experience those concepts in their day-to-day experiences at school? Young people naturally want to know, “why are we learning this?” and, “why is this relevant to my life?”
In short, students seek purpose in their learning.
As someone dedicated to using education to leverage meaningful change in the world, I think the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals provide a fantastic opportunity for young people to find that purpose in their learning. They can investigate concepts such as diversity, equality, justice, and sustainability from different perspectives, and students can see how various fields of knowledge both contribute to and mitigate some of the most pressing issues in the world today.
Follow this link for a closer look at this idea in a recent post I wrote for New Nordic School in Finland, where I’m the Director of Education. It should only take a few minutes to read, and it is my hope that you’ll find my ideas about the direction of contemporary education refreshing.
For some educators, the term ‘21st-century learning’ indicates a heavy reliance on teachers’ use of technology to deliver lessons or students’ demonstration of learning via podcasts, videos, animations, and other products that didn’t exist when we old-timers were in school. Others claim that ‘21st-century learning’ refers to skills that apply not only to school, but to life in general. Collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving are generally at or near the top of this skills list.
I would argue that modern education requires a focus on competencies rather than skills, and that technology should simply facilitate the learning process instead of being its focus.
I just stumbled across this Slideshare presentation by Stephen Taylor, and I think it’s a fantastic resource. He’s done all the research and written succinct explanations, so I won’t try to improve upon his work. There’s something in here for students and teachers of almost every discipline.
Today I’m doing a little site maintenance, incorporating as many digital resources as possible into the various science pages on my website. The resources include simulations, videos, and activities created by other teachers and educational institutions. Instead of linking this blog post to a bunch of bookmarks I’ve saved over the years, I’ll just suggest that you check out my astronomy page under the “Sciences” tab on my homepage.
Among the many dozens of resources I’ve added, I think you’ll find something educational, engaging, and entertaining for a wide range of audiences.
I found this TED talk while browsing for some resources for my physics unit this morning (okay, I got a little distracted). In his presentation, explorer Ben Saunders discusses the lessons he learned during his 1,800-mile round-trip walk to and from the South Pole. His public speaking style isn’t great – after all, he just spent months walking essentially alone across the most desolate continent on the planet – but I think he’s got a great message, one that I think more teachers, school administrators, and parents should heed. That message is basically, “It’s not the goal that’s important, but the journey undergone in its pursuit.”
At school we get so wrapped up in test results and scores and grades, that many of us in education forget about the joy of discovery in genuine learning. I’m guilty of it myself, I see it all around me at IST, and I’ve seen it at other schools as well. Learning requires the making of mistakes, and it sometimes means getting distracted along the way by something more interesting. We educators and parents need to remember to let our children explore in many directions, to find out that something they thought was right isn’t, and to discover the connections that make sense of the world to them personally. Education may be what happens to you, but learning is what you do yourself.
I’m an educator, which means I’m naturally drawn to things that encourage and improve student learning. I’m also a child of the late 70’s and 80’s, which means I grew up surrounded by the original Star Wars trilogy – Episodes IV, V, and VI, respectively. I collected hundreds of action figures, I’ve watched all 3 films literally dozens of times, my room was lit by a Darth Vader lamp, I’ve owned at least half a dozen light sabers, and I even had a “Return of the Jedi” bedspread for a few years. (Come to think of it, those films probably had an impact on my subsequent interest in science and astronomy.)
Yoda, the Jedi Master, is undoubtedly one of the most iconic teachers in film history. He challenged his naïve, young apprentice Luke not just to master new skills, but to entirely change the way he thinks and perceives the world.
Today I stumbled across the following images in my Twitter feed, and I plan to print them and hang them on the door to my classroom. They summarize for me the mindset changes that are necessary for any kind of success – not just classroom academics, but in any endeavor – in the 21st century. Despite some Google searches, I still don’t know who published them originally, so I will start with this disclaimer: No copyright violation is intended. I am happy to give credit where credit is due.
Anyway, here they are: Yoda and Vader, representing the Good and Evil of learning.