Sunday, January 21, 2018

Bridging Connections to Empower Learners

The other day I was working from home, which is a rarity for me these days.  I huddled in my home office and focused my attention on email, writing a blog post, tweaking some presentations, and updating the digital handouts that all participants get during one of my keynotes or workshops.  Always joining me on these work from home days is my beloved dog, Roxie.  Like usual she was perched on top of the couch sleeping. Her snoring not only brought a smile to my face but also made me jealous that she doesn’t have a care in the world and enjoys the life of a pampered pet. 

Later in the day I moved from my desk and joined Roxie on the couch. Before I knew it I apparently dozed off. I will be the first one to admit that I love naps and inherited this quality from my father. He is always taking an afternoon nap no matter where he is.  I realized I had fallen asleep when my son, Nick, awakened me as he returned home from school. Now I was enjoying one of those deep sleep naps so I was a tad bit annoyed that he interrupted this moment of pure joy. My annoyance with him was short lived as he had woken me up to share a current project that he completed in school.

My 7th-grade son stood above me and in his hands was a bridge that he had built as part of an engineering project. As he provided details on how he went about constructing it, I could see how proud he was of his creation.  In my opinion, Nick was beaming as his bridge ranked the 5th best out of a class of 28 students.  Typically, it is my daughter who comes home from school and consistently engages my wife and me in conversations about how awesome her day of learning was. This is not the case with my son so I relished the opportunity to dive deep into his learning experiences in this particular class.

My son's bridge

My son is fortunate to have engineering every day as a 7th grader.  Throughout the year he has brought home innovative projects that he has created and each has sparked a conversation about why this type of learning is important and how it will benefit him in the real world.  The result of these discussions illustrates how impactful the daily experiences are for him. He has been empowered to own his own learning by actively applying what he has learned in this class while making connections to math, history, and science.  Conceptual mastery translates into what he has been able to effectively build with his hands.  There are also language arts connections as the students are encouraged to write and speak about the engineering principals behind their designs.  This is learning at its finest. 

My son is an empowered learner in engineering as many elements are bridged together to facilitate REAL (relevant, engaging, authentic, lasting) learning.  Pulling from my son’s experience as well as what we know about sound pedagogy, the following elements work together to empower learners:

  • Interdisciplinary connections
  • Authentic contexts
  • Choice
  • Practical application
  • Creation of a product that demonstrates conceptual mastery  
  • Meaningful feedback

As Tom Murray and I state in Learning Transformed, to prepare students for the world of tomorrow we must transform their learning today.  The shift is not as difficult as one might surmise.  As you think about developing or evaluating lessons, learning activities, projects, and performance task ask yourself if the six elements above are integrated.  If they are then the chances are that your students will not only be empowered but also develop a greater appreciation for learning. Happy learners are empowered learners when the right connections and elements are bridged together. 

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