Game based, project based, service based … the media-biome of teaching advice continues to expand, although accessing it today requires more than the ability to Google, but to actively be aware that Google places far less emphasis on well-established theory and teaching models than many believe.
Why Google isn’t the search engine many seem to think.
Google is not a ‘search engine’. Google does not search and/or index all the web, nor does it search pages which it is directed not to by a site’s robots.txt file and it’s various ‘relevance and promotion’ algorithms. Google is a highly targeted collection of ‘texts’ which are made available on a highly contextual and commercially driven basis. One of the fundamental problems with EdTech is that for the most part teachers still believe (and instruct) students to use Google as a search engine.
Telling students to look things up is fraught with issues. It’s a time saver for teachers, but seriously, it’s not hard to prepare and curate information these days for coursework, so Googling should not be a primary method of accessing texts.
Sadly, at the heart of much technological use in the classroom is an idea that lessons can be powered by students. The miracle of the information age – Googling information and then assembling some artifact from those facts – posters, booklets, slideshows etc., You might as well give them a worksheet and all the text – in fact, for middle schoolers (as I’ll explain) that will lead to them handing in better assessments (maybe even learning).
At the heart of ‘blended learning’ should be three things in formal education. Let’s assume that kids now have access to information via the Internet on a regular basis in our society. So if ‘blended learning’ is unfamiliar, then let me break it down as simply as I can.
- Navigatable learning (pace, voice, choice)
The classroom issues begin with devices (computer labs, laptops, ipads or a combination) and followed by software, the cognitive load created by both, cost, training, support and the well-documented factors that create both barriers and opportunities. This doesn’t begin to address the mythogogies and bias towards brands – but I’ll set that aside. All of which have been debated for decades and we know that at best, technology has a limited and mixed impact on student knowledge and ability to apply that to new situations. Even in games, the routines, patterns and methods are transportable, so I don’t believe ‘games’ are a higher order way to learn – yet.
All of the above factors in blended learning have been debated for decades and we know that at best, technology has a limited and mixed impact on student knowledge and ability to apply that to new situations. Most of EdTech so far is rubbish. Some of it’s brilliant.
How do I approach coursework design?
What I do find useful in planning my own units of work, is to think about how to allow a mix of Robert Sternberg’s (1985) Triarchic Theory. I like it because it’s simple and works well for middle school personalities in my context, but I also used it when designing the Games Based Learning Course for Masters student at Charles Sturt University last year.
I like it as an instructional design model that can be applied to technology and media well and his work orbits ‘human intelligence’ which fits well with my own outlook I guess.
- Analytical intelligence is the intelligence most often recognized and rewarded in schools. Students with strengths in this area learn well with traditional school tasks such as organizing information, perceiving cause and effect, logical analysis, note-taking, and predicting implications. (traditional and functional)
- Practical intelligence is about relevance. Students with strengths in this area need to solve problems in a meaningful context. Their learning is supported when teachers offer connections with the real world outside the classroom. These students need to see concepts and skills at work. (project and inquiry)
- Creative intelligence involves approaching ideas and problems in fresh and sometimes surprising ways. Students with strong creative intelligence are often divergent thinkers, preferring to experiment with ideas rather than “work” like everyone else. (games, play, and imagination)
A lesson plan never works for everyone, unless you mash it up.
In any school day, the hours roll on and it’s impossible to create a universal environment where all students are engaged, interested or willing to participate. Even in schools where the educational philosophy is based on projects, games, play or other more post-modern ideas (I mean the stuff Dewey was talking about in the 40s!) – it is very hard to filter out students who don’t subscribe to the methodology 100% of the time. For example, a child might love to code, love to play video games and love to do maths. They are still going to go home and tell their parents “I’m not learning” when the activity or unit of work isn’t navigable using their preferred ‘intelligence’.
You’re never teaching one lesson, but three (plus the divergent)
This matters because teaching is not ONE thing (it never has), but the pressure on teachers to teach in a way that a child believes is the best or because a parent read a news article about Finland’s educational brilliance. The media presents various mythologies in compelling ways that most of the out-going baby-boomer teachers never had to cope with. I like to think that when I design a unit of work, that I do it with direct application of these three factors. Sternberg’s findings suggest that students can make significant gains when teachers both permit them to explore ideas using their preferred intelligences and teach regularly in all three modes, which deepens student understanding and enhances retention.
Coursework requires time, but not a time-table.
This leads to what I’m trying to do these days – Bring your own timetable. I’d like to think I can do it at a stage or whole school level, but I’m realistic. What students want and what parents want is a school environment where the teacher delivers all three modes of learning, simultaneously with ‘click and go’ technology, media and feedback. For most humans (teachers) this is an extraordinary amount of work to attempt in addition to the increasing demands created by political acts (do more with less). At best, run some ‘engine room’ classes for kids to drop into for help. Do less teaching, create better coursework.
