Last year I had the privilege of getting to know Hardie Fellow, Janine Bowes, an exemplary educator from Tasmania. Janine was engaged in a year-long Masters program in Instructional Technology and Media at Teachers College, at Columbia University in New York City. One of the driving questions of her research was, “How can teachers effectively merge the pedagogical principles that underpin effective learning design with design principles applicable to digital environments, to create engaging learning experiences for a range of students?”
Most people assume that it is young teachers who bring the fresh ideas about how to effectively use new technology to enhance learning. Janine had a different theory. She maintained that it was the highly successful seasoned teachers who were most willing to take risks because they were secure in their knowledge of effective pedagogy.
Janine and I shared many stimulating discussions about her research. I was thrilled when she asked if I could recommend any teachers she could observe who were implementing the kind of change she was studying. Without hesitation I invited her to my school to meet Carolyn Bliesener.
Carolyn is a colleague whose child-centered work I’ve admired for many years. I always love stepping into her room because I know I’m going to find something interesting such as a giant diorama of Jamestown or kids gently “bouncing” on ergonomic balls as they engaged in work or a discussion. I’ve walked in to see the entire class quietly meditating and on another occasion found them rocking to the Beatles as they happily worked on a project.
What I wanted Janine to observe was a transformation Carolyn was going through as she adopted Minecraft to help students understand governance. It was an incredible journey as Carolyn learned to let go of needing to know everything and trust her students to help find a new path for learning.
In her blog, Technology and Learning: exploring the intersection of learning design, technology and leadership, Janine Bowes writes about what she observed when she visited Carolyn’s classroom: Carolyn Bliesener: students try styles of government in Minecraft,
I appreciate the following two observations Janine highlights because they mirror what I have discovered in my own journey:
“What was the shift in teacher role? The hardest thing for Carolyn was letting go of control and being willing to give the students the freedom to explore within parameters determined by the curriculum.”
“Evidence of success – Carolyn has been amazed at the processing and transfer that have taken place as a result of this approach. She is in no doubt that it has made the concepts they have been learning about real.”
What gave me goose-bumps was Carolyn’s excitement when she told me that her kids were actually discussing the lessons BEYOND the actual “lesson”! She explained that had NEVER happened in all of the years she has taught. POWERFUL!!
If you want to learn more about Carolyn’s journey, you can watch a snippet of her interview with Janine, or listen to the interview in it’s entirety. Perhaps it will inspire you to take a leap of faith yourself. Can you let go of your need to know? Will you to trust your students to help design their own learning? The first few steps are scary, but it is worth it. I promise.