User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Doing Things at School That Can’t Be Done At Home

with 4 comments

Many kids and teens are spending a lot of their time doing solitary screen-related activities. This most often occurs at home with their own devices.

We are also living in an age where practically any and all content can be found via the Internet. The educator is no longer the gatekeeper to information. Internet resources can present and teach content better than a lecturing educator. Videos, demonstrations, and interactive websites and simulations are often more interesting, exciting, and engaging than teachers’ lectures . . . and the kids know it!

So what, then, becomes the purpose of school? School should be about doing things that aren’t or can’t be done at the students’ own homes. These things should be about interaction . . . interaction with other humans . . . interaction with the material and physical world.


Interacting with Adult Educators

The first type of human interactions includes those with adult educators and mentors. The key here is that they are interactions not an adult teacher talking at nor lecturing the learner. It involves building relationships with learners, engaging in coaching and mentoring functions, and modeling learning how to learn.

Educator as a Coach and Mentor

Coaching in the classroom environment is defined as working with students to develop their self-awareness and capacity for self-discovery, while motivating them to begin a process of continuous learning and development. Three key elements of the role of the teacher as coach are: relationship building, increasing students’ self-discovery and self-knowledge through co-inquiry, and combining theory with practice via a pragmatic orientation. (The Teacher As Coach Approach)

Educator as a Lead or Model Learning

I have written before about the educator as a model and lead learner:

The educator’s role has or should change in this age of information abundance or Education 2.0-3.0. The educator’s role has always been to model and demonstrate effective learning, but somewhere along the line, the major role of the educator became that of content and knowledge disseminator. Now in this information age content is freely and abundantly available, it is more important than ever to assist learners in the process of how to learn. (Educator as Model Learner)

Interacting with Peers

The second type of human interaction is that with peers. Human beings are social and naturally learn from one another, so the idea of preventing discourse between peers counters how people learn in the real world. Peer interactions don’t necessarily have to be learners of the same age. It could be people of similar abilities and/or interests. Face-to-face interactions within the school setting has a number of benefits.

Throughout childhood and adolescence, peer interaction is essential for language, cognitive, and social development. There are aspects of learning that happen best during peer interactions, rather than interactions with adults. Children acquire language and vocabulary during interactions with others. They learn how to argue, negotiate, and persuade. Fostering Social Interaction

Classes where students have opportunities to communicate with each other help students effectively construct their knowledge. By emphasizing the collaborative and cooperative nature of classwork, students share responsibility for learning with each other, discuss divergent understandings, and shape the direction of the class. (Student-Student Classroom Interaction)

Interacting with Materials and the Physical World

Interacting with materials in the physical world is another interactive element that should be integrated as standard practice in face-to-face education. The quality of interacting with materials should be considered. It needs to go beyond using manipulatives in predetermined ways. Material interaction should be open ended, allowing for learner experimentation and self-discovery. I recently learned about The Theory of Loose Parts:

In 1972, architect Simon Nicholson developed the Theory of Loose Parts; the idea that loose parts, materials which can be moved around, designed and redesigned, and tinkered with; create infinitely more opportunities for creative engagement than static materials and environments. Basically, the more materials there are the more people can interact. (The Theory of Loose Parts)

The loose parts theory suggests that when [learners] are given a wide range of materials that have no defined purpose, they will be more inventive in their play and have infinite play opportunities manipulating them in ever-changing ways that their imaginations devise. The more flexible the environment, the greater the level of creativity and inventiveness is expressed. (Loose Parts)

Here is Nicholson’s 1972 paper about The Theory of Loose Parts – 1204-5117-1-PB

Using loose parts for unique and personalized interactions support playful learning:

Playful learning is using play activities to immerse ourselves and learn, either on our own or with others in a space we feel safe.  Play helps us go back to who we really are as human beings, full of life, curiosity and wonder. Creatures who are not afraid to be different, even silly at times and ready to try different things. In playful learning it’s ok to make mistakes when experimenting with new ideas, when challenging ourselves and others and doing things we normally wouldn’t do – which can lead us to surprising discoveries.

