Learning in the Real World

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Learning in the Real World, a set on Flickr.

Taking the Grade 4 students for a walk around the neighbourhood, as always, turned out to be a remarkably simple yet incredibly powerful experience for us all.

With enough adults to be able to split the class into small groups of three and four, it was possible to go in different directions and focus on different aspects of life as we walked around. Students need to learn the “art of looking” and really benefit from being given a specific lens to look through when doing something like this. My group had selected the lens of “globalization” as their focus. Naturally, they found it hard to “see” globalization and that is where the role of the adult/teacher becomes so important. As we walked, I was able to help them see the evidence of globalization, such as Coca Cola signs and bottles, the rubbish caused by the packaging of multinational companies, Japanese cars and motorbikes, international construction companies and so on.

By the end of the walk, because the students had the chance to actually look for, and see, the evidence of globalization, their understanding of such a complex concept was much more advanced than it would have been if they were simply researching it on Google!

It is so important to give our students these experiences. The learning experiences they have just from something so simple are powerful on many different levels, as long as we, as their teachers, are aware of how multi-faceted learning actually is. I will list here just a few aspects of the learning I saw:

  • Increased conceptual understanding of globalization
  • Increased awareness of where they live
  • Increased ability to look for details and notice things
  • Increased curiosity about life
  • Increased ability to make connections to prior knowledge
  • Increased confidence about being out on the streets
  • Increased willingness and ability to speak to people
  • Increased understanding of how to ask questions
  • Increased understanding of how to take a good photo
  • Increased understanding of the etiquette of photographing people
  • Increased understanding of how to take notes
  • Increased resilience when walking in the heat

So, are you taking your students out and about soon?


Looking for the Cultures of Thinking in our school

Cultures of Thinking


Over the last two days, I spent some time in Grade 1 and walked away with a strong sense of the importance of these two principles of the “Cultures of Thinking Project”.

  • In Monwei’s classroom, I really did get the feeling that the “classroom is a curriculum in itself” (I love that idea!). Students clearly feel very relaxed and at home in their classroom. But, beyond that, there is also a very strong and palpable sense that it is a place of purposeful learning. Students move thoughtfully and carefully around the room and preserve a sense of calm. Students have a variety of options available to them so they can make independent decisions about their learning – in my time in her classroom, I was not asked “what do I do next?” once, and neither did I hear that dreaded line… “I’m done, now what do I do?”. Students who had completed the tasks Monwei and I were working on with them just simply moved on to something else.
  • Robert, Ms. Ha and I began to make thinking visible as the students collected their knowledge about the food they eat. We interviewed the students as they were working and tried to find out how far their knowledge went tin terms of where food comes from, how it gets to us and where it (and its packaging) goes when we are finished with it. All of the student’s knowledge and thinking went on to the wall as we were working, showing the students that their thoughts are valuable and also making sure we, the teachers, are able to refer to it so we can figure out where to take them next.

These two principles are incredibly important and powerful. Students need to be immersed in a culture of learning, and they also need to be immersed in their own thinking.


Tuning in to Grade One


To find out what students already know or think about themselves as consumers, we are asking them to consider what they eat, buy and use.

We kicked this off by asking them what they had eaten for breakfast this morning, and dinner last night. Each student has loads of blank tags with their photo on for use at times like this:

Then, we started to interview them as they were working, scribing our conversations exactly. We asked questions like:

  • Where does that come from?
  • What is that made of?
  • How we get that to our homes?
  • Where does that go when we’re finished with it?



Sometimes, like the example just above, it is best to represent the student’s thinking visually, helping them start to see these things as “processes” or, as in this case, a “cycle”

Getting the thinking from the students in a simple way, displaying it, scribing conversations, honouring their words and thoughts and capturing it all so it can constantly be referred to, expanded upon and developed is a very exciting process. It will guide students towards and though inquiry. Their prior knowledge, the gaps in their knowledge and their misconceptions are quickly revealed, showing teachers the next steps that each student needs to be guided through in order to develop their knowledge and develop a deeper understanding of themselves as consumers.

Strategies like these are most effective when students can be independent – accessing materials easily, not worrying about spelling, moving on to something else when they are ready. This independence means that teachers can focus on one student without interruption or distraction.

For the full Storify showing the process of these sessions, click here