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Teacher PD: Purposeful Tinkering and Application

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As a preface to this post, my belief is that deep learning does not occur through sit and get. Deep learning occurs through experiential, authentic, interactive, collaborative instructional processes.  If deep learning is desired for teacher professional development, then it should reflect best practices for teaching and learning.

Professional learning must focus on creating safe and productive spaces for teachers to begin planning and experimenting with the concepts that have been shared. Too often, facilitation centers on giving strategies to teachers rather than coaching them on how to deliver the strategies to students. As a result, teachers leave the session with a toolbox of ideas that are never implemented. Instead, more professional learning time should be spent helping teachers plan, develop materials, and practice delivering the strategies with colleague support. (http://inservice.ascd.org/personalized-professional-development-moving-from-sit-and-get-to-stand-and-deliver/)

When I design teacher PD-related workshops, I am guided by the following principles:

  1. Teachers need time to tinker, play, and experiment with instructional materials and resources especially with new forms of teaching/learning technologies.
  2. For skills development, such as using new technologies, scaffolding and increasing complexity should be a strong component of the PD process.
  3. Teachers need to be offered lots of instructional suggestions and resources so they can tailor their PD learning to their own teaching environments.
  4. Intentional and active reflection and goal setting should be included to increase the chances of transfer of learning.

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Tinkering With Instructional Materials

Teachers and librarians, like their students, need hands-on experience with tools and with playing to learn as that helps them build creative confidence. (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/crafting-professional-development-maker-educators-colleen-graves)

Teachers, during PD, should be provided with time, resources, and materials with which to play. It sets the expectation that they will be active agents of their own learning. It gives them the message it is okay to play and experiment with the materials; that tinkering is often needed as a part of learning new skills.

Scaffolding and Introducing Complexity

As teachers, we have come to learn over the years that we should never expect our students to fully understand a new idea without some form of structured support framework, or scaffolding as the current buzzword defines it.  The same, of course, should be the case in supporting learning for our fellow teachers. (http://mgleeson.edublogs.org/2012/03/10/when-it-comes-to-technology-teachers-need-as-much-scaffolding-as-students/)

Once teachers get familiar with instructional materials and resources through tinkering, they should be guided through a series of skills that are increasingly complex; that honor the process of scaffolding.  As with tinkering, this should be a hands-on process where teachers can try out these skills with facilitator and colleague support and guidance. As confidence is built through success with basic skills and strategies, more complex skills and strategies will be more welcomed by teachers.

Lots of Instructional Strategies and Resources

Even with fairly homogeneous groups of teachers, their teaching and learning needs can be vastly different. They often teach different groups of students, different grades, different content areas. They often have different backgrounds, years of experience, and personal and professional interests. As such, they should be provided with lots of instructional strategies and resources to help them make direct connections to their own teaching environments. Given the plethora and free resources that can be found online, curated aggregates of resources can be provided to the teachers. Time should be allotted during the PD training for them to examine and discuss these resources with their colleagues.

Transfer of Learning Through Reflection and Goal Setting

Reflection is essential for learning. In order to “make meaning” of an experience, the learner must have an opportunity to reflect on or process the experience. To help ensure that program participants transfer learning and training experiences into real-world applications, we must be intentional about both engaging the learners and creating opportunity for meaningful reflection. (https://www.e-volunteerism.com/volume-xvi-issue-1-october-january-2016/training-designs/enhance_learning)

Facilitators of teacher professional development need to be more intentional to include specific strategies to help insure that learning is transferred in teachers’ educational environments. Reflection and goal setting, two powerful transfer of learning strategies, should be built into teacher professional development.

A Recent Example

Because of on my request, my district gifted education supervisor purchased 3 sets/3 dozen Spheros. As a follow-up, he asked me to facilitate a teacher professional development workshop on their use.

The schedule for this afternoon workshop was:

  1. Short Introductory video about Sphero in schools: Gain Attention and Provide a Context
  2. Orienting and Simple Driving the Sphero: Tinkering
  3. Using the Draw Program: Tinkering
  4. Video Tutorial and Practice of Simple Block Programming: Increasing Complexity
  5. Build a Project-Chariot or Tug Boat: Increasing Complexity and Instructional Resources
  6. Review Curricula for Use in the Classroom: Instructional Resources and Transfer of Learning
  7. Final Reflections – Sharing about one’s own processes and possible applications in one’s own classroom: Transfer of Learning Through Reflection and Goal Setting
  8. Email Exchange – for sharing how the use of Spheros are being implemented in the classroom: Transfer of Learning

The slide presentation used and shared with this group of teachers:


Workshop photos showing teacher engagement:

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Alternative Reality: The Propensity for Learning Rather Than the Potential for Learning

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I had the opportunity the learn about Dr. Reuven Feuerstein through Dr. Yvette Jackson at a National Urban Alliance conference almost 20 years ago. The biggest thing I took from the conference, that remains with me today, is that student potential assumes there is a limit, cap, or ceiling as to what can be learned. If students are perceived as having a propensity for learning, there is no cap. The apropos cliche becomes the sky is the limit.

