How to Create a Significant Learning Environment

I teach the elective class that ALL of the kids love.  I teach technology applications (basic computer science) to Kindergarten through 5th graders.  Computers allow students to use their imagination and play in a way that is crucial to learning.  They are able to create, innovate, and illustrate their passion.  By letting students create and explore within a set of parameters, a student’s imagination can produce a number of projects and presentations that allow them to demonstrate what they’ve learned.  With play, the biggest example I can think of is when I teach (or rather introduce and monitor) code and coding.  There are numerous online sites that allow students to play while creating and grasping the concept of code – which is simply giving directions.  I plan for students to “play” with code for 2 weeks, a total of about an hour in my class.  Weeks later, students come in begging to do code again.

Things have changed.  Standardized testing has taken over my class just like it has taken over the upper grade levels.  In years past, I have been able to teach what I want, how I want as long as the Tech Apps TEKS were covered.  This year a new district change has mandated that I must use half of my time with every class as intervention with students using a computer based reading program called Istation.   Harapnuik states that “…we do have control over the design of our learning environments,” but do we really?  I see the hands of administrators in everything.  From the way students walk in the hall to how instruction is provided, administrators on our campus and from the district are “checking” in on teachers on a daily basis to ensure that instruction is being delivered in the “correct” way.

So how can a significant learning environment be created in a classroom that, as Thomas states in his TED talk, has become “toxic to passion, creativity, and innovation?”  Across the country, “the system of standardized testing we have has nothing to do with learning and everything to do with surveillance.”  Administrators and politicians watching and judging everything that teachers do – it’s not even about the students anymore.  How is a learning environment changed when so many barricades have been put into place?  Slowly and surely.

“The reason they (teachers) went into that job was to see a light bulb go off over a student’s head” (Thomas, 2016).  I believe this statement is at the heart of change.  Teachers still yearn to see the light bulbs, but teachers must also realize that we are but one part of the learning, not the be-all-end-all of the student’s resources.  Students, even at an elementary level, use “mobile phones, Facebook, and YouTube” as learning resources.  They look up answers to their homework, look for video tutorials on how to make a movie on their phone or computer, and view a number of opinions on social media.  Teacher must step back and give up the expert role so that students have the opportunity to explore the copious amount of information that is literally available at all of our fingertips.

Let’s use the Internet and the incredible amounts of software and websites to let students’ imagination and ability to play soar!  It will be a slow process because those above us are not accustomed to change.  Your students will come in begging to play again, like they STILL do with me and coding!

 

Thomas, Douglas. (2016, March 6). A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas at TEDxUFM. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lM80GXlyX0U&feature=youtu.be

Thomas, Douglas and Seely Brown, John. (2011). A New Culture of Learning. Retrieved from Amazon.com

Harapnuik, Dwayne. (2016, March 6). Creating Significant Learning Environments (CLSE). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZ-c7rz7eT4

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