Learned much you have…

Emerging Theories of Learning and the Role of Technology (Doak), Jenkins 2013; Willms et al 2009

It perhaps comes as no surprise that the Jedi order crumbled. Their insistence on holding onto an archaic educational model where the teacher delivers lessons to a student without an opportunity for questions does not seem as though it would provide a rich learning environment. Instead, it is possibly to the Sith, we should look to for inspiration. Here, students are encouraged to ask questions of their mentor, to form a close bond as teacher and student push each other in order to reach higher achievement, and their one-to-one mentoring program is second to none. Although, the whole rule of two thing has been known to backfire from time to time. Intergalactic space wizards aside,  opportunities for deep learning are being created through New Pedagogies that encourage closer human connections.

time lapse photography of man dancing
Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unplash


When I joined my current school there was a huge pedagogical shift taking place where the focus was moving towards student-centered learning. Over the past few years, it has been an exciting time to be working as an educator. The difference at a student level of moving away from a traditional model of education has been one of more open collaboration and excitement, particularly where new technologies are involved. I run a design and coding club for students where the emphasis is on students learning from one another and sharing ideas. I found Emerging Theories of Learning and the Role of Technology (Doak) affirmed the approaches I was trying to take. When discussing Distributed Cognition Doak referenced a case study in which students used flow charts to construct robots with LEGO Mindscapes. These flow charts offloaded some of the cognitive work which then allowed them to solve more complex problems. I am currently using SAM Labs which allows students to create and program a variety of different systems. I have found that by using flowcharts the students have been able to apply what they have learned to solve increasingly difficult problems. Last week, for example, the students created a system where a car would move when an RGB LED turned green. The students were then asked to work in teams to create a 4-way intersection where vehicles would stop at a red light and go on a green light. It was exciting to see the students step up to these challenges and even try to take it further by, in the case of one group, by adding an encryption sequence to initialize their system.

Learning Theories in action

Personally, when I think of new pedagogies one of the first educators who really made me reflect on my own teaching was Dan Meyers.

His 3-Act Math tasks have an incredible impact on the classroom and it’s amazing to see a shift in student discourse from simply trying to solve a problem to really considering what the problem is asking. I think his quote, “The math serves the conversation, the conversation doesn’t serve the maths” is profound and it’s something that I’ve tried to carry over across other subject areas. During my maths classes it was apparent how the students had displayed both situated cognition and socially-shared cognition (Emerging Theories of Learning and the Role of Technology Doak) and, in my opinion, this is what it means to have an authentic learning environment where students are taking an active role in their learning communities. Even students who typically struggle with maths were engaged and able to participate, even when they needed additional support in the computation.

(As a brief aside Dan’s blog largely lists 3-Act tasks for middle and high school but there are other educators such as Graham Fletcher who took influence from Dan and created their own lessons. Fletcher’s blog can be found here.)

Could there be issues that arise from new pedagogies?

More than ever, my school have a lot of emerging English speakers joining the upper elementary grade levels and even into middle school. For many of these students, teachers will ask other members of their learning community or paraprofessionals to translate instructions. In some cases, however, this approach to inclusivity is having the adverse effect of some students using their home languages more than English. At recess times we are seeing a split community and so I would ask what other schools have done or if this has been an issue? Our language policy is centered around honoring the home language, but perhaps too much so? I find myself wondering how it is possible to honor the home language while simultaneously ensuring that English becomes our shared language.



3 Replies to “Learned much you have…”

  1. Hi Simon, I enjoyed reading your post because you talk about how your school has shifted from a more traditional model of teaching to a student-centered model. I find that this is what I am longing for in a school. I’ve only really worked at schools that use more traditional methods of teaching. As I read through the blog posts each week, I read all of the authentic ways teachers are getting their students to learn. I know I can make changes in my own classroom, but it would be great to work in a place that makes that shift as a school. Did your school get rid of “packaged curriculums” and create their own units? What was the biggest change?

    Also, are the 3-Act Tasks only from MS and HS? I teach 4th grade and am always looking for ways to enhance our current curriculum.

    In regards to your comment about the difficulty of students speaking their home languages more often than English, especially at times such as recess, I think this is pretty common. At my school, we encourage students to speak in English, but we also want to honor students’ home languages. One thing we teach students is that they should be mindful of the people around them. We reinforce the idea that they should speak the common language (English) when students who do not speak their home language are around. We discuss why and the importance of making sure those around us understand. Our students are pretty good at this, but need reminds from time to time.

    I have also encouraged students who tend to sit amongst their home cultures to sit with someone from another culture at least once a week. This is one way to encourage cultural groups to branch out and make new friends.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas!

    1. Hi Andrea,

      Our school began by taking Unit of Inquiry central ideas from one of our sister schools but then it was up to teachers and PYP coordinator to develop them. I remember feeling overwhelmed at the beginning and it was a lot of work to get them to a place where it felt students were learning from one another as well as from the teacher. We still have a very structured maths curriculum but teachers are free to remix it as they want.

      Thank you for answering my question about language! It’s hard to find the right balance and it sounds as though your school is doing the same as my own. We have a large ESOL team who are doing their best to support students with language acquisition but they are spread thin. I like your approach of reminding students that not everyone speaks their home language, I try to do the same i order to build an inclusive community.

      Graham Fletcher has a lot of 3-act tasks aimed at younger grades in his blog https://gfletchy.com/3-act-lessons/. They are sorted by grade level and CCSS. I hope this is helpful, I’ve had lots of fun with some of the Fourth-Grade lessons!

  2. Hi Simon,

    I liked your clever intro comparing our education to the Jedi order’s. It hooked me from the start. It sounds like your club is a role model for new pedagogies, “I run a design and coding club for students where the emphasis is on students learning from one another and sharing ideas.”

    If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about the practice of translating instructions to the home language. Those kids are old enough they are probably literate in their home language and it will only help them be successful with the new content. In fact, if someone can reteach them in their home language, that would be a bonus. I promise you, they are getting more than enough English input throughout the school day. In fact, they are probably getting more than their brains can handle during one day. Can you imagine an hour lecture or lesson in a language you’re just learning? Then multiply it by a few. I’m learning Russian and if a conversation is longer than a few minutes, I start to shut down! 🙂 I’ve been a second/additional language teacher for 24 years and I share these comments from my experience.

    All the best and thanks again!

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