I have been involved in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for the past nine weeks titled Deeper Learning. During this course many of the discussions and links provided have connected to the school improvement strategies and thoughts my staff have begun to implement.
Deeper learning involves a focus on content knowledge, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, communicating, learning how to learn, and doing so with an academic mindset. Marc Chun in a March 14th Ted Talk discussed Deeper Learning and its relationship with the transfer of knowledge; both near and far. He defined the transfer of knowledge as simply taking something learned at one point in time and using that knowledge to influence performance at another point of time. Chun stated the importance of this premise by suggested that every teachers goal should be that students learn the ability to transfer everything they learn in the classroom to situations outside the school walls.
At my current school we have been looking at achievement, performance, and effort data and trying to make sense of the patterns and anomalies that exist in these numbers. One hypothesis I have generated is that we are lacking a transfer of knowledge from one grade to the next. Our school goal centers around numeracy and the development of basic skills and building an understanding for problem solving (through math vocabulary and critical thinking). Through our discussion as a staff we have created a series of charts and statements to show what we are doing now, and where we would like to go in the future in terms of how we learn numeracy.This reflection on what we are doing now leads to the obvious question of WHY. Why do we teach numeracy in this manner? WHAT could we be doing differently? And finally, HOW do we get there?
That first question of why seems to resonate throughout the deeper learning course. In order to understand what we are doing we first need to establish why it is being done. It is not good enough any more to explain to students that they are learning math to prepare them for college or university. Students need an understanding on how math can influence their lives today and tomorrow. By learning through a problem based model or a constructivist approach students can live the math that surrounds them and build on the information that they already possess. Student can start to understand why math is important and transfer that information to everyday life; to use math to solve common problems they face daily.
I led a professional development day for a number of my colleagues in late February, the title of the day was Why Technology. We focused our discussion on the goal for implementing technology in our schools, that is developing an understanding of the specific purpose for using the device and how to measure the learning. I showed a TED talk, performed by Simon Sinek (How great leaders inspire action), in this talk Sinek also discussed the importance of developing the understanding of why something is being done. When people understand why they are doing a task it makes the task more meaningful and encourages the growth mindset. For my school this has meant reflecting on where we currently are and questioning everything in an effort to build a picture of what numeracy means for learners. The question that we are working on really becomes, if you were a student in this school what would you be learning in math class, and how is that benefiting you outside of the school walls?
Deeper Learning is a good phrase for learning, for me it identifies key competencies that need to be included in all tasks performed at the school. Chun stated that in order to develop the transfer of knowledge, student learning needed to focus on the deeper learning competencies and educators needed to reflect on whether the transfer was productive. This may seem like a daunting task but students are waiting for us to take this lead and provide education that is engaging and meaningful.
The challenge for my school is to get from good to great, and to do this we need to develop a growth mindset and provide collaborative learning tasks that challenge students to think and transfer their knowledge to new concepts. This Deeper Learning is not a catch phrase it is good teaching and engaging learning.