Feuerstein is known for his groundbreaking work in cognitive modifiability; rejecting the idea that intelligence is fixed, he established the principle that all children can learn how to learn. (http://brainworldmagazine.com/dr-reuven-feuerstein-on-why-intelligence-is-modifiable/#sthash.xJYtEpxo.dpuf)

Dr. Feuerstein’s beliefs can be summed up in the following quotes:

Human beings have the unique characteristic of being able to modify themselves no matter how they start out. Even in born barriers and traumas can be overcome with belief and the right mediation.

What if, instead of measuring a child’s acquired knowledge and intellectual skills, the ability to learn was evaluated first? And what if intelligence was not a fixed attributed, measurable once and for all?  What if intelligence can be taught and was in fact the ability to learn?” (http://www.paperbackswap.com/Reuven-Feuerstein/author/)

Most school settings focus on students’ deficiencies. If educators take the perspective that their students have a propensity for learning, then their focus becomes identifying and working with their strengths and prior knowledge. It is through accessing prior knowledge and student strengths that deficiencies can be addressed.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 22, 2017 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Education

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The Imperative of Experiential and Hands-On Learning

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For the past several decades, I have had my feet in both elementary education and teacher training and development. Regardless of age, grade level, and setting, I include hands-on and experiential learning as a integral part of my instruction. It is learning by doing with a reflective element which, in turn, creates conditions for deeply engaged learning.

Experiential education is a philosophy in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities. Throughout the experiential learning process, the learner is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning. (What is EE)

One of my favorite expressions is “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  There’s lots of lip service about closing the achievement gap, serving marginalized populations, helping students gain 21st century skills, and preparing students for STEM-related careers. The problem is that the school systems working toward these changes are using a factory model of education prevalent in the 19th and 20th centuries to do so. The changes that are being sought are not coming into fruition as different outcomes are expected out of doing more of the same thing. This is why I titled this post, The Imperative of Experiential and Hands On Learning. I believe that current instructional strategies need to be turned on their heads to achieve desired results and outcomes. Hands-on and experiential learning is used in some elementary schools but this diminishes as students get older. In too many high schools and colleges, instruction seems to occur through engaging the ears and sometimes the eyes (through visuals such as with slide presentations). Interestingly, though, a Study Finds 52% of U.S. Adults Say No. 1 Way to Learn is Through Active Participation, Followed by Visual Demonstration.

Some benefits of experiential and hands-on learning include:

  • Increases motivation and engagement.
  • Engages most of the senses.
  • Builds social emotional skills.
  • More likely to engage emotions.
  • Lots of brain activation.
  • Increases retention of learning.
  • Making mistakes becomes a natural part of the learning process.
  • Expands critical thinking skills.
  • Preparation for real life.

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Increases motivation and engagement.

Hands-on learning is often lots of fun; and having fun increases engagement and motivation.

Hands-on activities encourage a lifelong love of learning and motivate students to explore and discover new things (Bass, et al.).(Case for Hands-On Learning)

Learning by doing allows students to become personally invested in their own learning process. Becoming actively engaged in their education builds confidence, as the lessons require students to rely on their own abilities to obtain knowledge. That confidence and self-reliance inspires students to embrace the learning process and enthusiastically seek out additional knowledge.   (Importance of a Hands-On Experience in the Elementary Classroom)

Engages the senses.

Hands-on and experiential learning often is multi-sensory learning often engaging sight, hearing, tactile kinesthetic senses as learners participate in the educational activities.

By definition, hands-on learning requires students to engage in the education process using multiple senses, including sight, hearing and touch. Known as multisensory learning, the hands-on teaching strategy engages the senses in a way that promotes learning comprehension on multiple levels.  (Importance of a Hands-On Experience in the Elementary Classroom)

More likely to engage emotions.

The personal nature of experiential learning engages the students’ emotions as well as enhancing their knowledge and skills. When students see the concrete fruits of their labor, they experience greater gratification and pride, thus enhancing their enthusiasm for continued learning.  (The Benefits of Experiential Learning)

Lots of brain activation.

When you combine activities that require movement, talking, and listening, it activates multiple areas of the brain. “The more parts of your brain you use, the more likely you are to retain information,” says Judy Dodge, author of 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom (Scholastic, 2009). “If you’re only listening, you’re only activating one part of the brain,” she says, “but if you’re drawing and explaining to a peer, then you’re making connections in the brain.”(Hands-On is Minds-On)

Builds social-emotional skills.

Lots of social-emotional skills are addressed with hands-on, experiential learning.  Some of the specific skills that hands-on learning address are:

  • Goal-setting
  • Tolerance for frustration
  • Persistence
  • Asking for help
  • Working with others

Increases retention of learning.

