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Teaching With Purpose
This post is all about two recent influences in my professional learning that have coalesced around a single topic. I’m currently enrolled in a weekend course through ASCA, the Leading Edge certification course that focuses on the technological integration that is expected with the Common Core as well as how to implement technologically enhanced instruction in a balanced and effective way. The other is the book I’m currently reading called Visible Learning and is a meta analysis of 800 studies on various educational initiatives or theories about how education can be made more effective, all ranked through positive and negative standard deviation effects. One of the educational techniques both these recent learning experiences have coalesced around is the positive effects of purposeful instruction.
This resonates with me because the first time I had experience that made me truly excited to come to school was in my high school engineering academy. In this academy we programmed robots, built human powered vehicles, and had bridge building competitions. Each of these projects coincided with a traditional physics course. So when we were learning about electricity we were building motors; when learning about forces, building bridges. The purposeful nature of the learning had a powerful effect on me and other students and voluntary sessions on weekends or after school were extremely well attended. My experience is also reinforced in both 21st century learning and in the educational literature.
In the ASCD course, one of the videos highlighted is of a teacher and Edtech leader Alan November discussing the powerful effects purposeful education has on his students. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebJHzpEy4bE. While teaching in New York, he shifted his instruction from having students create projects purely to meet his criteria to evaluating projects that were meant to have an impact on their community and their results. One of these projects was an online database of healthcare facilities for the disabled. This was made entirely by one of his high school students in 1984! That student was invited to teach a course at Boston University to medical students the summer after finishing the project.
This purposeful instruction is also being adopted by universities as well. Rice University has been getting a lot of press for its engineering program having students solve world issues- particularly issues that affect the disadvantaged. These students often stay in these classes well after they can have the credits count towards their diploma. They continue working and perfecting these projects because they are passionately and intensely intrinsically motivated to see them through. Many of these projects have made it to production and some are saving lives! All of this passion for learning is cultivated though the purpose and ownership of the work the students experience.
So how can we bring this into an elementary setting? Our students are still developing basic literacies- what can they bring into the world that would have relevance to them and their peers to build this intrinsic motivation? Well some teachers in our district are already leveraging these digital tools to allow their students to make meaningful contirbutions to their peers. As was highlighted at the district wide PD last year, the third grade team at KAAS is having students create Khan academy style lessons using tools like Explain Everything and Educreations that other students can watch and learn from. Shirley Jenner is having her students blog about books they are reading so that her students can discuss reading and make recommendations in this online forum. SPA has their students create and maintain a student web newspaper as well as having their recruitment presentation entirely made and presented by students. We could have students write book reports in Google docs and develop a permanent database of student created book reviews on our websites for future students to select books based on or compare thoughts with. The more we can infuse the education of our students with purpose and relevance, the more passion for learning and social contribution our students will graduate with.