Recently I had the opportunity to present at two international educator conferences that provided time for me to be a participant in workshops and keynotes. Two presenters re-triggered my focus on how powerful learning can occur when students engage in real-world issues.
At the Near East South Asia (NESA) conference in Abu Dhabi, I attended a keynote and workshop by Ron Berger from EL Learning. EL Learning’s mission and vision are:
“When students and teachers are engaged in work that is challenging, adventurous and meaningful, learning and achievement flourish. Our mission is to create classrooms where teachers can fulfill their highest aspirations, and students achieve more than they think possible, becoming active contributors to building a better world. “
The EL Learning website describes the importance of students doing high-quality work:
Create complex work: demonstrate higher-order thinking, multiple perspectives and transfer of understanding
Demonstrate craftsmanship: create work that is accurate and beautiful in conception and execution
Create authentic work: demonstrate original thinking and voice, connect to real-world issues and formats, and when possible, create work that is meaningful to the community beyond the school
As Ron Berger shared examples of student work, he frequently used the term “beautiful” work. One example was 3rd and 4th graders at the at Capital City Public Charter School in Washington D.C. who had produced the A to Z Book of Homelessness.
Students met with visitors from different facilities that serve homeless. They selected a group and in small teams did research fieldwork at the site they chose. Research teams interviewed staff at shelters, soup kitchens, hospitals, police stations, as well as homeless people themselves, to understand: why people become homeless; how society helps them; and how they, as students, could help.
In addition to contributing through charity, the students wanted to contribute through education. Because they learned that many homeless had lost more than a home, but also their self-respect, they created a book to remind young people that homeless people are worthy of respect.
With a letter lottery, students were given a letter of the alphabet. They brainstormed words that started with that letter and created a sentence about homelessness that started with their letter.
In Art students created four different sketches to go with their sentence. After selecting one, they used crayons to add color. They then created a final illustration with watercolors.
They donated copies of the book to schools and shelters to be read by and to young children.
(You can download a copy of the book here. Download link on page 2)
Ron ended the story about the students who produced this book by telling us that 5 years after completing the book, a then 8th grader wanted to share a copy of the book with visitors to the school. (President and Michelle Obama). Imagine as an 8th grader being proud of something you produced as a third grader. Ron added that he didn’t think he was proud of anything he did in school. Wow, that hit me. I don’t think I produced anything I was proud of all the way through my master’s degree. Anything I thought of, was extra- curricular… music, sports, drama were the places I could describe working hard to produce something beautiful … something of which I was proud.
Classroom work needs to be more like extra-curricular engagement. Work that could be called a live event. Real work, where the outcome has a real consequence. The diagram below illustrates why live event learning is powerful learning.
Consider how each of the live event elements were present in the A to Z Book of Homelessness:
Emotions– students’ engagement in identifying the conditions and impacts of homelessness is high in emotion. They learned that some classmates had been homeless.
Real Environment– students conducted their research in the community
Relevance– homeless individuals were in the world of the students, their book was being read by people in their community
Process skills– students practiced researching skills, interviewing, communicating, collaborating, creativity, planning, etc.
Multisensory– when learning is done in the community … real environment… all the senses are involved
Real Consequences– the students’ research and learning led to real understanding on their parts… an education they could then share with their book. The learning impact lives on.
[PLS3rd Learning Brain-based Ways We Think and Learn]
Shortly after the NESA conference I took part in the Mediterranean Association of International Schools (MAIS) conference in Valencia, Spain. There I attended a presentation by Stephen Ritz, regarding the work his students create through the Green Bronx Machine . From building indoor gardens that produce food harvested and served in the school cafeteria to designing and creating green roofs and walls far beyond the school grounds, the students’ academic success grows with their process/life skills.
Stephen’s Ted Talk is available here.
Should your students be spending more school time engaged in Live Events?