We have been preoccupied lately with the idea of creating learners that are more self-aware of connections between different subjects, concepts, and ideas. An idea that a student’s thought process always includes questioning which other concepts or skills can be integrated into their own learning outcome, the opposite of the narrow, product-emphasized curriculum applied to many American school minds. This is a vision in the works, as it is for many educator thinkers and influencers.
During recent forays into PBL and different projects incorporating STEAM, we have had a handful of students see beyond the lesson’s planned outcomes. They recognize connections to other domains of learning. As an educator, this is a beautiful thing, as you yourself probably have experienced. Of course, the goal is to engage this inquiry and see where it leads for the individual student. We have, however, contemplated how to bring this thought process to ALL students in a more systematic and accessible way. We have been giving it a lot of thought, but realized it may be easier to organize our thoughts if we wrote about our inquiry here…and maybe you can help!
So, here we go…a little rambling on educational philosophy with the hopes of an applicable revelation.
Recently, I personally attended a meditation lecture at a local Korean Buddhist temple on a Sunday afternoon in Hawaii, and, once again, my thoughts turned to this idea. This particular lecture focused on seeing the interconnectivity among all things; thoughts, people, physical objects, atoms, etc. As you can see, it was deep! This was what we meditated on. I realized in this process what a powerful thing it is to see how things are interconnected. Not necessarily in a deep contemplative way, but simply knowing that to become a lifelong learner, one needs to know a little bit of every subject or skill. In other words, to be able to read a physical map, I need to understand how a coordinate grid works. But, let’s say I want to create a map of my own. Then I would need to know, not only how a coordinate grid works, but how to draw to scale. I would also need to know some basic drawing techniques. Furthermore, if I want my map to be detailed, I would need to learn the symbols for topographic features on a map. And so it goes, to where I am not just a user, but a creator. Not just an artist, or just an engineer, or the myriad of boxes our jobs put us into…but simply a creator. A creator sees the connections between all these skills, concepts, and domains so that they can build what they envision. I believe that there is real power in a student realizing this for themselves. When a student understands this it equips them with the tools to learn almost anything they want, and, maybe most importantly, help others to realize this, too.
So, the same question came up again: How do we as educators develop meaningful connections beyond the standards to create inquisitive self-learners?
To answer this question, let’s back up a bit to how we engage students and their prior knowledge.
Let’s get deep for a minute.
Our experiences help shape how we feel and, subsequently, how we behave in future situations. If one has a good experience, that person will have good thoughts and positive feelings they will carry with them, associating with similar future experiences. Sometimes, though, we encounter unfortunate situations, which we sometimes block out, but those memories still remain. In short, our experiences, good or bad, leave imprints that shape how we engage the world and approach new experiences. In addition, we create connections between our understanding of different concepts in the world. In the process, we become aware of ourselves and our experiences and how it may shape our self-identity and, in part, how we interact with others and the world around us. We create new and meaningful connections based on the quality of our experiences.
At times, I like to think that this also happens in the classroom as students interact with a variety of curriculum-based experiences. I find all too often that lessons and units are tunnels. We start with an anticipatory-set at the entrance of the tunnel and focus on coming out of the tunnel with hopes for a specific learning outcome. (We all know these: Students will be able to…) But what if students are making other connections that become their own meaningful learning outcomes, whether they are in addition to planned outcomes or instead of. I feel we are missing out on wonderful opportunities to spring board and accelerate true learning.
The popularity of PBL, STEAM, and MakerSpaces make giant strides toward this goal. In many cases, however, I feel as if we have merely added more learning outcomes. These feel more like frameworks for true learning to take place. There is still no agreed upon protocol for assessing and guiding this student-based inquiry within these increasingly popular frameworks.
So, let’s add to the above question: How do we as educators develop meaningful connections beyond the standards to create inquisitive self-learners? In addition, how do we assess and guide this inquiry process?
This is the journey we are on with the hopes for an applicable outcome to integrate into our curriculum. Join us as we update this inquiry process of our own with examples from others and our own. If you have suggestions to guide us, please leave a comment and join the journey…until next time!