Recently when working with a group of educators, I asked the question, “What is the role of the educator in the classroom?” I received many responses such as facilitator, coach, encourager, content provider, and organizer. While all relevant answers, the response I was hoping for was designer. I feel that one of the most important roles an educator can take is that of being a designer of rich learning experiences.
Designing rich learning activities always begins with the end in mind. What is it that we want our learners to have achieved and learned at the end of the unit? How will the learners demonstrate understanding of a concept? What is the problem the learners will solve? What skills will the learners obtain? Will the learners be working in a collaborative environment? What modes of communication will the learners be using? How will the learners share what they have learned with others? Can technology be used to construct knowledge in ways that were impossible before? What choices will the learners have in the activity to guide their own learning? As educators, these are the questions we must ask ourselves if we want to truly plan for and design learning in the 21st century.
A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a professional development training with 49 other educators from around the world. One of the goals of this training was to build a common language among educators so global collaboration would become more of a reality in our schools. To build this common language, we began discussing, debating, and analyzing learning activities with a set of rubrics developed by ITL Research which was sponsored by Microsoft Partners in Learning and conducted by the Stanford Research Institute. Working with the 21st Century Learning Design rubrics provided me with the tools necessary to view lesson design in a new light and really begin to make transformative decisions in my approach to teaching and learning. The research challenged me to be a better educator and raise the bar for learners in the classroom. 21st century skills aren’t just another thing to teach; they are essential skills that every learner should have as they leave our schools.
Being able to break down an activity and focus on one dimension of learning at a time provided me with not only a better understanding of the 21st century skill but also how to design learning activities to ensure these skills were being purposefully implemented in the activity. The ITL research identifies the six dimensions of learning as Knowledge Construction, Collaboration, Use of ICT, Real-world problem- solving and innovation, Self-Regulation, and Skilled Communication. The rubric below is an example from the learning dimension of collaboration. Once an educator has a clear understanding of how collaboration is defined, they are able to analyze learning activities to understand to what degree that dimension of learning was implemented in the activity. In a nutshell, educators grow to become designers of learning activities. With enough practice, debate, and discussions with other educators around the rubrics, over time, educators are then able to change they way they think about learning design to integrate these skills purposefully into future lessons.
5 = Students DO have shared responsibility AND they DO make substantive decisions together about the content, process, or product of their work AND their work is interdependent.
4 = Students DO have shared responsibility AND they DO makesubstantive decisionstogether about the content, process, or product of their work BUT their work is not interdependent.
3 = Students DO have shared responsibility BUT they ARE NOT required to make substantive decisions together.
2 = Students DO work together BUT they DO NOT have shared responsibility.
1 = Students are NOT required to work together in pairs or groups.
The one thing that all successful schools have in common is a collaborative staff. I encourage educational leaders to start conversations around learning design in your learning communities. Use the ITL Research as a guide for having rich discussions, debates, and implementation plans that are measurable by the types of activities educators design for their learners. Let’s not just talk about 21st century skills; let’s show the world how our learners are achieving success in the 21st century. Let’s encourage all educators to not be just a teacher, but to be a learning designer.
When I was a child, I used to watch shows like MacGyver. I would often take found objects around the house that were essentially garbage, and use items like tape, glue, nails, paint, and of course glitter and build things from the “junk” because I wanted to be an inventor/designer of something new. I also used to own a home chemistry kit and often found myself trying to simulate science experiments at home from household items. I know what you are thinking, and no, I wasn’t that kid trying to make a bomb. I just was curious by nature to discover how things worked and what would happen if things were altered. Just like MacGyver, I was always looking for ordinary items around the house that I could use to create something new. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home with a set of supportive parents who were always willing to let me build that dining room fort, assist me in my household chemistry experiments, and provide the “junk” and tools to build something out in my dad’s workshop. So when I think about intellectual curiosity, I immediately think of Cane’s arcade.
With only cardboard boxes, a great imagination, and the loving support of his father, this child’s curiosity has sparked the interest of not only of his community but the world. So, my question is, how do our classrooms support this creative intellectual curiosity? Does your classroom have supplies readily available for students to create, explore, and construct? Are you the educator who when a learner asks how to do something or if they can do something you give them the encouragement to problem solve and tackle the question on hand?
I think the main key is having supplies readily available to experiment with. It’s much easier learning things hands on. I think we see these types of classrooms more frequently in the elementary setting, but these exploratory skills need to embraced in all classrooms. We need to support the creative inquisitive nature of learners and foster a classroom in which learners can feel free to collaboratively work to construct knowledge, which often begins with an empty cardboard box or popsicle stick.