Time to Learn

I have always been one to study and work on the really important stuff late as night when the world around me has gone to bed. I’m talking between the hours of 10PM and 3AM. Is this as crazy as my colleagues and peers think?

I love this quote from an unknown author:

Looking at the night horizon brings you closer to reaching the stars.

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Maria Hadden

I have been discussing this with many educators this week, so I thought I’d put my keyboard to work and reflect upon this in a professional and educational context.

Firstly, my personal experiences: During the years when I studied my Masters degree I was working full time with a growing family (child #5 was on his way). The course I selected was not only due to the courses available, but also it’s delivery format (Online), and thus the ability to learn when I had the time rather than attending university lectures (and “zoning out” during the lecture) only to miss key information while wondering about the family I had to leave to attend the classes. This was an experience I had too often when completing my undergraduate course (with only one child at home).

The delivery method and the ability to interact, collaborate and get the perspective from students from across the world was a great draw card also. When I got into the course I initially found the format foreign and difficult to navigate, both due to the new format for me, and the family distractions. I soon found my optimum time to think, study and learn was late at night. I was able to sustain this with great support from my extended family, and my untold ability to fully function on 6-8 hours sleep is a bonus.

Today I attended a CEGSA organised day full of workshops related to the Moodle environment for secondary school curriculum delivery. This once again aroused the discussion amongst educators about the flipped classroom, and 24/7 access to learning and resources. I again explained to the group that personally, my optimum time for productive work is late night and repeated my reasoning and examples. This then evolved into a rigorous discussion around the big question;

When do learners learn best? And is this always between during conventional school times?

I would suggest for many students even in the conventional school system, that the majority of their true learning happens in the quiet of their home without the distractions of others.

The only problem with this conventional model means that the teacher is not available to assist students outside of the school times…so what do these students do? They turn to the places they know their friends will be and ask them for help – Facebook or other social networks of choice.

In reality the students have flipped the classroom themselves, and providing the opportunity for students to review and reflect the information at their “optimum learning” time is not a bad thing at all. We must recognise this and rethink our professional practices, the availability of teachers when they are required the most for the learners.

Sometimes when the world around you is asleep and you are awake you can look into the dark and see the future – Unknown

The biggest barrier we face in education is to change what it means to be a ‘teacher’, how we ‘teach’ and genuinely cater for all students in the class. I would love to hear your ideas on my remaining big questions:

What will our education system look like if we cater for learners learning at their “Optimal learning time”

How will the conventional school system integrate this new mode of curriculum delivery?


Don’t flip out! Grab the tool box!

It is great to learn new ways to present learning to students but I believe flipping (although it has its merits) is not always the best method. I would rather see education change from a consumption of information to the apprenticeship of learning. This apprenticeship would teach the tools in the tool box (this may be done in an exploratory manner or flipped). Once the basics of the tools are established including rules and safety precautions. The students are then required to apply this foundation knowledge to the tool and demonstrate competencies in the possible use of it. George Couros wrote a post about the impact the “Flipped” classroom, and how it will not transform schools. His basic description of the Flipped classroom:

The idea of having students spend more time working in the classroom and connecting with the teacher, and having the content shared during a time where they can pause and watch the content at their own speed.

Although Flipped is great in theory there are some floors to the process. Teachers must become guide of learning and experiences. Teachers are the ones to share the Tool box and introduce the learners to appropriate “tool of the trade”.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Aivar Ruukel

“Thinking outside the square”, is a phrase we have all heard and used, but how many of us truly impress this on our students? How many classrooms share the basics information about something and then let the students explore and discover what they can about it?

CHALLENGE: Give a group of students an ambiguous object, maybe an old meat grinder, or a shoe horn. Ask them to hypothesise as to what the item is if you have students who know what the items are have them work on a different item or help with the suggestions about how this item might be used and how it’s purpose could change. This is the traditional model of “thinking outside the square”. Propose that in addition to these theories, students advertise the product, make a TV and printed advertisement. Present a ‘but wait there’s more…a set of steak knives!, in the shopping centre’ type demonstration of the item and see how many others were convinced.

Think about all of the Key Learning Areas the students would be using… Literacy/language, writing, public speaking, math -costings, video editing, desktop publishing, hypothesising (science), Humanities – the history of the item…and the list goes on.

Imaging a classroom where every student was working on their presentation using their chosen tool and media. Allow the students to choose the tools they use for their  project and be there as a guide to support them in their discovery and learning.

I have always held the philosophy that: “You only have complete knowledge when you can teach it to someone else“. In many cases this is true, but the majority of information anyone needs to know these days can be found either by using a search engine (i.e. Google), YouTube for a video demonstration, picture search or even seeking relevant information from social networks. In recent times I have come to revisit my philosophy and am now working under the idea that “Sound knowledge is developed through exploration and meaningful experiences“.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by BenSpark

Given the support and the time everyone can explore, discover and learn. The skills students are coming into schools with today are far broader than just a few years ago. They are now very connected even before they start Kindergarten. As teachers, it would be near impossible to keep ahead of all of our students in terms of technical knowledge and experiences. Thus, we must use the tool box of teaching in a different way. Rather than supplying the information and expecting to have it bounce back rebound style from our student’s when they have “learnt” it, we must provide key information and embrace their creative minds in making the discoveries and learning through their own processes. This may present more challenging to the teachers than the students as there would be no assessment schedule and no guiding boundaries, but this is what we are teaching our students for..an unknown future where they will not only need to be problem solvers but problem finders. they will need to identify local or global issues and then develop strategies to solve them.

This proces of investigation and exploration lends itself to “flipping the classroom” just as equally as conventional “un-flipped”. The process seems to be less of a factor to the learning than the process by which the learning was achieved, and both take the onus off the teacher and puts it back on the learner.

Flipping the roles not the classroom.

How do you provide the tools for your students?

Are your students the investigators or the consumers of learning?