15 Feb 2016

What Would Students Do If They Could Learn Anything? My Plan for 2016

ULearn15 sparked some exciting thinking for me.  The idea of how students would use autonomous space in the learning programme got me thinking.  What would they be able to achieve if I handed over as much control of the planning and process of teaching and learning as possible.

I quickly realised that walking in on day one and saying, "you can do whatever you want, just make sure you learn" would be a bit overwhelming, however this is what I wanted to do.

I have created a programme for my Year 9 boys that balances the minimum amount of structure to learn how to operate effectively, independently and collaboratively when they are given the space and the authority to do so.

Why Am I Doing This?
From what I have been reading and the conversations I have had with other educators I cannot happily be a traditional teacher that stands at the front the whole time and imparts their knowledge to the students.  I need to do something different.  I am beginning to realise that no one knows the best way forward.  There are a lot of people who are trying to find a way forward and doing some pretty cool things.  I feel it is my responsibility to reimagine or transform, insert your own buzzword here, my teaching pedagogies and practices.  It is also exciting and keeps my role challenging and engaging for me.

I have looked at student engagement and what I can influence which drives that and at what students are likely to need from a Social Studies course at Year 9.  (I only teach year 9 as that is all we have at our campus, we are a bit different).

The core principles I have latched onto are student choice, purpose in their work, space to create, practice or experience, ownership over their learning, showing them how rather than what.

One assumption I have subscribed to is that in 'life' students will use knowledge that they are interested in so let them choose what topics and contexts to pursue whenever possible.  The teacher can guide them on the transferable skills that will increase their worth as a person in any community.  The best thing is that they already know what these skills are.  If asked they will come up with a great list, it wont be well thought out or comprehensive but I bet you it won't be far off a well thought out comprehensive list that group of teachers would create.

The goal has always stayed the same but from there I have revamped my curriculum, with my colleagues, several times in the last 5 years.  So here is what Year 9 Social Studies is going to look like for 2016.

Social Studies Goal 
(drawn from key words in the NZC)
To develop the skills and knowledge to participate as active, engaged, informed, and responsible members of your communities.

Time table
We have a two week cycle and in the that time there are 4 periods of social studies, each period is 80 minutes long. All our periods are 80 minutes long.

3 Strands

Teacher Led Workshops
These are the structured parts of the curriculum.  There will be more periods of this during the beginning of the year with topics such as:

  • What is learning?
  • How do we measure learning?
  • What is a Growth Mindset?
  • How do we reflect effectively?
  • What is citizenship?
  • Design your Own Schooling?
  • What is Hack schooling and how can we use it?



Self Direct Learning
This is an opportunity of freedom in their learning.  To find what they are passionate about and interested in and to pursue that down whatever path they choose.
It will be restricted by the resources and time allowances of the classroom.  I will be starting with brainstorming session of what they could be doing as with this much freedom some can get overwhelmed and the seed is the most important part.  Once they have latched onto something they want to learn more about then it is up to them.

The must haves will be evidence of learning, and a rubric to measure learning.  That will be all.

Community Simulator (Mine Craft)
This is a chance to practice being a citizen in an environment where experimentation and failure have low cost and high reward.  The students will all be put into the same 'world' and have no rules put on them.  They will have the ability to gather resources, build, create, and collaborate just like in the real world.  They will also have the ability to lie, cheat, steal, destroy just like in the real world.  It will be up to them to make their choices in this world and deal with the consequences and ultimatly learn from these choices in the game rather than potentially more serious consequences from making similar choices in the real world.

There will be several things I will be doing to facilitate this, there will be the technical side of getting everyone playing in the world.  I will organise free play time.  I will organise a meeting time, this part is significant.  Meetings will be a chance to bring up grievances or ideas within the class.  If something big has gone down we can sort it out.  As much as possible I will facilitate this and it will be driven by the students.  If there is a learning opportunity about the core citizenship skills then I might lead a discussion eg, self defense, identity theft, breaking and building trust, reputation.


Citizenship skills
We practice these all the time, it is important to raise the practice of citizenship to the concious level to progress and develop in a deliberate direction.  Through this curriculum I intend for the students to develop their citizenship skills particularly

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Problem Solving
  • Decision Making
  • Creative Thinking
  • Analysing Perspectives
  • Critical Thinking

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