The following post was written by Gerald Haigh, and takes inspiration from a post on Anthony Salcito’s ‘Daily Edventures’ blog. We've previously shared a number of posts from Daily Edventures, particularly when they feature UK educators, and members of our Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert community.
‘Daily Edventures’ is a continuously evolving blog by Microsoft Global Education Vice President Anthony Salcito. Described as his ‘365-day look at global heroes in education’, it features stories about, and interviews with, educators from around the world all of whom have in common an innovative and optimistic vision of technology as a powerful agent for change.
That said, the common feature of all Anthony’s stories is that they are first and foremost about teaching and learning. Technology features of course, but always in support of the learning vision. Sometimes, indeed, you have to follow a link to discover more detail about the technology content of the story, and even then the focus is not always on this or that specific Microsoft application.
‘Daily Edventures’ has many inspirational examples that illustrate this approach. All make rewarding reading. However, my attention this week was caught particularly by an interview with Steve Isaacs.
Steve is a Middle School teacher in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, within commuting distance of New York City. He specialises in Video Game Design and Development and credits ‘Minecraft’ with transforming his teaching.
As you read Steve’s interview, what comes through most strongly is his belief in, and commitment to, encouraging students to take control of their learning. In common with an increasing number of educators across the world, including in UK, he believes that the established classroom model whereby a teacher lectures to students within the confines of a rigid timetable, is no longer sufficient. As Anthony quotes him;
"I think [students] need more time to explore and create. I believe a model that allows students to find an area they are passionate about and follow that on a deeper level would provide greater opportunities."
Now anyone who has been in education for a long time knows that innovative teachers and school leaders have often tried to establish less directive learning environments, based on individual or group projects. On my bookshelf, for example, is ‘The Integrated Day in the Primary School’, by Mary Brown and Norman Precious, two Leicestershire head teachers. Published in 1968, it describes, in words that foreshadow those of Steve Isaacs, an approach in which children were set free to follow their interests, unhindered by timetables or subject boundaries.
"The natural flow of activity, imagination, language, thought and learning…..is not interrupted by artificial breaks such as playtime or barriers….The child also has the time to pursue something in depth even though it may take several days."
The book by Brown and Precious, and their vision of the classroom, generated much interest globally. There were schools in the USA which claimed to have ‘gone Leicestershire’.
The reality, however, was that, although their ideas were broadly influential, the pure Brown and Precious version of the boundary-free classroom with individual projects, was neither common nor long-lasting. A good friend of mine tried it at the time, and despite being a gifted teacher, he found it logistically unmanageable. He had the self-awareness to realise that keeping track of progress, providing adequate resources, spotting individual needs in a class of thirty-plus was all just too much.
Now, though, we have technology, and Steve Isaacs can say,
"Putting students in charge of their learning allows them to create and innovate. Technology provides wonderful tools to inspire and engage them in this process. I believe strongly in providing choice to allow students to find their passion in a learning environment that nurtures them in this process. It has become a goal of mine to provide a rich collection of resources and tools for students to explore in order to learn and create content in an environment that is exciting to them."
So there are two crucial differences between that 1968 vision and what Steve is doing. One, obviously, is the availability of a range of technologies which will track student progress in real time, promote collaboration and give access to almost limitless resources, removing many of the logistical barriers which my friend encountered fifty years ago. The other, though – and it’s crucial to realise this as you read Steve’s ideas -- is the emphasis on creating as well as consuming.
"I have created a studio-like environment in my learning space that allows students to choose tools that they would like to work with in order to create games and complete other projects; students need to utilise authentic resources to learn from."
‘Minecraft’ has a key part to play.
"Introducing Minecraft into the classroom forced me to truly embrace student expertise as many of my students had been playing for years, managing their own servers, etc. I learned to let go of control and learn with and from my students, something I have become very passionate about."
Do read Steve’s story for yourself, together with the many others which Anthony Salcito discovers on his apparently never-ending global odyssey. There’s much more there than I can cover here, and Steve’s links lead to some fascinating places.
The lasting image for me here, though, is that of the classroom as a studio – a place for reflective creation, where ideas can be nurtured and brought to reality. A thought to conjure with.