I am a bit of a frustrated learner these days. There are so many great learning opportunities available in the areas that interest me and I just don’t have the time to take advantage of them. I wish I could participate in all the amazing #ETMOOC sessions or read the articles available through MIT’s Learning Creative Learning course, but that is just not my reality. This blog post is not meant to be a complaint however, instead I have been fascinated by how the themes of these courses are still having an impact on my thinking and learning despite my not really participating. A couple stories to get things started:
- Have you ever felt like it’s impossible to have an original thought? I have been thinking that lately. After months of struggling with an idea, watching things happen in my classroom and school and reflecting, I finally think I have figured something out. I might even blog about it. Then I will be in the grocery store lineup reading something written my Marshall McLuhan or Seymour Papert 30 years ago that articulates what I have just figured out in much greater detail and eloquence. When this happens I find myself thinking, “I just need to find the time to sit down and read all this stuff written by these great thinkers. Then I could save myself a lot of effort”
- A friend of mine recently explained to me why it took her so long to do 5 math problems for a course she was taking. “I could just plug numbers into the formula” she explained “but then I wouldn’t really understand it.”. Instead she solved each problem by going back to first principles and working out the formulas herself. I found myself thinking “Wow, she really understands how to learn and she’s not even a teacher”.
These stories have got me thinking about the difference between learning someTHING and really understanding it (more on that in a bit); for now I want to reflect on the MOOCs. Despite not having time to do the readings for these courses I have been following the conversations on Google+ and have been aware of the themes. I am fascinated by how the themes have helped me focus my thinking. When the #ETMOOC theme was connected learning I really enjoyed exploring the Nature Path metaphor with a few other teachers; when it was Storytelling I found myself using thinking a lot about storytelling while revamping my gr 6-8 SCRATCH unit plans; when it was DIgital Literacy I found myself reflecting back on posts I had written much earlier on the topic. The point is (I think) that it was really useful to have a broad framework to help guide my thinking and doing, even when I wasn’t awash in the information available to me in the course.
So where am I going with all this? Well, certainly nowhere original, but maybe somewhere that moves my thinking a bit further forwards. What I am finding is that after messing around on my own with some of these themes and topics, when I read something written by someone else that describes the understanding I am moving towards, I feel like I get it at a deeper level. To really understand a THING it is necessary to first mess about with it and place it in a personal context in order to understand it. It doesn’t matter that that THING was already discovered years ago, until I am ready to understand it it is really just a bunch of words. But when I do understand it those undertandings can be connected, and a bigger picture can emerge. This is what it looks like in my head:
Of course I am well aware that there are already lots of fancy terms like constructivism that describe this understanding, but I like that I feel closer to my own understanding of this process. Of course, once I drew this graphic I started to think about what traditional curriculums packed with content look like. Here is what I came up with:
Lots of THINGS to learn, and no room to develop a personal understanding or make connections. Seems sort of pointless, doesn’t it.