Friday, February 23, 2007

What is Learning?


I have been contemplating learning. What do I really believe? This is such a complex question, that I want to try to answer. I have so many thoughts, and for me the acquisition of language has been the most difficult. According to Gardner, I am quite confident to say that I would rate my linguistic ability in the bottom half of my abilities of the intelligences. My definite strengths are mathematical-logical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial and naturalistic. My ability to comprehend language is fairly strong, but to me my expressive language is lacking. There is so much I have to say and want to say, but it seems like I have only ever been able to communicate about 10% of what I have mulling around inside of me.

I believe that knowledge is constructed, and that there are certain truths. The amount of knowledge is vast and unfathomable. These truths are created by our society, but nonetheless they comprise standard knowledge. Knowledge is situated and constructed differently by each individual. My daughter knows how to sing and play the piano. She has learned piano by listening and memory; her teacher says she has an “ear” for music. She can’t be bothered to read the notes. She has learned through one type of situation, a cognitive apprenticeship if you like. My son is a very good math student; I believe this is genetic. My father and my three brothers were exceptional math students. One of his strengths is math-logic. He has also become a very good golfer; this he has learned from his family, mainly his father and grandfather (definitely not me). He has learned through a community of learners, repetition and guidance. One area of future interest for him is archeology, and I am quite certain that this came from watching the Learning and History channel, playing computer games like Civilization. He also reads historical novels – the same ones several times. I’m not sure where this love for history came from, but I do know that his love of reading came from my modeling.

Some things that my children know have been self-taught. For example my son can draw and fade his golf ball. His father likes to think that he taught him this, but he didn't. He watches the golf channel for hours. My daughter is very interested in creative writing. She has been writing stories, and magazines on her own for many years. At this very moment, she is working on her magazine (and it isn't for school).

I can honestly say that I recall very little from high school. I did well in most of my subjects, but nothing really mattered to me, other than leaving my family home. Going to school was very difficult. I never felt safe, secure, normal or accepted.

The point I am leading to is that I truly believe that learning can only occur in nurturing, safe and caring environments, and this is what is holding many of our students back from learning, and becoming all that they can be. I think that we have vastly and ignorantly ignored this vital component - this hierarchy of needs for both students and educators. When I was in elementary and high school, I felt very isolated. I hope that as educators, we try to have the understanding and compassion about what many kids are going through each and every day at school. My experiences have shaped me into the educator and person that I am today, and each and every day that I go to school I want to help everyone be all they can be. I want them to feel safe and important. My own children have “learned” the most from these teachers. I believe the thing that matters the most to our students is that they are accepted, nurtured and encouraged. This has to come first; this has to be the foundation. If people feel secure, then they can be guided and coached to learn and thrive. Everyone wants to feel like they truly belong, to a community.

Learning: once we are safe, secure and encouraged to learn, we learn within a situation. Sometimes these situations are forced upon, and sometimes these situations are created by choice, but there has to be a connection to a situation before the learner can begin to construct his/her lown knowledge. Because I feel that motivation is key, I think the learner retains more in a situation of his/her own choosing. The other key indgredient is inate intelligence.

Just a few thoughts…


What’s working well? Well, I think that there are several things that are going well. I think that my journey into blogging is going well. I enjoyed reading Jeff Boulton’s discussion on connectivism – how this peripheral medium facilitates this new learning theory. After perusing a few sites, I realize that this theory seems to be a combination of theories including behaviorism and constructivism. Bloggin allows us to create a community of learners. My next step is to begin the filtering process – creating those connections that I find fit into my situated context of learning.

What brings you great pride and joy? I enjoy watching people learn. Yesterday when I was on a road trip for my son’s midget hockey team I spent some time chatting with my sister-in-law, which we often do, but it isn’t always about learning. She was talking about her community college class, how much she loves the technology and what she is learning. She was so excited talking about PowerPoint and Access. When people are learning and loving to learn, you can see so much pride and fulfillment in their eyes. This makes me happy.

How have you made a difference for good in the lives of those you serve? I can never know for sure; I just hope I have helped a few along the way…

What brings you quiet satisfaction? I really appreciate when other colleagues discuss the important issues. I don’t want to hear the negatives, unless I have to… I want to hear ideas, collaboration and excitement. For too long, (the first ten years of my career) it seemed almost taboo to ask others for help and ideas. This absolutely and completely confused me. I just could not understand the point of this – we weren’t in a race, (I like to win those), there were no big prizes at the end of the day.

What have you learned over the last few months? That is a big question for me today! I have learned so much over the past few months! I have learned more about blogging, podcasts, assessment from Stiggins, connectivism, and much more! I have been reflecting on my journey as a teacher, for my EC & I paper which I am working on. I have learned about problem based learning from our curriculum consultant…. No wonder I’m exhausted!

How can you use this information (above) to move your organization forward? This is the golden question. I feel very strongly that PD needs to be mandated. Teachers are too busy, and I know that many of you are thinking, we’re all busy, it’s just an excuse… Most individuals, professional or not, do not know exactly what professional development will do for them until someone guides and/or pushes them to the starting line… I am going to continue to share my knowledge with my staff and students, and hopefully some of my excitement will rub off on them!

I think that Jeff and Steve should try..... answering.... with very profound answers.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Convention and Sports

I attended our annual teachers’ convention yesterday, which turned out to be only one day because of the new family holiday. For the past (almost twenty) several years, convention has had the same structure: two days, keynote motivational speaker, several greetings, and break-out sessions. Two earlier conventions stand out in my mind: Minot and our own staff retreat to Fort San. These two were fantastic. Minot was a great opportunity for staff bonding. In addition, I was young and we stayed up most of the night singing and visiting. The other convention was a staff retreat which my principal concocted, which turned out to be a success. Not only did we bond, but we had some great PD! We collaboratively developed a vision and we really took some time to understand and appreciate one another.

Anyway, I found this years’ convention to be quite enjoyable, and I think one of the main reasons is because it was a little different. It was one day, and I attended a lunch meeting. I like change and I think so did the majority of the teachers. I’m not sure what I would mandate for convention if I had to decide for the entire school division, but I do think that a little change is important. Convention used to be the only opportunity for PD, but I think that the perhaps the goals need to be readdressed. Are we getting together to socialize with our colleagues? If this is so, then we need structured activities to foster this. Are we getting together for information dissemination? For motivation? For professional development? A combination of purposes? If we need to focus on professional development, then perhaps the one-day shot is not enough.

I have been thinking about the lunch meeting regarding outdoor pursuits, and I was impressed by the passion that I saw from some of my colleagues. I can relate: my kids are actively involved in athletics: hockey, ball, curling, badminton, volleyball and golf. My husband played Junior A Hockey and he loved and lived it, so I understand the passion. I think that some of our school coaches who are passionate about their work could take it to the next level – this is just encouragement. Too often, in my rural setting there are too many kids that can’t compete, especially when it comes to golf. This saddens me because I know how much pleasure my son has obtained from this sport. Some sports are very expensive – golf – equipment, shoes, fees, rain gear… This stuff really is needed, and many kids cannot participate. Other kids can see that they can’t get any better if their parents can’t get them a membership or lessons. Perhaps we can spend more of our money on really developing more of these life-long sports like golf, biking, hiking and curling.

Just a few thoughts…