Reflection

On the Power of Inquiry and Language

#DigiURI Reflections (Part 1)

On ancestry and identity [Street art in Providence, RI]

The 2019 Summer Institute in Digital Literacy (#DigiURI) was a five-day, immersive workshop experience which took place in the Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Education and Professional Studies, in the University of Rhode Island, Providence. The program is the brain child of Julie Coiro, who joined forces with her dyad partner Renee Hobbs to bring to life one of the most intense and insightful learning experiences I’ve had to date. And mind you, dear reader, I have had my fair share of deep learning experiences. Lucky me 🙂

There is certainly a lot to process still. And I must say that I was privileged to have been accompanied by a group of brilliant Brazilian educators, all engaged in the promising Educamídia program, set forth by the Instituto Palavra Aberta and supported by Google.org. Educamídia was created to empower educators and educational organizations, as well as to engage society in the process of youth media education by developing their communication potential in various media.

This week, my dyad partner Carla Arena and I had the chance of sharing some of our most powerful takeaways from our experience at the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy (video above). We chatted in Portuguese then (we are Brazilian), but I would like to begin sharing my most compelling insights with you in this post.

Inquiry at the Core

I had already been made aware of the fact that inquiry-based learning approaches are truly in the center of powerful learning experiences. My experience in DigiURI really drove that home for me. I found myself fully immersed in thinking, creating, communicating and building meaning, both on my own and collaboratively. The constant sharing among all participants was very powerful. The digital artifacts which we created as the outcome of our collaboration were purposefully designed because they were a natural result of the powerful process in which we engaged, in constant reflection and feedback loops from our dyad partners. Inquiry-based learning is the pedagogical pathway that naturally pulls in critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. It also naturally elicits the meaningful use of technology. It’s the pathway to follow for ‘minds on – hands on’ learning.

Inquiry at center – the sketch I created and that served as inspiration for our DigiURI project

Use Language to Change the World

Inspired by Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy, Kristin Ziemke struck a chord when she talked about literacy development in young learners, and how powerful it is when kids begin naming the world – their world. Kristin made us aware of the power of visual literacy, and also of the meaning making process that we engage in when learning to name our own worlds. Therefore, changing language is part of the process of changing the world. And that, my friends, is exactly what happens throughout the inquiry-based learning pathway. Language is used to empower, to set high expectations for students, to reflect, and to communicate learning to the world.

Kristin Ziemke in her keynote (photo by Carla Arena)

…to be continued soon

Still more on the power of images, how it connected to leadership for me, and digital empathy.

A Long Trip Beckons. Be Guarded.

Lands End, San Francisco, CA. June 21, 2019. This video is how I felt after the three days I spent engaging in PBL World 2019. Clouds dissipated, and I could clearly see ahead, a new horizon – it had always been there.

I explain.

This was when I came to the realization that I had been going at innovation in education from peripheral perspectives – educational technology, technology integration, active learning methodologies, digital citizenship, media literacy, deep learning, 21st century learning, maker-centered learning, social-emotional skills development – all terms that we hear being thrown around when innovation in education is being discussed and advocated. Those are all great, but they are all peripheral. They orbit around a core which is pedagogical, and that is project-based learning.

PBL is the pedagogy that naturally pulls all those components. Sustained inquiry generates critical thinking as a natural byproduct of collaboration and communication for an authentic purpose, to solve an authentic problem. Technology serves a concrete purpose, that of documenting, demonstrating and showcasing learning. Tools for student creation, though not for the sake of learning a new cool tech tool, but to make learning visible.

PBL mobilizes the whole individual – teacher and students alike. Projects is how people work together to create things in the world. However, PBL requires a very specific type of teacher, a true educator, awakened and moved by the vision of equity in education. Meeting each student where they are, hands on, minds on work. Beautiful work.

