I’ve been thinking about the end of the cycle of another school year. Of course, there is no end to school really – no end to learning ever. School is simply one anchor point in the day in the life of learners. Educators who recognize this come to teach differently than those who see annual high-stakes tests as the end game. These committed educators aren’t bound by the old traditions of factory schools or the new rituals of corporate-run schools, those teaching places commonly grounded in a Gutenberg model of “write it , print it, read it, and recall it.” They may even work in those places but manage to “teach as a subversive activity.” These teachers understand that learning naturally sustains curiosity, passion, interest, and inquiry within children in their journey towards the rite of passage we call high school graduation.
In reflecting on the natural learning that occurs for children through storytelling, play, simulation, dance, making, and apprenticeship, I am reminded that the invention of the printing press opened the door for school to become synonymous with education. As a result of this, both the culture and measurement of learning shifted from what children were learning to do in natural environments to what they were taught in school to remember.
Today, we know somewhere between early and recent human learning directions lies a space where hands and minds intersect in deep learning. It’s a space that great educators occupy with the learners they serve, inside and outside the walls of the classroom. As an assistant dean of a medical school said at a Bio-Tech conference speaking about the interactive, interdisciplinary, inquiry model being used at his school, “medical students today need to show us what they can do, and embed their knowledge in that.”
More Pk-12 schools need to embrace that approach to learning if we are to create more than “by chance” opportunities for all children to remain curious, inquiring, engaged learners after age four, just as this medical school strives to do. There are public schools doing just that.
I recently had the opportunity to tour an annual interactive museum that’s been in the making since the mid-90s in an elementary school that I know well. The children there have moved over time from showing their “paper-based” portfolio of inquiry, arts, and writing to a portfolio that includes digital and traditional artifacts of their learning. Despite the changes in technologies, educator commitment to “P-based” learning has remained constant in this school. Children ask questions and take apart problems of interest to them through an I-Search process that results in projects about which they are passionate. Their school year cycle ends annually with a culminating Quest Fest at which they share their learning across the school community.
At the Quest Fest, I watched children adding to a collage of geometric shapes in a hallway to create a new mural. “I wonder” videos displayed by first graders captured all their curiosity about things that interested them. A maker classroom was suffused with the delight of children building from milk cartons, cardboard and other people’s discarded treasures. The hallways were full of parents and children, mobile devices in hand, decoding projects through QR codes posted everywhere. Kids stood around explaining their projects and wandered the halls and classrooms looking at other children’s projects.
A schedule of performances offered insights into the children’s work through songs and skits they had written to share.
Inquiry. Writing. Art. The 20th century morphed into the 21st and these children along with their teachers are blending these with new technologies to create opportunities that never before existed.
In many ways, what I observed at the elementary Quest Fest is the best of learning as it has always been – learners wondering, storytelling, playing, making, imitating, depicting, creating, and performing. They are showing what they can do while embedding what they know. I’d like to think, when given natural learning opportunities, children educated in this way will sustain pursuit of “lifelong learning” as a way of being from cradle to grave. What more could a community, state, and nation desire from school for children?
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