‘Lifeready’ and ‘Lifeworthy’ Learning: Going Beyond the Traditional

Learning 'beyond' the Traditional

Learning ‘beyond’ the Traditional

“Only in education, never in the life of farmer, sailor, merchant, physician, or laboratory experimenter, does knowledge mean primarily a store of information aloof from doing” – John Dewey (1916, p. 178).

We see this more than ever before in the digital age, our students question the worth of what is being taught in our classrooms and its relationship to the lives they are likely to live.  Of course, rapid advancements of technology, the emergence of the information society and the reality of information overload are instrumental in providing an even larger gap between traditional schooling and what students will actually need in their world outside of school, as educators struggle to keep up with this ever-changing landscape (Bawden & Robinson, 2012, p.243). But interestingly, we often hear students favour certain subjects such as Physical Education or Home Economics because of their ‘practical’ curriculum, and I’m wondering why this isn’t relevant to all disciplines.    David Christian when he writes about ‘big history’ provides an interesting contrast between humans and other primates.  Unlike creatures such as chimpanzees, humans are the only  beings that aren’t living the same lifestyle they were 100, 000 or even 500 years ago (2004).  Christian asserts that this is because of humans’ ability to learn collectively, or pass on relevant life-learning to others.  If this is the case in the ‘real-world’, why are we still witnessing educational systems that are preparing students to pass exams, yet unprepared to engage and prepare students for their life after school?

Our notions of knowledge and learning are slowly beginning to evolve.  As Starkey suggests, the digital age has lead us to gradually change our teaching and learning practices from focussing on knowledge attainment to more skill-based learning that promotes critical thinking, knowledge creation and learning through connections (2011, p 19).  While zeroing in on the skills necessary for learning in a constantly changing landscape is a positive step, I’m wondering if we need to go beyond this focus in order to ensure that our students are indulging their curiosity when they ask ‘what’s worth learning’, so that they can feel assured their learning in the classroom today is relevant to the future lives they are likely to live.

David Perkins in his book Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World presents 6 ‘Beyonds’ (below) that allow educators to push the boundaries of what is traditionally taught in school and consider the expanding universe of what’s worth learning.

David Perkins envisions the '6 Beyonds'

David Perkins envisions the ‘6 Beyonds’

When examining the 6 ‘Beyonds’ we can see that education in the digital age needs to cater for more than the acquisition of skills and  technology integration.  We must consider what constitutes our learning ecology and ‘go beyond’ the world of traditional education to ensure our students are prepared for learning that is ‘lifeworthy’ – “likely to matter in the lives learners are likely to live” (2014, loc 395), and ‘lifeready’ -“ready to pop up on appropriate occasions and help make sense of the world” (2014, loc 694).  This learning will only be possible when we consider learning collectives in networked environments, rather than learning in our traditional hierarchal classrooms.  This concept of ‘going beyond’ through our knowledge networks is one that I intend to consider further in my quest to determine ‘what’s worth learning‘ in the digital age.

Reference List

Bawden, D., & Robinson, L.  (2012).  Information society.  In Introduction to information science (pp. 231-249).  London: Facet.

Christian, D.  (2004).  Maps of time: An introduction to big history. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Dewey, J. (2004). Democracy and education. Courier Corporation. Retrieved from https://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=19ajcXf4MCYC&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=democracy+and+education+john+dewey&ots=lHuy9APfA8&sig=sldDeyZPnAOd590fTO02V656F8o#v=onepage&q=democracy%20and%20education%20john%20dewey&f=false

Open white door floating plaster wall, . [Photography]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest.

Perkins, D. (2014).  Future wise: Educating our children for a changing world [Kindle edition].  Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Future-Wise-Educating-Children-Changing/dp/1118844084

Perkins, D.  (2013, July).  The 6 Beyonds [Image].  Paper presented at Future of Learning.  Retrieved from http://futureoflearningpz.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Educating-for-the-unknown-FOL-2013-07.pdf

Starkey, L. (2011). Evaluating learning in the 21st Century: A digital age learning matrix. Technology, Pedagogy And Education, 20(1), 19-39.

Exploring Integrated Units

Exploring Integrated Units.

I have been witness to much discussion of late across various  school sites that I have visited regarding the difficulty of integrating math and science using an inquiry approach.  While this discussion could stem from educators who do not have a clear understanding of multi-disciplinary approaches or inquiry-based learning, it is interesting that this has been a common area of discussion by educators across a variety of contexts.  In the discussions that I have been involved in, there are three main issues I have identified that are often raised by Math and Science educators in particular.  These are:

1. Math and Science lend themselves more to content-driven instruction.

2. Math can not be integrated with any other subject.

3. Both Science and Math need  teacher-lead direction to ensure that learning occurs and this isn’t possible in an inquiry unit.

The video below provides an excellent example of an integrated math/science/english (whether intentional or not) unit on Decomposition using an inquiry process to guide student learning and suggests that it is possible to integrate both math and science using an inquiry approach.

The Decomposition Unit undertaken in the example above demonstrates purposeful integration at its best, as the seamless inter-disciplinary approach is complemented by an inquiry process.  While the learning that takes place in this unit is student-driven, there is great evidence of teacher preparation, direction and guidance throughout the inquiry process. Initially, students become engaged and immersed in the unit through teacher-directed content that introduces them to the concepts being examined.  The students are then prompted to brainstorm as a class the questions they would like to examine in the unit.   Students were also involved in the selection of assessment criteria through defining what they believed the quality of their work would look like under the specific school-identified key areas of: inquiry, knowledge and skills, communication, enhancing and supporting community and work habits.  This process allowed both students and staff to define and have a clear understanding of what quality work would look like.

This introductory/immersion process allowed teachers to engage students in the topic of learning and provide them with the content, knowledge and understanding they needed before the students were handed the reigns and allowed to start their own investigations. I believe the detail and time the teachers of this unit took in preparing their students for learning in this unit, is one of the reasons it was such a success, as every learner was engaged, had a problem to solve and knew the process they would take in the search for answers.

The scientific study regarding the nature of decomposition provides the foundations of this inquiry, however the skills required by the students to measure, gather, document and graph data provide a clear cross-over into math, as does the blogging and reflection process to English. What provides the greatest evidence of purposeful integration in this unit, is that students are not at any stage focussing on a particular discipline,  rather, they are using the inquiry process to build understanding and many of the skills mentioned in the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities  in a quest to explore and build on their knowledge and skill set.  The involvement of teachers and the wider community was obvious in the unit, however, this involvement acted to guide and complement the learning that happened, rather than direct and control this learning.

This is just one example, of the way in which inquiry and purposefully connected curriculum can enhance not hinder the learning of students regardless of the disciplines being studied.