When it comes to what learning methods work best, everyone is different, but the survey clearly demonstrates that hands-on training is favored by most Americans. Students who practice what they’re learning in a hands-on environment can often retain much more information when compared with sitting passively in a lecture room, so it’s not a surprise that hands-on training is the overwhelming favorite. (Majority of Americans Prefer Hands-On Training in Educational Settings, Survey Finds)

There is a huge increase in the amount of information that is retained by students who are given the opportunity to practice what they are learning in the form of hands-on training. When students sit and listen passively in a lecture-style environment, they retain 20 percent of the information. When they are given the chance to practice what they have just learned, that percentage increases to 75 percent. (What Are the Benefits of Hands-on Training?)

Making mistakes becomes a natural part of the learning process.

Experiential learning involves trial by error. As students engage in hands-on tasks, they find that some approaches work better than others. They discard the methods that don’t work, but the act of trying something and then abandoning it – ordinarily considered a “mistake” – actually becomes a valuable part of the learning process. Thus, students learn not to fear mistakes, but to value them. (The Benefits of Experiential Learning)

Expands critical thinking skills.

The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as the “process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication.”  Hands-on learning allows students to experience a problem or task and make adjustments to improve outcomes. This “trial and error” exploration develops critical thinking and improves an understanding of abstract concepts that can be applied to real-life experience. (Improve Learning with Hands-on Activities)

Preparation for real life.

Experiential learning takes data and concepts and makes them “real” by applying them to hands-on tasks, with real results. As the student interacts with the information, it becomes real to them.

Many experiential learning projects are career-oriented, because they are, by nature, grounded in “real-world” activities. Through these activities, students start to discover and develop their own skills, aptitudes and passions. This discovery in turn sets them on a more defined path to college and careers. (The Benefits of Experiential Learning)

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 23, 2016 at 12:20 am

Teaching as a Human – Humane Process

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I often mention that one of the roles of the educator is that of an ethnographer.  Loosely defined, . . .

An ethnographer is a person who gathers and records data about human culture and societies. An ethnographer often needs to be able to find patterns in and understand issues faced by a wide sample of people with diverse backgrounds.  The information ethnographers collect can be used not only for providing a better understanding of societies, but also for improving quality of life. (http://www.wisegeek.com/what-does-an-ethnographer-do.htm)

As teachers know, every class they teach is different, every student in each of these classes is different and unique.  Good teaching entails seeing (really seeing) every student in the classroom, getting to know each of them as the individuals they really are and deserve to be. (Disclaimer:  I know this is difficult, if not impossible, for educator who work with hundreds of students at any given time.)

The teacher as an ethnography gets to know individual students as individuals, being able to assess what the student needs when.  Teaching as a human-humane process translates to knowing when to push, when to pull back, when to ignore, when to encourage, when to praise, when to critique, when to challenge, when to nurture, when to cheer, when to show love.

Monica took a teaching methods with me where the class project was to develop a curriculum unit.  I believe and practice mastery learning.  This means students can make revisions and resubmissions when their work does not meet project expectations and criteria.  She worked on the changes I suggested.  Upon a second review, it was still B work, but I knew how hard she worked.  I basically said to myself, “She worked quite hard, to the best of her ability,” so I granted her an A for this winter intersession course.  It was the beginning of Winter term.  I was walking past the dorms.  Monica came out into the second floor balcony with a paper, her grades, in hand.  She exuberantly yelled to me, “Jackie, I got an A in class.  It is the first A I have gotten in college.”  The look of joy on her face was priceless.

Don’t get me wrong.  It is not about giving students A’s to raise their self-esteem.  Sometimes the human-humane process is to push a student to his or her limits.

Andrew, a 25 year-old, was a Teach for America student in the Master’s of Education program where I was teaching.  He received a Bachelor’s degree from an Ivy league school, and came to New Mexico for the programs.  For the curriculum class I was teaching, students were asked to create artifacts for their classroom – no paper nor tests.  Andrew handed in his first project.  It was sloppy and lacked a professional presentation.  He received the equivalent to a C.  He came up to me after class to talk about his grade.  I provided additional feedback the problems with his work.  He began to cry explaining that he always earned A’s for his work but also emphasized that his education, thus far, consisted of taking tests and writing papers.  To this I responded that I understood, but that I would continue to push him to improve the quality of his projects.  His work got better and at the end of the course he told me that as difficult as it was, he appreciated how I challenged him.

Being fair with students is not about providing all students with equal treatment at all times.  This actually leads to unfair treatment of students as they are individuals and are not like widgets – equal in all respects.  It also acknowledges and honors that individual students differ from day to day, sometimes minute to minute as they continue to learn, grasp concepts, change moods, change relationships, and to grow.  This translates into continually assessing individual learner needs and offering them what you think they need to grow and learn at any given moment.

The result are those light bulb moments, when a learner “gets it” – understands something that s/he has struggled to understand, when his or her self-efficacy rises, when a learner realizes s/he is smarter than previously believed – it is these moments that are the most meaningful for me as an educator.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 8, 2013 at 9:56 pm

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