Monday, May 9, 2011

Not as we know it!

Left image: Peace and exercise amongst the rush, Seoul, South Korea.
Right image: Garlic galore, market in South Korea.

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

Thinking about learning culture

"If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow"
John Dewey

Presently I am reading a great book from the US titled: A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, written by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown from the University of California.

“John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas lay out a step by step argument for why learning is changing in the 21st century and what schools need to do to accommodate these new practices. Using vivid narratives of people, institutions, and practices at the heart of the changes and drawing from a growing body of literature outlining new pedagogical paradigms.”

The book has got me thinking about all of the on-line resources available to teachers in the classroom to create collaborative, even fun activities for students in geography. I must admit sometimes when I was using games and collaborative tools in the classroom I felt a little uncomfortable that I was moving too far away from the traditional modes of teaching and learning. In fact, sometimes my feelings were of guilt that I was just letting the students go (away from my direction and structured learning) and seemingly having unadulterated fun as they learnt. This book has gone a long way to provide a rationale, based in research, for the use of games, on-line collaboration etc in geography and I am sure would be of interest to teachers wishing to push the on-line/collaborative/social networking/games boundaries in the traditional geography classroom. This builds on the various Spatialworlds blog postings last year which explored 21st Century change and the implications for the 21st Geography classroom. Here are a few excerpts from the book to give a ‘heads-up’ on what Seely and Thomas are saying.

“…schools in their current configuration simply cannot serve students in a time of huge, hairy, fast change”

“The role of educators needs to shift away from being expert in a particular area of knowledge, to becoming expert in the ability to create and shape new learning environments. …educators need to focus on getting students to “discover, explore, play, and develop, which is the primary reason I think that most of us got into the job of teaching.”

“We take it as a truism that kids learn about the world through play. In fact we encourage that kind of exploration. Imagination is more important than knowledge." In a networked world, information is always available and getting easier and easier to access. Imagination, what you actually do with that information, is the new challenge. As the world grows more complicated, more complex, and more fluid, opportunities for innovation, imagination, and play increase. Information and knowledge begin to function like currency: the more of it you have, the more opportunities you will have to do things.”

“In the 20th century learning is not a binary construction which pits how against what. Knowledge, now more than ever, is becoming a where rather than a what or how. Where something means or its context raises questions about institutions and agency, about reliability and credibility and it always invites us to interrogate the relationship between meaning and context.”

This summary from the Synchronous blog provides a really good summary of the relevance of the thinking in the book to K-12 education.

In a nutshell the book suggest that teachers should:
• put the emphasis on understanding and shaping the learning environment. A constructive learning environment is a collaboration between teachers and students where there is dialogue and time for modeling and practice
• use emerging technology to foster this conversation/collaboration. The tools include rich digital information resources, social media; keeping pace with the next genre of communication
• suspend judgment and embrace mistakes. This learning environment has no experts only lively researchers – playing and tinkering with tools and ideas
• acknowledge that students, teachers, information and communication sources, learning problems, and environmental pressure coexist and shape one another
• accept that we are all students and we do our best to think aloud (and document our process through reflection) as we problem solve and evolve our learning environment
• emphasise inquiry and the creation of better(rich) questions
• engage the learner with a problem to solve, a question to answer, a message to deliver
• embrace change and expect it to accelerate
• make the process learner centered. Learning to learn is not just about skills but the development of a disposition; of tacit learning (big idea), personal agency, and practice (Being In the content)
• mistakes are expected, they are a learning opportunity
• broaden the idea of technology. Technology is not a thing but infuses the learners practice. Reading, writing and the other (traditional literacies) are “technology”. Research, writing, mind maps, organization (all are technologies). This is important to remember as we shift the focus from technology as a physical thing.
Computers, cell phones and the like are devices which allow us to ask questions, when we care.”

Interestingly many of these suggested characteristics and ways of operating as a teacher are those identified previously on this blog when discussing and profiling the teacher most likely to take-up the use of spatial technology in their classroom. Such a technology embracing, risk-taking, reality grounded (meaningful use of student learning) and inquiry focussed, who create a collaborative learning environment (on-line and in the class) is the teacher who has been identified as most likely to be using spatial technology in their teaching.

“What if school wasn’t just preparation for real life; what if school is real life?” Chris Lehmann’s

Many educators consider the principle of education is to “… give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” This adage assumes that there will always be an endless supply of fish to catch and that the techniques for catching them will last a lifetime. Here-in lies the danger of the accepted, true and tried teaching model employed by many in our schools — namely, the belief that most of what we know will remain relatively unchanged for a long enough period of time to be worth the effort of transferring it. Certainly there are some ideas, facts, and concepts for which this holds true. But the contention of Thomas and Brown is:

“... the pool of unchanging resources is shrinking, and that the pond is providing us with fewer and fewer things that we can even identify as fish anymore.”

Such a view has huge implications for the content identified in the Australian Curriculum: geography. Are we trying to identify fish which may well not be essential for the 21st Century citizen and for quality geographical learning in a world of constant change.

In the next few postings I will showcase some wonderful free on-line resources which provide an enormous number of web resources to enhance the use of digital media in the geography classroom. Such resources, encouraging collaboration, reality grounded inquiry and student-centred learning, as advocated by Thomas and Brown, goes some way towards geography classrooms in the future to not teach about the world as much as it is “learning within the world. To shift schools away from the mechanistic learning as a series of steps to be mastered” but to create a learning environment where “digital media provides access to a rich source of information and play.”

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