The School of 2017 (Part 1)

2017 is almost here and it’s important that we, as teachers, take time to reflect on our teaching and learning strategies for the year and how we will be progressing in 2017. I think it’s amazing to see what teachers across the globe have been doing to improve the learning in their classrooms and in their schools. We’re currently seeing an incredible maker space movement in many schools (in which I’m currently planning and rolling out one at my school). We’re seeing a transition to inquiry- and problem-based learning, even in non-IB schools. We’re seeing an incredible emphasis to learning in the classroom and a strong desire to not just teach for an exam.

As we enter the new year, it will be important to ask ourselves what the classroom in 2017 should look like and what we actually want teaching to be. Unfortunately, I cannot see into the future, so I will use this space to describe what I think teaching and learning should look like in the coming year(s).

In this first post, I will focus on what school-wide programs I would like to see and that I believe will make a good community that enforces schools.

Student-Led Learning

Although there are a multitude of institutions giving us syllabi for learning topics, the method of teaching and learning is usually still left up to individual schools and/or districts themselves. Schools should be creating more opportunities for students to lead and plan the learning in their own classrooms.

I recently had the opportunity to learn that some schools are instituting an Edcamp period where students are completely left to decide what they will be learning and how they will be learning it. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t just thrown into a room with a bunch of stuff while the teacher sits at the desk grading papers. No, no, no. This is a carefully planned, methodical process that is a learning opportunity in and of itself. Planning, the 4 C’s (communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity), IT skills, etc. are all involved in the process. And the school is finding that students are now interested in their school and are developing passions for learning. “I used to hate school, and now I can’t wait to come,” says one student1 involved in having an Edcamp period once a day. Another student says, “It’s fun to watch teachers learning too. A lot of time we are figuring it out together, which is cool.”

At the school where I’m currently teaching KS3 science, I have one odd period a week where it’s only 40 minutes by itself. I will be rolling out an Edcamp period for my students to see how it goes before recommending it to the school SLT for inclusion across the school.

Design-minded Environments

Maker spaces are all the rage right now. I recently attended the EduTECH 2016 conference in Singapore in which there was a massive section of the vendor section dedicated to maker-spaces. Schools have begun to see the value in letting students just play, and learning from that play. The key success to maker spaces, I believe, is that students have the time and the freedom to create whatever they want without the judgmental faces of teachers looking down on them. The beauty of having time to play is that they are trying to create something and may fail along the way. Many (if not most!) students shutdown when teachers tell them “no, that’s not correct.” Or, “try harder.” The creation itself is the feedback they need that tells them whether they are doing something correctly, and they can free explore learning to fail without feeling like they’ve failed.

Back in my school, we’ll be rolling out our first maker space in January. I’ve purchased two kits of the Gizmos and Gadgets Littlebits kits to see how the kids take to their new environment. We’ve designated a certain classroom to be the maker space and will be setting up a calendar resource in our G Suite for Edu domain where students can book the room during their break or lunch times. One table will be devoted to the Littlebits, another table to a Raspberry Pi with the Kano OS installed. I would like to add a third table as a non-computing station, so I may put some craft supplies, building bricks or something else to harness the students’ creative sides.

Active Citizenship

Many of my readers will know that active citizenship in schools is my main focus at this point in time and I believe it to be incredibly important that schools start harnessing more than just teaching civics and PSHE in their classes. Schools should be thought about as a community, and students should be encouraged, if not required, to take active steps in learning how to be leaders in that community.

The MYCITIZEN program2 has been very effective in opening up students in learning about their responsibilities and privileges of being a citizen of not only their school but their country as well. The program puts the learning into the hands of the students to fulfill the requirements and advance up the ladder. Requirements include learning about their school, participating in community service, participating in and leading school assemblies, etc.

Thinking about a citizenship as a way of connecting the disciplines at school and learning leadership will become ever increasingly important in the days to come. In fact, I think it would be safe to generalize it completely and say that inter-disciplinary learning that gets students out of the classroom and into the real world through authentic learning will be the cornerstone of any good school in 2017.

Notes

  1. Ferguson, H. (2016) ‘Giving students a voice!’, Edcamp Foundation, 16 March. Available at: http://www.edcamp.org/blog-post/giving-students-voice (Accessed: 28 December 2016).
  2. Please contact me if you are interested in this program for your own school

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