View the social media czars with skeptisism.
My message is this: do not believe people when they tell you one method is better than the other, but focus on designing blended learning (with what you have) to allows students to navigate it with voice and choice. Build into your design – find your own model, try – Strombergs model – such that students are presented with different experiences that are meaningful to them. Don’t try to copy the Twitterati (who I am sure don’t ever embellish their brillinace).
Not all parents are going to like this. That isn’t your problem alone.
Of course, if you have parents who like to pay for 12 hours of Math tutoring a week after school – forget it, they can’t be helped, they believe that high exam results result in them getting high earnings etc., They are culturally engrained to that idea – and good luck to them, but statistically, the research doesn’t support ‘pay-for-boost’ approaches.
So what method do you use?
If people ask me if I use PBL today, then the simple answer is no – not if you mean the 7-step BIE model. I have found success (in my subjects) by designing learning using instructional theories, games and other ideas from the literature. The sole aim is for it to work for the students in my context.
Does this work for everyone?
For students starting high school (middle school, year 7 and 8) they are at a stage where they have a concrete operational approach to learning which they use to construct the reasoning and logics needed to solve all problems. Digital technology has not been shown to have changed this so far, so I’m sticking with the established evidence based theory.At this age, research shows us children have difficulties in reasoning on complex verbal problems such as propositions, hypothetical problems, or the future. This is quite interesting, as so much of middle school approaches to PBL, Maker and Coding are focused on things that they find the hardest to do, and therefore feel – are not ‘learning’. So, even if you’re off into PBL land – where we all go searching for information on Google to make into a product (critical or not) – this isn’t good for middle schoolers – because the
At this age, research shows us children have difficulties in reasoning on complex verbal problems such as propositions, hypothetical problems, or the future. This is quite interesting, as so much of middle school approaches to PBL, Maker and Coding are focused on things that they find the hardest to do, and therefore feel – are not ‘learning’.
For students in high school (middle school, year 7 and 8) they are at a developmental stage where they have a concrete operational approach to learning which they use to construct the reasoning and logics needed to solve all problems. Of course, there are exceptions, but this is the basic student personality you’re dealing with, and no matter how much you love Chitter ideas, this doesn’t alter a thing. So work with what you have, not what you don’t and put all you’re learning eggs in one basket. Be honest about the activity, tell them what they need to do, and why some of them will not like it or want to moan about it. Eventually, they realise that is the schema you use and that’s because you’re the teacher, not a service or app.
At this age 11-14, research shows us children have difficulties in reasoning on complex verbal problems such as propositions, hypothetical problems, or the future. This is quite interesting, as so much of middle school approaches to PBL, Maker and Coding are focused on things that they find the hardest to do, and therefore feel – are not ‘learning’. So, even if you’re off into PBL land – where we all go searching for information on Google to make into a product (critical or not) – this isn’t good for middle schoolers – because the egocentrism of the child is at war with efforts teachers make to differentiate activities for the child. Personality, grammar, and language are worth including here as other powerful factors in whether or not a child or their teacher believes they are learning. As soon as we move into teaching using multiple modalities, the workload increases, the complexity of assessment increases, navigation of the course becomes multiplexed. The less concrete the work, the more the student finds it difficult. Read some of Piaget‟s theory to brush up on this if it sounds new – it isn’t.
So if you’re going gung-ho PBL into year 7, stop and think. What does the research say about their ability to cope with that? especially if you’re adding in some future-focused driving question which sounds cool on Twitter, but confusing to a 13-year-old. Even worse, don’t then fool yourself into thinking that what they are now making (for you) in Minecraft has somehow made a leap from one mental space to another, or overcome well-established problems in children’s development.
I liked your old stuff better than your new stuff
What is useful is to use the web to improve grammar and language skills, because these affect the child’s private speech (peers) and inner speech (thought) which has external effect later. Simply asking kids to define key terms and words seems boring when they could be building Stormwind in Minecraft – but it’s essential to ensure that teaching episodes have multiple dimensions. It’s also why I don’t bother with the BIE 7 steps or stick to the ‘language’ of
It’s also why I don’t follow the BIE 7 steps or stick to the ‘language’ of PBL, because it’s not the language of media or today’s egocentric digital personas.
Maybe we have to accept that there is now 3 times the amount of planning and assessment than we used to have in teaching gets harder and harder, not easier because we can “Google: or use their branded tools”. The media-technological culture we work in today. We (teachers) have to be very clear about what we do in the community – and accept the neo-liberal world where education is being picked out like buying another consumer has significant ramifications on how we are received by parent, teachers and peers.