Thursday, April 20, 2017

Learning Sciences; Demystifying Instruction

How do people learn?

For centuries, educators and philosophers have wrestled with this simply stated, but confounding, question. Understanding how the mind works were left mostly to introspection or analogous comparisons with hydraulic systems, telephone switchboards, and computer circuitry. Dr. Daniel T. Willingham, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Virginia, and author of "Why Don't Students Like School?" mentions these representations aren't based on scientific investigation or research.


"Is it possible our long-held beliefs about teaching and learning are based on supposition, opinion, and anecdotal insight into how the mind works?"

Technology and scientific research is changing what we thought we knew about brain development and functions of the mind. Teaching and learning will undoubtedly change as this new information becomes readily available to educators. 

In an article recently published in ISTE's magazine, Entrsekt, Jennifer Fink tells us, "Learning sciences are an interdisciplinary science, informed by neuroscience, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, sociology, and computer science." Simply, learning sciences, a relatively new field of research, is the study of how people learn.



Our minds and our learning are always changing. Learning sciences are revealing new methodologies and new resources for teachers. Instructional designer, Mindy Johnson, says it's important for educators to adapt their instruction according to what science is teaching us about learning.

Learning sciences is busting some myths about the inner workings of our minds:
  • Information processing is distributed across both hemispheres of the brain.
  • Brain development continues well into adulthood and neural density can increase or decrease throughout our lifespan.
  • Background knowledge significantly impacts current and future learning.
  • Learning styles theories, while often criticized, provide experiential relevance to the class content.
Surprisingly, the brain is not designed for thinking, rather it's designed to save us from having to think. It's automaticity that allows us to do everyday tasks, like driving, without thinking about them. Dr. Willingham says people are intrigued by solvable problems. In other words, curiosity and relevance are key factors of engaged thinking. "The difficulty of a problem", says Willingham, "is enormously important." This means our minds do not readily engage when presented with problems that are either too easy or too difficult to solve. Understandably, differentiation and personalization of learning are supported by learning science research.

In a world where students can acquire information easily and almost instantly, it's essential for students to learn how to learn, and to learn more about their own learning. This knowledge will make learners better able to adjust and thrive in a rapidly changing modern environment. Metacognition and reflection will raise awareness about a student's thought processes and learning techniques. Learning sciences indicate the importance of personal relevance and social interaction to engaged thinking. Immediate, meaningful feedback is proving to be very helpful in advancing student learning.

Learning sciences are a new and evolving field of study. Scientific research of the brain is helping us gain a better understanding of the mind. This new knowledge will help educators take guess work out of some long-standing classroom practices, many which have no basis in science or research. Ultimately, this will lead to increased student engagement, greater personal fulfillment, and strategies that cultivate life-long learning. Perpetuating learning in a modern world, where would you rank this on your list of meaningful school endeavors?

Photo Credit: Elisa Rivas, Pixabay CC0

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Four Reasons Why a Library Makerspace Makes Perfect Sense

"Making in the library is about offering students opportunities to move from simply being users and consumers to being creators, by providing them with the spaces, tools, and resources they need."  - Laura Fleming


Under what conditions does your best learning occur? Many folks, myself included, say their best learning happens when they create something previously non-existent. Where are the places in your school where learning happens, not through instruction and a prescribed curriculum, but through inquiry and exploration? Where is the central hub of your school learning community? A maker space may be just the thing for breathing relevancy and energy into your school library, or media center. According to Nick Provenzano, aka "The Nerdy Teacher," these are the four essential reasons why a media center makerspace makes sense; space, furniture, supervision, and access.
  • School media centers provide open, flexible space. Collaboration, interaction, and hands-on engagement need space for versatility and movement. Visible, transparent learning will ignite curiosity and interest from teachers and students.
  • Tables and chairs that offer flexibility and comfort send signals that the media center is an inviting space for freedom, creativity, and innovation. To create unique areas, look for furniture that slides or rolls. Oversized pillows and carpet squares provide spaces for students to sit comfortably while making. Writable surfaces and Lego walls provide opportunities for visible, design thinking.
  • The library staff provides watchful eyes to help students feel safe and supported. Much like the shifting role of the classroom teacher, library personnel should be asking driving questions instead of providing answers. Making is a personal, participatory adventure that doesn't require regimented guidance.
  • Extended hours and almost limitless availability mean more time for creativity and innovation. It strikes a special chord when students become so engrossed in their making that they lose track of time and don't want to leave.
An inviting, engaging makerspace will significantly alter the media center climate. Ultimately, the library makerspace will impact a school-wide learning culture. Makerspaces provide the conditions for some of our best learning. For many schools, the library provides the best fit for accessible, participatory learning. I've shared four important reasons for hosting a makerspace in your school library. Of course, there are more. I invite you to turn this post into a discussion by sharing your thoughts on media center maker spaces in the comments section.

References and Resources

Fleming, Laura. Worlds of Making: Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a SAGE, 2015.

Provenzano, Nicholas. Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces. United States: Blend Education, 2016.

"Why Personalized Learning Should Start in School Libraries." ESchool News. 02 Feb. 2017. Web. 22 Feb. 2017.

Photo credit: DigitalsKennedy, Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Finding the Fulcrum

In 2016, twice as many Americans obtained their news online instead of print. Approximately 3/4 of adult Americans interact with others through social media. Nine out of ten Americans are online, and a majority of these users are using time online to support personal or professional learning. I'm sure that I'm not the only person who finds it challenging to find a balance between personal and professional learning while online.




As time passes, an increasing percentage of the information and interaction that I seek in the name of learning is gathered online. The line between personal and professional learning is becoming blurred. I'm not sure if this is the result of time limitations, or professional ambitions putting the squeeze on personal interests. For example, I would like to start a podcast about pond fishing, but here I am writing about learning and education.


Reading Aaron Davis's recent post, "Templated Self", my perceived challenge of online time took a turn when he asks, "what do we mean by "real world" experiences, what do we mean by digital literacies?" I found myself wondering if my online presence is templated, and if so, how much control do I have in my online identity? In other words, are we manipulating our online spaces, or are they manipulating us?

It was Dave White's "Visitor / Resident" mapping exercise that prompted me to map and share my digital interactions. Initially, I used icons as hyperlinks to invite more engagement and interaction. Later, I realized the V/R mapping activity, which is an ongoing process, allows for deeper reflection of how I leverage online spaces. It's a visual interpretation of my digital self. Is this the same as a template?

At ISTE 2016, Dean Shareski challenged a group of us to consider digital dualism. Does online branding dehumanize us? Like others in my PLN, Dean suggests it's better to own rather than rent. Each person should have an online space to establish residency, contribute to communities, and create their templates. He encourages us to keep it real by retaining our humanity and authenticity in digital spaces.

Recently, Danah Boyd suggested that increases in online participation are shifting the ways in which we are manipulated by digital information. What are the motives of gaining attention and sharing information online? Are we becoming a generation of skilled manipulators?

The original intention of this post was to express a personal challenge of balancing time spent learning between personal and professional learning and balancing digital and analog resources. That ship seems to have sailed. The theme of this post then shifted to finding a balance of control over our online spaces. Are we living two lives? What is the appropriate mixture of online and offline? Where's the balance? The thought of misrepresenting myself with a digital template is a bit disconcerting. I've never personally met many of the folks in my personal learning network, but I believe that when we do finally meet face-to-face, it will feel somewhat like a reunion of old friends.

photo credit: Pixabay CC0 - Public Domain; Ralf Kunze