I’ve been reading a lot about learning spaces, but a piece recently tweeted out by (and authored by) Gary Stager (@garystager) has caught my eye and got me thinking about constructivism in secondary education.
As someone who believes in (but hasn’t by any means mastered) progressive education, I’ve always got Alfie Kohn’s Questions for Progressive Schools (http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/progressive-education/) on my mind. One that consistently sticks with me is:
3. Is the education that the oldest students receive just as progressive as that offered to the youngest, or would a visitor conclude that those in the upper grades seem to attend a different school altogether?
This question was on my mind as I came across Gary’s piece on classroom centers (http://stager.tv/blog/?p=3483). He writes about the role of classroom centers as learning magnets and sources for true constructivism in education. The piece is, as with most of what he writes, a must-read.
Of course, as a teacher of high school humanities students, it would be easy to look at the examples he gives and conclude that “this is only for young kids, or if it’s for older kids, it’s a science-y thing.” Of course, Kohn reminds any educator that this is a myopic, short-sighted viewpoint.
So what does a classroom center have to do with a high school humanities course? I think the answer comes from considering the role of both analog and digital spaces in the classroom. As teachers, we must concentrate most of our energy on designing environments for students to construct knowledge, and perpetually diagnose the manner in which they’re learning to as to further encourage that construction as they develop more and more understanding of their world and the concepts necessary to be a vital part of it.
In a humanities class, developing physical spaces that encourage learning (such as a library or current events area) would be one part of it, but digital spaces should play an essential role as well. Students in my 10th grade class are not asked to do nightly homework, but instead contribute to a Google+ community dedicated to our history topics. These are spaces for them to write reflections, share articles, post YouTube videos, and generally develop an online learning space with the same cultural elements that are core to a classroom center. Furthermore, it’s my hope that this inspires students to also see themselves as part of a collaborative learning culture that shares knowledge, never hoarding it in an effort to demonstrate what a “good student” they are.
While the digital space cited itself is the product of someone else’s building (an even better example of this would be to have the students code the online community themselves) It might be one small way to bring constructivist learning practices to an area that some consider out of the realm of maker culture. Maker culture suffers from many misperceptions, but at it’s core, it is a progressive philosophy that any grade level and any subject (regardless of whether it falls into a tidy acronym like STEM) should consider as essential to learning. The ideas espoused by Gary Stager and Alfie Kohn shouldn’t just be praised–they should be considered viable starting points for us to re-examine our own practices. We are, as always, forever learning.