There is a lot more to learning in the modern world. Our goal is to provide our learners with the optimum opportunities, the optimum teaching team and the optimum environment.
We built an “Innovative Learning Environment” in our senior school, which we now refer to as an ILE - Innovative Learning Environment.
It is based around the concepts of David Thornburg, who is an award winning author and consultant who specializes in the ways in which computer technology influences our lives, particularly the ways we learn. As part of his research, he has proposed that we need access to five basic environments, or ‘learning spaces’ in which to operate in order to learn effectively.
Using Thornburg’s ideas of ‘learning spaces,’ it is easy to see how making some changes to the way we think about learning and how we set up environments for our children to learn can make a difference to the quality of educational outcomes.
A summary of his thinking …
Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century
David D. Thornburg, Ph.D.
This article suggests that learning takes place in four spaces, only a few of which are honoured in most schools. It offers new theory for educational systems based on four primordial learning spaces: campfires (information), watering holes (conversation), caves (concept), and life (context).
The theory is explored in a practical manner to show ways in which technology can bring balance back into our educational system. The utility of these four learning spaces is demonstrated in the context of the World Wide Web as an educational tool using a new framework for evaluating websites and other technologies as educational resources. The four spaces identified by Dr. Thornburg are used to create an educational system geared to the needs of learners and educators.
In the beginning…
One day someone sat at a computer keyboard and entered the following question: "Do you suppose that computers will someday think like humans?" After processing this request for some time, the computer displayed the following response: "That reminds me of a story... "
One of the distinguishing features of humans is that we are storytellers. In fact, with the possible exception of certain marine mammals, we may be the only storytelling species in existence. This capacity of humans is so important that Jean Houston has referred to myth as the DNA of the human psyche.
For thousands of years, storytelling was a mechanism for teaching. While it was not the only mechanism, it was (and is) an important one. Through storytelling, the wisdom of elders was passed to the next generation. Good stories have always embodied a blend of the cognitive and affective domains — in fact, in story, there is no separation between the two.
The quality of nuance and multiple interpretations is common to storytelling. It is one reason that adults and children can enjoy the same story together — each age takes from the story the elements that are appropriate. The power of storytelling is so great that even in more recent times (c. 250 BC,) we find Socrates responding to his students on occasion with the Greek equivalent of "That reminds me of a story."
There is a sacred quality to teaching as storytelling, and this activity took place in sacred places, typically around the fire. The focal point of the flame, the sounds of the night, all provide backdrop to the storyteller who shares wisdom with students who, in their turn, become storytellers to the next generation. In this manner, culture replicates itself through the DNA of myth. The often tangential nature of storytelling, its use of metaphor, its indirect attack on a topic, all combine to make storytelling an effective way to address topics that might be too confrontational to address head on. Story crafts its own helix around a topic. As Robert Frost said, "We sit in the circle and suppose, while the truth sits in the centre and knows."
And so, from an archetypal perspective, the campfire represents an important aspect of the learning community. It does not stand alone, however.
The watering hole...
Just as campfires resonate deeply across space and time, watering holes have an equal status in the pantheon of learning places. Virtually every hominid on the planet has, a one time in its historical existence, needed to gather at a central source for water. During these trips to the watering hole, people shared information with their neighbours — those within their own village, as well as those from neighbouring village, and travellers on their way to or from a distant village. The watering hole became a place where we learned from our peers — where we shared the news of the day. This informal setting for learning provided a different kind of learning community from that of the shaman or troubadour who regaled us from the podium of the campfire. The learning at the watering hole was less formal. It was peer teaching, a sharing of the rumours, news, gossip, dreams and discoveries that drive us forward. Each participant at the watering hole is both learner and teacher at the same time.
Just as water is necessary for survival, the informational aspect of the watering hole is essential for cultural survival. The watering hole is alive and well in corporations where people gather around the water cooler (or the copying machine) to continue the tradition. Executives and support personnel alike reenact on a daily basis scenes that have been played out on the plains of Africa for tens of thousands of years. Any disconnection from this informal learning community risks a disconnection from one of the things that makes us human.
The learning community of the campfire brought us in contact with experts, and that of the watering hole brought us in contact with peers. There is one other primordial learning environment of great importance: the cave — where we came in contact with ourselves.
Through legends and artefacts we know that, throughout the planet, learners have needed, on occasion, to isolate themselves from others in order to gain special insights. Whether these periods of isolation took place in the forest, or in caves, whether they were the subject of great ritual, or just casual encounters with personal insight, the importance of having time alone with one's thoughts has been known for millennia.
The "vision quest" practiced by some indigenous peoples of the Americas represents one of the more formalised renditions of this practice. After a lengthy period of preparation, the learner is led to a cave with nothing but a blanket and is left for two days without food. During this time, through meditation, the learner may have a vision that can shape or guide him or her through the next phase of life. In addition to being a place of learning, the vision quest also becomes a rite of passage.
This rite of passage has another interpretation in modern parlance: the passage of knowledge from an externally accepted to an internally held belief. This internal "knowing" involves far more than memorisation — it involves true insight.
We all have times in learning any subject when we need to internalise that knowledge. This internalisation may take place during a walk in the woods, but is just as likely to take place during a quiet moment (or day, or week) in relative seclusion in a library (another sacred place), office, bedroom, kitchen or den.
Learners have long gathered around campfires, watering holes, and have isolated themselves in the seclusion of caves. They have experienced all these learning environments in balance and, if the balance is offset, learning suffered.
High-bandwidth telecomputing with a mix of images, animations, sounds, text, etc. is ubiquitous. As a result, campfire, watering hole and cave come together in a new synthesis from which we can distill the essence of learning environments that truly meet the needs of all learners whenever and wherever they are.
Our learners can learn anything, any time, anywhere, with anyone.
What they most need to learn as a result of this ubiquitousness of information, is discernment that allows them to sift, sort and synthesises information into verifiable, useful and transferable knowledge and understanding.
Walker Learning Approach
Work on Writing via the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing was a struggle for our junior children due to them not having enough opportunities to express their creativity and develop their imagination. Walker Learning Approach emphasises creative play alongside their personalised investigations that enhances first their oral language skills - opportunity and motivation to talk. From this comes the natural progression into reading and writing literacy.
We investigated other approaches, but Walker Learning Approach had the most research backing, had good theory behind it and seemed to take a more honest approach to Play Based Learning. They had the research to back the theory and a key aspect was that the approach is personalised to each learner.