This week’s meeting continues the conversation on learning. The meeting is organized into three big chunks.
How people learn
Twenty minutes is never enough time for a research discussion, but that was all the time we had allotted for it this week.
- Learning styles is such a pervasive idea that is incredibly difficult to let go of. The TED Talk offers a really clear argument against it. Even if you believe the speaker, some people may still be tempted to rationalize how to use the term in a way that works better. But, in truth, we should all just stop using those two words together. Language matters. There is so much baggage to “learning styles” that we easily confuse or conflate ideas on learning. As the speaker says in her final points, we waste so much precious time and resources trying to make learning styles work.
- If not learning styles, then what? The How People Learn reading + two more in subsequent meetings (prior knowledge and talking to learn) together give a more robust explanation. We organize all those ideas into the 5 Foundational Ideas on Learning.
Phases of the Moon online
It was crazy hard to teach and it was likely crazy hard to learn phases of the Moon. If we had more time and resources to redesign it, the experience would likely have turned out more satisfying for everyone. Or, we probably would have done another activity all together.
The in-person experience for this activity involves each person holding a ball on a stick as the Moon and being a part of the model (their head is the Earth) and the lightbulb is the Sun. This set up is critical for learning the concept about moon phases because it enables learners to replicate seeing the Moon from Earth (Anchor 1). Each person has their own moonball so they can have that perspective and test out questions and ideas.
A common misconception on what causes the phases of the Moon is related to knowing about shadows (Anchor 2); many people erroneously think it’s the Earth’s shadow on the Moon that causes the phases, when it’s actually the Moon’s own shadow.
Throughout the in-person experience, the educator guides learners back and forth between whole- and small-group so learners have the chance to talk and test out ideas and consider the information the educator gives (Anchor 3).
We needed to be able to maintain these 3 anchor points in the online version.
- Anchor 2. We knew we needed to place the idea of shadows for the community to have available for later. We could have just shown the picture and explained the parts, but we wanted to give learners a chance to do some free exploration before we directed their attention to the features that were critical for this concept.
- Anchor 1. All the videos available online explained the phenomenon to the viewer, leaving no room for exploration. They also place viewers floating in space looking at three celestial bodies, but the phases of the Moon are our perspectives of the Moon standing on Earth. The video we used gave us the perspective we wanted, in part because it was doing the activity the way we would lead it in-person. But it was distracting because it may have felt like we were trying to simulate the in-person experience. Being able to manipulate the model themselves was also key part of this anchor. The model in-person enabled learners to do that, but we opted not to give learners access to the video because the person in the video explained the ideas that we wanted learners to talk out amongst themselves.
- Anchor 3. Managing the discourse in this experience was incredibly challenging. The educators felt like they talked too much because they were describing the video rather than simply giving the video for learners to watch on their own to talk about what they noticed. Learners couldn’t easily talk with people next to them until the educator opened breakout rooms. Learners were invited to call out what they noticed in the video, which some did in the chat box.
Let’s Talk Practice
We tend to run low on time for the Let’s Talk Practice (LTP) task, so I thought I’d spend time here elaborating on this task overall and this week’s “intended” task, specifically.
In general, the LTP is designated time during a meeting for participants to explore how to apply the ideas and connections from the meeting into their practice. Nothing like being in the moment to just jot down some ideas before they’re forgotten, and then get some quick input from colleagues.
- The repeated structure for LTP during the online meetings is for participants to (1) write an individual reflection to some prompts, aka “Minute Paper,” and then (2) move into breakout rooms to share what they wrote down. (3) There is a collaborative document for each room to record highlights from their conversation for the benefit of the whole community.
- In our agendas, we plan for 15-18 minutes. In practice, it’s much, much less. So, at minimum we do Part 1, and hopefully get to Parts 2 and 3. Odd time warp anomalies happen when we teach online.
The prompts for Meeting 2 are below. (Yes, we should ask less questions and simplify the structure for version 2.0.)
- What ideas on learning do you want to keep as anchor points for your practice regardless of where you teach (in-person or online)?
- What constraints due to the learning environment (virtual) and conditions (extended isolation for pandemic) are concerning you for your practice?
- What do you want online digital tools to be able to do to help achieve what you want?
This LTP reminds educators to use their knowledge of learning to anchor their teaching and how they use digital tools (not the other way around). In this way, educators are encouraged to be strategic and creative about how to use digital tools to work for them. The platform’s designers are making their products for general use; there might or might not be experts on learning and teaching on the design team. The second question is a chance to call out what we might be feeling and noticing about the virtual environment for learning that would inform what we want the digital tools to do. It’s helpful to just acknowledge the constraints, which are likely new to all of us.