How do we learn best? Why is it that we can recall certain aspects of our education but not all? What is it that resonates with a learner? I’ve been focused on creating a collaborative learning environment this year with my students. I believe that my role as an educator is to facilitate their learning, to assist them in their own understanding of their learning and how to connect this to their everyday lives. This is especially difficult with a prescribed curriculum and standardized testing that are pervasive in education today, however as an educator, if I can locate ways to circumvent these obstacles while still maintaining the student’s learning and excitement for learning, I do so.
Our classroom operates as a collaborative mini-society of thoughts, ideas, questions and most importantly opportunity. The opportunity to try, fail and try again. The opportunity to create and construct our own learning through activities chosen and put forth by us all as a team.
Our most recent endeavour was in Science, where we decided together to combine two of our units: Building Devices and Vehicles That Move and Wheels and Levers into one large encompassing project utilizing the student’s choice of Lego and K’Nex building materials. We discussed what the units looked like, what we are required to learn and understand and then we set about finding a way we could do this that excited and motivated us. The students immediately chose Lego and K’Nex, I supplied the materials and support, and the building began.
They worked in self-chosen groups based on interest and build they did. There were four groups: wheels and axles, gears, levers and pulleys and together they built vehicles, ferris wheels, long and short ramps, sail boats, flag poles, egg beaters, chain saws, trikes, helicopters and wells.
A group of my students came to me and said that they have been building at home and would like to bring in their work to share. They had extended their own learning beyond our classroom walls and were getting together on their own time and building. I was flabbergasted but extremely proud so we held a class discussion and decided that not only was it ok to bring their work in, but that we needed to showcase it. Together they came up with the idea of hosting a Lego and K’Nex Fair for their parents and our school. Within a week, our classroom was transformed into a warehouse of Lego and K’Nex creations. There were more machines built at home than there was in our room, and they kept coming in.
Sensing their excitement building beyond anything I had ever witnessed, I asked them how we can make our fair even more interactive. We talked about stations and one student asked if we could use our iPads in some way. I suggested we try and use the Show Me app to explain how they built their machines, the machine’s purpose and what they learned. They loved this idea and paired up with their building partners and began taking photos of their work. They uploaded these photos into the app and created mini-videos explaining how their simple machines operated. They not only created them for the projects at school, but also the ones they created at home.
We hosted our Lego and K’Nex Fair yesterday in our school’s gymnasium. We had a total of 8 tables and an iPad viewing centre for visitors to watch and listen to their Show Me app videos. The students gathered and organized their machines and welcomed their proud and excited parents and peers for an hour of learning and discussion. Each group chose a table of expertise and explained to the guests just how each machine operated, how it was built and its need and importance in our world.
As the fair commenced, I stood back and just watched them interact with each other and their guests. I saw responsibility, independence, growth, learning, understanding, teamwork and most importantly pride. They were beaming with pride from owning their learning. I will forever recall them answering questions but making eye-contact with me through the crowds and smiling wide knowing-smiles. THIS is what learning is and it’s the students who need to build it for themselves in order for it to be life-long.