PBL and Real Life Learning (Part 1)

If you take a kid to school, what do you hope they will learn?  School is a complicated place, especially these days.

Really, the list of things you hope kids will learn at school is HUGE!  (As a teacher, the list of things that we want kids to learn seems ENDLESS.)

We want kids to learn to read, write, be able to do math, learn about the world and cultures, learn about Science and nature, technology, the arts... the curriculum list goes on. But wait - we also want our kids to be kind and have good character, not to mention have a growth mindset. As teachers we know that home support is vital in helping children to develop and learn.

Instead of being overwhelmed with everything I want my students to learn, or I am required to teach, I focus on the main goal of school: learning how to think and learning how to learn.

The best way I have found to do this is to teach with integrated units and use an inquiry approach to learning. When I teach this way and embed social and emotional learning throughout the day, students rise to the challenge of independent learning freeing me up to spend more 1-1 time with students and work on their thinking and communication skills.

When I first began teaching, integrated units involved picking a theme (apples, Halloween, butterflies) and integrating reading, writing and math into this unit.  The less effective integration of math into an apples unit would be a page of addition questions with apples to color on it.  The more effective one would be weighing apples, sorting apples, measuring the distance around an apple - which one is larger? These units were a lot of fun and the effective units helped students to learn all about that theme.

But the world is evolving and changing and school needs to change too. I want my students to become creative and critical thinkers.  I want them to be problem solvers.  I want to believe in their strengths and abilities and provide learning opportunities that will help them through the inquiry process for deeper learning. Keeping your classroom environment up to date and moving along with your desire to teach your students how to think more deeply about their learning will help to engage your students in their learning.

So what does this look like in a more practical way?

If you take a kid to school, what do you hope they will learn?

  • I want my students to engage in meaningful conversations which includes being a good listener.
  • I want my students to ask each other essential questions and share their wonders with each other and not just answer my questions.
  • I want my students to respectfully disagree with each other and with me to help build arguments that help us grow and learn from each other.
  • I want my students to be able to see life and situations from different perspectives.
  • I want my students to persevere with problems even when things get tough.
  • I want my students to feel good about themselves as unique individuals.
  • I want my students to be socially responsible for a bigger cause.
  • I want them to begin seeing the link of their interests and skills to future careers.

Real Life Learning

The integration of subjects in elementary school is not new.  Teachers (especially primary teachers) have taught this way for years. Some of us pick a theme and run with it!  But if I want to really have my students become critical and creative thinkers for the future of their learning, I want to expand those themes to real life.  I want to make the learning relevant; even at a young age.  I want to incorporate some very fun ideas into the day in an integrated fashion where kids are learning how to learn more independently.

The other aspect of this is that when you integrate learning and shift the emphasis of teaching and learning to the students, you as the teacher will feel a renewed sense of wonder in the learning capabilities of your students and pride in what they are able to accomplish.

I have spent several years doing "personalized learning", passion projects and genius hour with my students.  How is Real Life Learning (or, project based learning) different?  Well, my favorite saying I have come up with through all of this is "One day genius hour will just be called SCHOOL."  I think that day is right now. I would like my students to be creators and collaborators in real life. Don't you?

Over the summer, I will be back to the creating drawing board and looking at real life learning.  Interested?  Stay tuned.  Right now I need to work on finishing off another successful school year.  Now THAT'S real life. :)

See part 2 Think Like a...  here.

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