Connections and Learning

21 10 2012

I just spent a day at a teacher librarian’s conference where I was surrounded by people who are excited about change in education and at the same time scared stiff.  Chris Kennedy, Superintendent of West Vancouver School District gave the Keynote speech.  He talked about the role of teacher librarians in technological implementation in schools. I was intrigued by a few things that he said, so after reading his blog, I took a look at the work of Will Richardson, via this TEDxMelbourne presentation .

Richardson is a big voice for educational reform.  He has some interesting ideas, but one in particular made me crazy.  He said something to the effect of there is no point in learning facts, you can look them up on google.  I have to disagree, a lot.  Education is more than learning facts.  Could you google an article on foreign policy and read it if you had to look up every country, every politician and every big word?  I know I couldn’t. How about math? If you don’t know basic addition are you ever going to understand algebra? Calculus? Chemistry? No.

Education needs to be about training your brain how to find answers, not about getting them.  There is merit in learning basic facts, they allow us to make connections to other ideas and form questions.

I am very interested in the work of George Siemens who is the founder of the Connectivism: Open Social Learning theory.  He argues that learning is all about making connections. Something elementary teachers have been fostering for years.  This is not a new idea, but how we use it in a technological age is. Siemens talks about “Sensemaking not learning.” When learners have the tools of their sensemaking under their own control, they have the capacity to shape and direct the activities that they find meaningful.”

He says that Open Social Learning is:

  • responsive to the needs of the individual
  • adaptive
  • fluid, varied and contextual

I’m not convinced that this is not already happening in elementary schools.  We use “think, pair, share,”  we encourage group work and group learning, we take advantage of “teachable moments,” we adapt lessons and curriculum to the needs of the students, we try to teach in themes to make sure our students are learning in context. Perhaps our educational leaders need to be elementary school teachers instead of University Professors. That is one thing I do agree with Richardson about.  Teachers need to start screaming about what we believe in, and stop being so polite. Otherwise we are going to have an education system which is built by politicians and businesspeople.

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