The resources we use might be low tech, such as everyday objects, games and materials, or high tech, such as specific software tools, social or mobile media and mobile apps. Often we don’t need anything and play happens based on pure imagination and we become play resources ourselves. (The Rise of Playful Learning)

I believe that the reason for the popularity of maker education is due to both educators’ and learners’ need for playful learning with loose parts.

The Role of Technology in the Interactive Environment

Because of the ubiquitous nature of technology, I do believe it should be integrated into school-based learning activities but not in the often passive and isolated ways that it is typically used by many folks. Technology can and should be used to reinforce and supplement the interactive activities – looking things up to support their interactive learning ventures, requesting advice and expertise via social networks, documenting their learning, and communicating directly with experts and peers via Skype and Google Hangouts.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 29, 2016 at 12:39 am

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I don’t disagree with those three things… but I don’t see why they can’t be done at home.

    Shannon M. Howell

    March 1, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    • But are they done at home – interacting with adult educator and mentors? interacting with peers around learning tasks? interacting with the physical world in a way that increases personal understanding and learning?

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      March 1, 2016 at 7:18 pm

      • Yes, they are done at home (I assume we are talking about ‘in a homeschooling environment’ here, an environment where parents are generally quite invested in the overall development of their children; how this applies to other families, I really cannot say).

        Homeschooled children interact with many adult educator mentors. They take external classes, intern with business owners, play sports, volunteer frequently, interact at churches and/or community centers, and are out and about in the community quite a bit.

        Homeschooled children interact with their peers often, and the definition of peer is not defined solely by who lives in the same type of neighborhood and with approximately the same birthday as you. Homeschoolers often gather for social time, field trips, and academics with kids from a wide range of backgrounds, beliefs, ages, and home life styles. Unlike kids playing on the playground, many homeschooled kids are encouraged to play independently, and to not have an adult intercede immediately to resolve disputes, so that they develop the ability to figure out how to fairly settle things amongst themselves. In my kids’ play groups, I have never seen bullying that has lasted more than one or two instances, before the older kids took the bully aside and explained to him how we treat other kids when we play. It’s been beautiful to watch the response.

        Homeschoolers are also uniquely well-positioned to allow their students to play in unstructured ways, even when dealing with purposely educational materials. We do not need to meet specific deadlines to be ready for testing. If we have a kid who wants to explore something at length, there is no time pressure to insist they do otherwise. There is no group of 29 other kids to “keep up with” (though in reality, the kid pressured to move ahead before he is ready is the one who falls behind– not good peer pressure), We have the freedom of some of the best science equipment and manipulatives money can buy, without having to prove it meets a particular grade-leveled standard. Our kids can go hunt for rocks and test them for mineral content, log wildflowers and birds spotted, build fire from a bow-drill, do chemistry experiments and refine their techniques to discover the difference between one that produces the expected outcome and one that does not, and inquire why the change makes a difference (when is the last time a school student had the luxury of repeating a lab as often as he liked?). They can partner with a buddy to solve more complex problems or work solo as the situation dictates, and study courses not often taught in schools, such as formal logic, Latin, and rhetoric.

        Quite honestly, I agree with one of your points: kids need to interact with a variety of adult mentors. They need frequent peer interaction. And they need time to explore and be curious about the physical world. If you want some great models for accomplishing these things, the homeschool world is a fantastic resource. The notion of a solo kid sitting sadly and silently at his kitchen table all day is a myth very much at odds with the realities of most everyday homeschoolers.

        Jen Driscoll

        March 1, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      • I wasn’t referring to Homeschooling in my post. I love the homeschooling movement but only 3.4% of kids in the US get homeschooled – So again, I believe my points about what should be done in public schools are valid.

        Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

        March 1, 2016 at 11:17 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: