Friday, November 19, 2010

Cross-Posted on Between the By-Road and the Main Road

How would you answer the following question:

* What is the role of creativity in education?

I’m confident that a collection of responses to the above question would reveal a wide range of insights into the meaning of creativity and its role in education. An open-ended question such as the one shared above is powerful in that it has the potential to stimulate critical reflection. Before offering a response, one has to give considerable pause to confront their own beliefs, consider competing perspectives and prepare to be engaged in a complex debate.

The role of creativity in education came from an online forum discussion. A teacher at Morristown High School developed the question and posted it in an online forum discussion for students to access. Considering the demands of the 21st Century and the need for students to think critically and creatively and for teachers to be instructional innovators, dissecting what creativity means is a worthy intellectual pursuit. However, how can this inquiry, with the potential to generate a heated debate, be contained within a single or even multiple instructional periods? In short, it cannot. More time is needed and a space privileged to extend meaningful exchanges. The forum in which the question about creativity was posted generated 80 individual responses from students enrolled in the class. One post by a student elicited 37 replies. Weeks after the question was posted it still garnered attention from students.

Students accessed the question through a teacher’s Moodle page. Teachers at the high school where I am a supervisor of instruction have realized the importance of establishing online learning communities for students. Numerous instructors have turned to Moodle as a platform to virtually extend teaching and learning. The notion that learning is confined to a scheduled block of time is outdated. Virtual learning communities such as Moodle ensures that learning can occur at any time and anywhere.

As one of the two educators who oversee our use of Moodle, I am afforded the chance to see how Moodle is being deployed across all academic disciplines. At first, teachers used Moodle as a place to post assignments and links to resources on the internet. This current school year, teachers are moving beyond a basic use of Moodle to explore collaborative activities integrated into the open source program. Teachers have been developing chat sessions, surveys, choice lessons and forum discussions for students to support the delivery of curriculum.

Collaboratively inspired spaces on Moodle have subtly transformed interactions between classroom stakeholders. By initiating an activity on Moodle, the teacher is no longer the sole purveyor of content. Learners are empowered to assume responsibility for leading class discussions and developing meaningful content. Activities on Moodle rarely draw a distinction between classroom roles. Participants are viewed as equals and provided with an outlet to voice beliefs and share in the exchange of information. Through spirited exchanges about creativity, a hero's journey through a work of literature, or the meaning one might make of abstract art—students are active in the development of scholarship. When teachers engage students in these spaces, a team approach to learning transpires.

It is important to move beyond the hope that students are engaged and instead strive towards creating learning environments where students are empowered. What students think matters. Providing a platform for students to publicly articulate personal insights is critical and necessary considering the demands of the 21st Century. The work centered on virtual learning communities and in particular Moodle, has instigated changes to our learning environment. Traditional paradigms governing time, space and scholarship have been questioned and new models for the ways in which class is conducted are forming.

I want to thank Mary Ann Reilly for the opportunity to serve as a guest blogger.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Were There Dinsosuars When You Went To School

On a trip down to Philadelphia for a mini family vacation, one of my daughters (I am a father of twin seven year old girls and a three year old baby sister) shared how they learned math through daily contributions to a Math Journal. My wife asked the twins questions about the daily assignment and how it helped them learn math. After some initial explaining by the twins, one of them asked how we learned math. My wife shared experiences as a math student when she was in school.

The conversation revealed differences between the authentic application of math the twins were exposed to and the memorization and recall assignments my wife had to address. Even after the conversation switched to where we wanted to go first in Philadelphia, I was still thinking about the exchange. I guess one would hope that the way I or my wife learned math would differ from the learning engagements prepared for my daughters.

The world I grew up in is different in so many ways from that of my girls. My three year old can sit at the computer an navigate her way through a series of links. One of the twins is a budding photographer, snapping shots on her digital camera or shooting video using an iPod Nano. This daughter snapped her way through Philadelphia in preparation for her scrap booking class. They are growing up in a world where the demands and tools to access and share information is so vastly different.

What truly resonated was how different is school from let's say 15-20 years ago and today. Would my 9th grade experience differ from current 9th graders? For that matter could a teacher use the same lesson plans from 10, 5 or even last year? There should be notable differences between in the way class and learning is structured.

The kicker of the exchange was after listening to how my wife explained the ways she learned math, one twin asked if dinosaurs were alive when we went to school. She was joking, however, it provided a humorous take on the differences between the first and last row of the family mini van.