This week’s #dojoChatEU was titled Reimagine Learning, the theme of BETT 2016. The chat organised by ClassDojo was also attended by some other great classroom tools: GoNoodle and Kahoot. As usual here are my responses.
Q1 What does Reimagine Learning mean to you?
For me, this is an ever-evolving concept. The way we help children learn has to be updated all the time. If we even pick the three tools that were engaging in this chat this week and the way they have changed learning is amazing. Five years ago, could anyone have imagined that you could have a full free exercise programme to use with your class for brain breaks or even full lessons? What about the ability to record behaviours in class and share them instantly with parents? What about letting children bring in their mobile phones to answer quizzes that have been created either by the teacher or themselves? When I started teaching, there was no YouTube and social media was only in its infancy. Even if there was, there was no broadband in schools. Before the advent of technology, updates to pedagogy were probably slower than they are now. This means we have to reimagine learning more often. Who knows what tool will make the next transformation in how we do things in our classrooms?
Q2 Do you believe it’s important for educators to think outside the box and reimagine learning? Why or why not?
One of the best things I ever heard at an education conference was from Wei Zhong when he said: I don’t think we should be thinking outside the box. There is no box! I love that. If we take the attitude that there is some abstract concept of a box, sometimes we can be guilty of simply pushing the walls out little by little. When we remove the idea of the box, all we have is space for ideas to bounce around off each other and go in directions you never expect. However, given that this isn’t really the point of the question, my answer to it is a firm yes. We can’t reimagine learning without thinking differently.
Q3 How are you and your students reimagining the learning process?
I’m not currently teaching a class but take small groups of children out almost everyday. Depending on the group, we try different things. For me, I have reimagine my teaching as well as the children’s learning and keep myself updated. Right now, I’m concentrating on maths. I’ve just started reading The Elephant in the Classroom as I’m looking for ways to help some of the children I’m working with. Already, only a few pages into the introduction, every few sentences, I get my mind blown by something I’ve perceived which is just wrong. The students often reimagine learning for me and I think starting any set of lessons with an open-ended problem can yield some amazing results. I remember one of my classes decided to make up a rap to help people remember how to keep safe during the Swine flu epidemic a number of years ago. The result was brilliant and it simply started with the question to them: how can we help people to remember the rules around swine flu?
Q4 What role does technology play in reimagining learning?
I think technology has completely revolutionised learning. I believe it is the single biggest impact on our education system in Ireland since the foundation of the state. I believe while the ability to use technology in the classroom has been around for at least 25 years, I believe we are only really starting to utilise its power and teachers are in very different places in terms of comfort with it. It is quite shocking to note that teaching is still one of the few professions left where one can get away with not using technology, but this is changing rapidly and there are very very few teachers in Ireland not using technology in some way. The pace of change is the big player in terms of how we reimagine learning with new ideas in terms of pedagogy coming out of nowhere almost everyday. These ideas are being shared more quickly than ever before and it’s a very exciting time to be in the profession.
Q5 Can we still reimagine learning without using technology?
Yes, but not completely. There are always ways to reimagine learning without the use of technology. Different methodologies come up all the time. Things like emotional intelligence, mindfulness, meditation, forest classrooms, etc. are all reimagined concepts which do not involve technology.
Q6 How do you reimagine movement?
It’s pretty clear that this question has a correct answer, GoNoodle, which has revolutionised the idea of movement in the classroom. What’s even better is what GoNoodle can inspire. Many of the dances, exercises, etc. in GoNoodle can be reimagined by teachers and pupils to create other movements and these can be recorded too.
Q7 How do you reimagine knowledge?
This question was prefaced with the statement that Kahoot has helped teachers and students reimagine knowledge. It certainly has in some ways as a number of other tools have done. I find this question quite difficult to answer as I think knowledge falls under the umbrella of learning so I’ll tell you my best success story with Kahoot. At a Teachmeet, we got almost 120 teachers all answering a Kahoot quiz at the same time. The top 5 got a prize with the winner getting a night away at a nice hotel in Dublin. If nothing else, it helped reimagine the idea of a raffle!
Q8 What about reimagining the classroom community?
This was ClassDojo’s question and there’s no doubt that ClassDojo is continually reimagining the idea of the classroom community and it is gradually adapting to the sense of the community outside the classroom walls especially with the likes of ClassStory and so on. Little by little, the additions to ClassDojo are giving a new way of building that sense of community.
Q9 So what else can we reimagine in education?
I think, as teachers, we will always strive to think of new ways to help children learn. However, I can’t end this article without talking about the landscape or the climate where a child is learning. In Ireland, we are still in a situation where children are in large class sizes with very poor support for children with extra needs. We are also in a country where our curriculum is outdated and the majority of schools must indoctrinate children in a particular faith. In terms of technology, we have very poor connectivity and we have had a very haphazard history with introducing technology in our schools. We also have zero technical support and most of us are using very old devices or very restrictive ones. These factors can hinder the reimagination of learning as they are barriers.