8 June 2013

Engaging Learning Environments

      Core Education ran a Modern learning Environments Conference which I attended on 7-8th June. This was put together in response to requests for information and ideas from Christchurch leaders in education. Schools in Christchurch are going through changing times to say the least - merges, closures, rebuilds. But through this upheaval and rebuilding, many are leaping on board the opportunity to create more modern learning environments.

    The first speaker was Stephen Heppell from Bournemouth University.  
His premise was that kids don’t need to come to school to learn, but there will always need to be great teachers. So in order for them to come along, be engaged and take up the learning opportunities that (hopefully) are at school,  environments need to be playful, fun, productive, relevant.

   There are online learning environments that I think give some traditional teaching a run for its money.  There are collaborative environments where you can find out from others what you need to know, such as Facebook or twitter. There are community areas like playgrounds, beaches, home kitchens, zoos, libraries and the sports field.  Then there are You tube clips thT can teach us how to make a cake, write a haiku poem, or compare the Artic to the Antarctic. You can access these when you need to, pause, replay, then you can create your own content to share your learning. All this in the comfort of your bedroom, beanbag, library or friend’s house.

   At school we use an great online maths tool called mathswhizz, another learning environment which hooks the learner in. Students complete level based activities which have been explained with flying pigs, cute trolls, animated number lines, coloured numbers and any other trick you can think of. Then they get to practise this skill or knowledge item until the programme recognises they are able to sit the assessment task. The achievement levels, gaps, strengths and progress of students is all trackable by the teacher or parent.  All of this work goes toward credits which children get to save and spend in their virtual bedroom. They purchase virtual pets (which then need to be fed), games, posters, plants and any other manner of kids’ bedroom paraphernalia.

   Maths worksheets struggle to keep up with this!

   But, these playful and seductive learning spaces on their own lack a teacher who can guide the learner into what they need to do next, how they can get there, ensure coverage, plug in gaps and push to extent further.

    While there are many learning environments available,  schools are the place where learners have access to learning coaches ie teachers. These teachers are available for all, trained, can be free, and hopefully can access lots more learning for the student.

   So while children don’t need to come to school to learn, it would be a shame if they didn’t access it to extend their learning even further. To do this our schools need to be playful and fun.

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