Friday, December 8, 2017

It's not about the tech, it's about the learning

Let me start by saying that the image on the left is ironic - it is deliberately contrary to what I'd expect from a teacher designing projects and engagements for students.  I'm writing this post after a pretty fraught couple of weeks at school where my mantra has been "it's about the learning, not about the tech", so it was great to read this same sentiment right at the start of Chapter 5 in Your Connected Classroom: A Practical Guide for Teachers today.  To recap, I'm reading this new book from Eduro Press in order to write a review on Amazon - and at the same time I'm blogging about it.  Anyway, my heart was singing as I read the above statement, and I'm convinced that this is the most important chapter in the book so far, as it deals with designing rich learning experiences (both with and without technology).  The authors start by telling us to "mentally toss out whatever you've done before and start from scratch.  Forget about your curriculum documents and resources and start with just the end goal: what you want students to know and be able to do and develop from there.  The idea behind this is to give you the freedom to re-imagine the unit completely differently than you may have taught it before."

The design process envisioned by Eduro centres around the APLE planner (authentic, purposeful experience leading through a logical structure for the creation of a product).  It draws upon UbD, PBL, SAMR and the MYP Design Cycle - all great models that I have used for years when designing learning engagements.  I was really curious to see how all these elements combined into one planner.  In a nutshell, the design is as follows:
  • Start with the relevant standards you want to assess
  • Think about how to make this content relevant to students - in particular how it connects to the real-world
  • Identify an essential question - one that is open and inspires curiosity and interest and one that cannot be Googled
  • Think about what authentic product students will create to demonstrate understanding - and possibly think about the audience for this product
  • Think about the use of SAMR so that technology is used purposefully.  Also consider that the finished product does not have to use tech.
  • Break the creative process into steps, so that students can dive deeply into the content and so that at each step you can formatively assess their understanding.
The important idea here is that as a teacher you are facilitating the learning, not directly teaching.  As the Eduro team point out this is more work in the planning stage, but less during the actual teaching.  The stages follow a clear path:  
  • Provocation/exploration/research - a hook to get students into the student-led investigation where they are learning the content.  As a teacher you are providing the resources for students to explore to develop understanding.
  • Planning the finished product - the balance I've always tried to stick to here is that 60% of time should be on pre-production, and 40% on production and post production (a great tip I learned some years ago from Bernajean Porter).  Generally I've found that students initially don't like this balance, but that if there is any less than 60% of time spent on planning then the finished product really lacks depth.  Students eventually do come to realise that time spent planning is really valuable.
  • Creating - it's great to allow class time for this so that you get to check in with each student to  understand how they are progressing.  When I think back to the time I spent teaching MYP design tech, all of the creating was done in class.
  • Reflecting and evaluating learning - this stage is where students get feedback and where they are involved in self-reflection.
Chapter 5 ends with several links to APLE and design resources.  This is a hugely valuable chapter, and for one I am certainly going to prototype this process with my students.

Photo Credit: Photo Extremist Flickr via Compfight cc

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