Providence, RI. July 14, 2019. The Summer Institute in Digital Literacy. #digiURI

I am about to get further down the rabbit role. Moved by this insight of PBL as the core pedagogy for all things innovative about education, I am looking to explore this idea: what does professional develop that will inspire teachers to become PBL educators look like? How might we support teachers in their journey towards the development of the refined pedagogical skills that will enable them to sustain inquiry-based learning in partnership with their students?

 

A possible map (above).

It’s as the Lands End fortune teller showed me.

        

It’s all good. I’m in it for the long haul. Let the learning explorations begin. I’m getting those #rhizo14 feelings all over again.

We Are Lifelong Learners

 

On January 24th, 2018, we held our 1st Maker Summit. The purpose of the event was to immerse our teachers in Maker-Centered-Learning experiences, which required them to manipulate technologies, tools, and even methodologies, such as Virtual Reality apps and glasses, Osmo kits, Stop Motion and Green Screening video tools, as well as Design Thinking.

Here are some of the things we hoped to achieve with these immersion experiences. We wanted our fellow teachers:

  • to have the student experience by diving in the challenges right from the start. We wanted to give them space to tinker, to play with the tools being used in each experience;
  • to reflect on the hands-on, immersive experience and the difficulties, challenges, successes, and insecurities that surfaced. We wanted them to connect to those feelings that arose while they engaged in each of the experiences together with their peers;
  • to identify possible opportunities for the use of those technologies, tools and methodologies in our language classroom, in the different courses and levels we teach.

Our Reflections on Your Feedback A week after the Summit, the team of facilitators, made up of teachers, innovation mentors, course coordinators, and members of the Makerspace staff, sat together to look into and discuss the feedback provided by you, Summit participants. We would like to share two valuable findings that came from our reflection and discussion of the feedback you gave us about your experiences throughout the Summit.

FINDING #01: On RESILIENCE

We facilitators understood – from both our own impressions and your feedback – the critical importance of being prepared and able to deal with technical issues that hindered the original plan for some of the experiences. We need to plan for the shortcomings, and we need to know what to do, how to adapt the activity we had in mind in case a technical issue occurs. In a few words, we always need a plan B. But most importantly, in our view, we need to learn to ask for help, and NOT to be put down by these difficulties to simply decide that we will never try doing that again ever. Instead, we need to build and model the resilience that we desire our students to develop in the face of adversity and failure. It is our belief that our students greatly benefit from observing how we teachers, grown-up professionals, handle difficulty and failure, and we need to show them that we can be resourceful and that it is OK to fail, as long as you learn from it and grow as a result of the experience.

FINDING #02: On AUTONOMY

Some teachers left comments saying they missed more detailed, step-by-step type of instructions for engaging in the experiences. In fact, there were some complaints about “lack of instructions.” Knowing that we facilitators had deliberately planned to keep step-by-step instructions to a minimum, hoping to enable teachers to have a taste of discovery-driven learning, these comments and complaints got us thinking about how we are all accustomed to learning environments where the teacher is the source of all knowledge and the one responsible for leading the learning, for scaffolding it via step-by-step instructions to be followed by the students. The experimentation and tinkering dispositions, which are dispositions that lie on the core of the Maker mindset, seem to make us teachers a bit nervous and insecure, and understandably so. We teachers have been taught that we need to be in control of everything that is happening in our classrooms at all times. A noisy classroom is commonly considered a messy classroom, making the teacher vulnerable to all kinds of judgement of his/her “classroom management skills.” In other words, we need to come to terms with the fact that learner autonomy may look and sound messy in the classroom at times, and we need to develop new skills to harness this creative energy for learning.

A Few Other Findings

We facilitators also gained the following insights thanks to our collective reflection and discussion about your feedback and our own feelings regarding our experiences putting together and facilitating the experiences:

  • We need more preparation time together before the event takes place;
  • We want to make the pedagogical gains leveraged by the use of the technologies and tools clearer to teachers;
  • We want to keep on building on our strengths and learning from our failures, without being paralyzed by them.

#Vision2020

We consider the Thomas Maker Summit the inauguration of Vision 2020. In many ways, this event embodied the core values of the program: