Change is a given. The necessity for continuous change and growth is not only a constant in the realm of education but also in most other areas of life. It is a time of great change in the world around us and as educators, we need to stay focused on innovative practices that support our students for success in their future in these changing times.
When we talk about innovation in education, this is not a new concept. Since the beginning of the school model teachers have constantly strived to find “new and better” (GCouros) ways to improve the learning of their students. In today’s very dynamic context, some teachers may feel uncertain of how to best approach innovative teaching and learning practices.
When we look to the world of work for the top employability skills which are desirable in the employees of today and tomorrow, the same skills top the list over and over again; problem-solving, teamwork, communication skills, creative thinking, risk taking etc. How do we ensure we are best creating innovative learning environments that foster the development of these skills?
Below is a slide I often use in my work with teachers around changing practice from a more passive learner approach to one that is more learner-centred and active. When we put students in the driver’s seat of their own learning and give them more opportunity to solve problems, think in creative ways, work together and share their learning, not only are they more engaged, they are also often empowered to own the learning in a new and powerful way. When we offer an opportunity for voice and choice, we support them as problem solvers and reflective, critical thinkers who take greater responsibility for the direction they go. When we shift gears away from the student as mere consumer and move towards student as creator of their own learning, we inspire more independence and autonomy.
The example above is related to a grade one science unit on the Senses. The worksheet activity on the left, or one similar to it, maybe an example of something teachers do with students to address learning outcomes related to this unit. Although there may be learning intent behind the activity, as well as a time and place for it, there are additional ways teachers could approach the outcomes that inspire deeper learning. Instead of there being just one right answer to which students “comply” we can look too much more engaging activities where there may be many “right” answers and students drive the learning in a more active way.
In the example in the middle of the slide, the students are doing a community scavenger hunt with devices or digital cameras to capture images of things in their school or community that they see, smell, touch, taste and hear. They then use these photos to create a digital presentation about their senses by voicing over the images, “I see a _______”, “I hear a ________” etc. Their final products could be shared with classmates, parents or even beyond on a classroom blog or Twitter. I have done this learning sequence with many groups and it is always well received and very engaging for students.
In the final example on the left students were tasked with looking beyond just the role of the five senses and asked to develop a device to protect one of the five senses. This prompted them to have to think critically about things that might harm a person’s senses, choose one of these things and design a device that would then offer protection. This learning opportunity offered choice, encouraged voice and empowered students as problem solvers and inventors.
Rethinking tasks and opportunities to engage and empower students through active learning is one entry point into fostering an innovative learning environment in our schools and classrooms.
The students designing the sense protection devices above were encouraged to look beyond the four walls of their classroom to how their thinking could impact the greater world. When we empower learners to explore and learn how to make an impact on the world, we inspire problem solvers and innovators (K Martin) of the future.