LEARNING FOR LIFE ... less constraints, more choice?

It's a snow/ice day so I thought I'd take this opportunity to blog a little. With my 2016 resolution to read more, I find I have been writing less...

In my recent Twitter Feed I came across this video from @HuffPostEdu

The Future Project Asks NYC Students What They Really Think of...
These students brilliantly explain to The Future Project what's wrong with the school system.
Posted by HuffPost Education on Monday, March 21, 2016

In it, students are asked what they think about the current model of school and what might a future school look like. Their responses are illuminating. A few thoughts/questions that stuck with me ...

What does it look like when students are learning for life?
How and why are we losing students in our current model?

I have come face to face with these questions this year. Finding the balance between giving choice and flexibility in learning and being accountable to the vast curriculum has been a struggle at times.

I have tried to negotiate this with the help of the great resource I read this past summer. Click here for my book review of Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action by Harvey and Daniels.

In various content areas, I have used the structure and routines outlined in this text to guide students through content area inquiries (sometimes referred to as curricular inquiries) stemming from the big ideas.

Using the same inquiry organizer and success criteria has been helpful as it guides students through the process and provides a digital space for collaboration and feedback.

An example of this is a recent history inquiry on the War of 1812. After about a week of introductory learning (developing a general understanding about the causes, perspectives, significant events, and consequences) students brainstormed lingering wonderings about the war.
What were they still curious about? How could they dig a little deeper?

Click here to see the template we used, very much adapted from Harvey and Daniels.

The final phase of inquiry is going public. A chance for students to share their learning in a creative way. In terms of more traditional research projects, I believe this is the aspect that makes the greatest difference in terms of student engagement. It creates a sense of purpose and urgency for what they are doing.

Here are just a few ways my students chose to go public with their War of 1812 inquiries...
- virtual timeline using Prezi
- Screencasts using TechSmith Snagit
- iMovies
- podcasts
- simulated battles using video games with running commentary

Needless to say, I was quite astounded. I just needed to step back and get out of their way ... a lesson learned time and time again!

So now what? 

Enter GENIUS HOUR! An undertaking I have wanted to initiate all year. After discussions with colleagues, curating resources, and seeing first hand how self-directed inquiries could propel learning,
I could hold back no longer!

Using the same general template we have been using for curricular inquiries, I have open the doors wide open. The possibilities endless. To spark students' curiosity and introduce genius hour I used a collection of videos and resources (all an aspect of the IMMERSE phase).

Here are a few of my favourites:
Vsauce videos - What is the most dangerous place on earth?
Moonshot Thinking - What is possible when we open our minds to new ideas? Why is this critical for thinking/Learning?
Videos for GENIUS HOUR curated by @JoyKirr

Students brainstormed topics/questions/wonderings about the world they live in and their place in it. Ideas such as the role of social media in communication, virtual reality, ethics in bio-engineering, space exploration have emerged as well as questions such as 'why do we get butterflies when we are nervous?'

Students are viewing and reading to learn more about their topics (investigate phase) and have expressed the importance of not having specific due dates as it will dampen their ability to truly explore. This is an area we will negotiate together (need to 'go public' at some point). They are provided with about 80 minutes of uninterrupted time each week for Genius Hour and many extend this learning at home as well.

I promise to blog again once students begin to move to the Coalese and Go Public phases.

Now back to the original questions elicited from the video:
What does it look like when students are learning for life?

I'm wondering if concepts and frameworks true to Genius Hour might help develop the type of learning environment these students are speaking about.


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