Here we are, March 17th, amidst a pandemic. School sites have closed and children and teens are spread through homes all across the world. I see all flavors of humor and somber reminders on social media about what it is like to parent or care for children through this experience, and trying to grasp a sense what lies ahead. One thing is clear, learning has changed for at least the immediate future. Classroom learning, rows of students in their desks, and even standardized tests are all disrupted.
I and many educators around the world have spent my career trying to break learning outside of the classroom, jumbling them out of rows, and giving standardized testing about as much of my thought time as I do the circumference of my calves. School site closure presents real challenges in our communities that we must creatively address, but “how do we keep kids learning?” is the most fun of the challenges, and I’m going to write about something fun today.
Think Big, Think Local, Think Global
Stop thinking of learning in minutes, or even hours. A daily schedule is great to keep a rhythm, but be sure to think beyond one day for deep, enjoyable learning. What are real questions that actually matter, or drive exploration and creative thinking? We often over-estimate what we can accomplish in hours and under estimate what we can accomplish in weeks or months. Think big! We have the opportunity to learn deeply and have fun too, so let’s do it! This is what you should aim for. Here are some examples:
- What was my grandparent’s best learning experience ever?
- Where does weather come from and how does it change?
- How can I use stop animation to make a short film?
- How does the stock market work, and why are there peaks and valleys?
- Where does my food come from, and where does it go?
- How can I beat a world record?
- If I were to make a COVID-19 vaccine, how would I make it, and how would I make sure that it is safe as other vaccines are?
- Why is the game “Pokemon” so successful, and where did the ideas come from? If I were to create the next big game, what would it be and where would I look for inspiration?
Questions are not limiting to age, you can explore any question with any age on their level. One of my 4th grade children, Eli, loves the I Survived series, and is writing a book: How can I tell my story about the pandemic I am experiencing? Jacob, also in 4th grade, loves theater and dressing up. They are drafting a play for our family to put on and film. They are planning to make a comedy.: How can I use theater to tell an engaging story? My preschooler loves to get their hands in the mud. What should we plant, and what should we let go of as the seasons change? Once you have a big question, you can parse out the rest using the resources linked below.
Yeah, yeah, that’s all great, lady. I’ll just let my kid find out how legos are made and then they’ll be behind everyone else. Comparison is the thief of joy. If there were ever a time to aim for joyful learning, this is it. Encourage your child to compare to only to theirself so they can be partners in the charting of their growth and goal setting.
But…what about math and reading? Show me one big question where there is not math and reading, and I will help you find math and reading there. This is where you can lean on, if your district provides, the teacher who is assigned your student. You could email with a question such as “My child wants to find out how legos are made, and try making their own at home. Do you have any ideas about how I could use grade level math or reading in this?” Think Local! Don’t underestimate the wealth of resources in your community, or what a fresh question it will be when you reach out to a friend or grandparent with a question about a child’s exploration. Make use of resources online or provided by a teacher to help a child build the skills that they are needing to truly explore their topic in depth. When you think of learning in this way, as an exploring and storytelling, you don’t need to be so worried about separating out all of the different pieces of learning, because they are interwoven. Keep a learner and creator mindset yourself as you dive in with the children you guide.
Where do I start? I like this page on Edutopia’s free resources. Scroll to the bottom and you’ll find a variety of examples that you can draw some inspiration from. Here is a template that I use with my own students for charting a scientific inquiry. You could make a copy and change it to suit your needs or age group. You can check out my post on “finding a cliffhanger” to see some tips on forming big questions to ask, or this blog post with question frames to help you and your student build their own. When reflecting with your child, think global. How does my child’s interest or curiosity connect with the rest of the world outside of our home?
Remember, there’s no one right way to learn, or to guide learning. Pick a trail and go. Thinking that there is one right way is thinking like a consumer – I must be given knowledge that already exists. Put on an explorer or creator’s mind – I must discover knowledge that does not already exist, and I can use the knowledge that does to get there. Be a support and guide, but don’t do their project for them and don’t make you the only reason they are doing this! Tip: If you have a public audience, even just a family member who lives outside of the home, they will surprise you. Run into some dead ends, make some messes, stop for a picnic and to enjoy the view when you find surprises. Focus on skills such as forming questions, explaining, overcoming challenges, setting and achieving small goals and celebrating small wins on longer paths.
I hope that this puts some wind in your sails to think of outside of the classroom learning in a new way. Bon Voyage!