Changing Questions When Planning For Learning (Part 2) - Steve Barkley

Changing Questions When Planning For Learning (Part 2)

In the previous blog, I described how a post written by JoAnna Haugen, the founder of Rooted, an organization with a focus on sustainable travel-related initiatives, led me to think about similarities with teachers’ planning for learning.

Her blog, titled Reframing Tourism with Two Powerful Questions, suggested that the traditional tourism model is based around two key questions: where and what?

  • Where are you traveling? Where will you stay?
  • What are you going to do? What are you going to pack? What do you want to see?

JoAnna suggested changing the questions from where to why and from what to how.

As I thought about that from a teaching perspective I wondered if the “where question” is where do I need to be by when? (Scope and sequence) and if “the what” question is what will I do to get the students there.

In part one, I explored the value of the question why for teachers and students. In part two, I’ll explore the how question.

JoAnna pointed out that “when the question shifts from what to how, people must think about the way they engage with an experience. This intention is important because this is where an activity that could arguably be done anywhere is rooted in that sense of place. Only in this specific place could someone participate in something and hear this specific story or take away this specific lesson.

She recommends these strategies:

  • Highlight activities that incorporate an environmental or social impact twist.
  • Build time for reflection on tours.
  • Offer a variety of ways to move through sites or spaces.

I find it amazing how those strategies align with things that we as teachers should be exploring when planning for environment concept on the gearwheels, 3D rendering

  • Incorporating environmental and social impacts most often generates increased student engagement. These activities can inspire students to develop a sense of purpose, empowerment, and responsibility. In addition, students can build a sense of community and tap into innovation.

I found a great example in Honey Creek Community Schools’ sixth, seventh, and eighth graders who spent weeks preparing for a homelessness simulation. They were assigned to represent different businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Michigan within the simulation. They researched the services offered by each entity. You can read more about the project here or listen to a podcast with the teacher and some students here.

  • Build time for reflection.

In the article, Where is reflection in the learning process?, Dr. Jackie Gerstein shares this insight,

They (students) are products of a standardized system where they were asked to memorize standardized information and spit that information out on standardized tests. When finished with one unit of information, they were asked to quickly move onto the next unit. They were not given the time, skills, and opportunities to extract personalized meanings from their studies. Reflection was not part of their curriculum as it cannot be measured nor tested.

  • Offer a variety of ways to move through sites or spaces.

Here is JoAnna’s description about tourists that I think rather aptly can apply to learners in a classroom.

“When people are only focused on what, they often feel overwhelmed because of the lack of purpose. Museum fatigue is real, in large part because people feel like they have to visit — but then one exhibit blurs into the next blurs into the next.”

It’s pretty easy for a student’s school day to have one period or day blur into the next. The BrainWare website shares the following:

Educators have long known that experiencing something new enhances learning. Now scientists have shown that novel situations stimulate the dopamine system in the brain. And when novelty gets the brain’s dopamine system working, that accelerates learning. Let’s all get our students learning faster by giving them something new today!

Here’s an example from a fourth-grade teacher.

On the first day of school, she had the secretary deliver a gift-wrapped box to her classroom. It was a rather large box, a big bow on it, and a letter attached that she opened, and read to the kids.

This is a gift to the fourth-grade students to be opened as soon as they know the volume of the box.

She asked if anyone knew what volume means. None of the kids knew. She said, “Well, I think it’s math.” The kids went flipping through their math books and found the formula. When they measured, they found fractions they needed to learn more about. For several days the teacher took the box out at math time. Frequently the students asked, “Can we do math now?” Finally, the day came when the students had figured out the volume of the box, and they readied for a big celebration. They opened the box and found a giant plastic bag filled with candy – a long string of it wrapped round and round. The bag was tied shut with a big bow and a card on the bow read, “When you can divide me evenly, you can eat me.”

I am intrigued by how the items that JoAnna identified for increasing a tourist’s engagement aligned with elements to consider when planning for learning. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised if I consider that learning is a journey, and with planning, it can be a memorable adventure.

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