Saturday, July 13, 2013

"Hey I'm learning. Anyone there?"

I'm a big fan of constructivist learning. We want students creating their own meaning. 

But do any of us really construct our own meaning?  It sounds a little lonely.

Continuing the theme of setting up strong learning environments that align with the characteristics of team sports, that's a pretty central question if we want to put students in a situation where they
need to create and regularly be able to adjust that creation to solve a specific problem.

Team sports naturally do this. They make for great learning environments. 

If our classrooms better resembled these environments, we'd be laying a strong foundation for engaged students constructing knowledge. Games like MineCraft are obvious examples of this but we shouldn't limit ourselves to technology.  We have many opportunities to allow our students to construct knowledge in this way, and Problem-Based Learning advocates like the Buck Institute are out in front in this regard.

While most PBL exercises ask students to solve a problem.  With just a little more imagination we can add a bit more to the environment so that they are not only a creating a solution (great !) but able / encouraged to adjust that creation (even better !) as the environment changes. This is where games like MineCraft and basketball game excel. They allow students to create,  but they ask students to be continually evaluating the actions taken by their fellow participants along the way. 

The work isn't done in isolation to be turned into the teacher. 

Student work is a piece of the environment and the goal within that environment remains constant even while the pathway changes.

It's what makes games-based-learning so fun.

Which helps us answer the question:  
Do any of us really construct our own meaning?
Do we even want that?

Imagine a basketball player who continually constructed her own meaning and disregarded the conditions of the environment and the input of those around her.  She repeatedly catches the ball, turns around, and tries to shoot over a much taller player. Despite those around her (and the repeated blocked shot) telling her otherwise, she continues this method because she has read it's "right".  Meaning gets constructed pretty quickly during this game. And there are 4 teammates 5 opponents), and 2 coaches who are making simultaneous meaning - and adjustments - based on this scenario.

In reality, none of us learn in isolation. We construct knowledge and we put it to the test at some point by sharing that knowledge. Social learning folks know this to be true - we truly learn for, with, and by our interactions with others. That is when learning is at its most profound. 

How often do we structure classroom experiences to maximize the chances for social learning by having students create and potentially adjust those creations in an inter-dependent environment?  
Those experiences are likely alive with learning. 

Think of it as game-like practice for the game we call the real world.

I received some feedback/dialogue regarding my earlier post which I've paraphrased below.
1. "Games shouldn't be the outcome. Learning should.
Agreed !  Games give users a purpose, but if that purpose isn't important or not connected to relevant content, it has minimal uses in the classroom.  (My June 27 post says that too.)

2. "It's not just team sports. Individual sports have these learning characteristics too."
Agreed. But team sports do add an extra layer of meaning-making by adding complexity to the social learning network. As today's post indicates, we are on the lookout for expanding these opportunities. It doesn't mean that team environments stress the same components as or are better than individual sports. But generally, schools give plenty of opportunities for students to showcase their individual skills while the real world is becoming increasingly dependent upon individuals who can interact within a more complex, team-oriented network.

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