Friday, July 1, 2011

Real solutions for real problems

Paraphrasing a classic line, ‘Humanity, we have some problems’. In terms of the environment, like any other system, one ‘solution’ impacts another and so on… so we must unravel things together with lots of communication, collaboration, and creativity to flourish. At least that’s what some who know how to ‘fix’ the educational system are saying right? I’m pretty sure that’s what most environmental scientists and exemplary environmental science teachers have been doing for decades!

Remember how the Community Juggling activity looked and sounded? That experience is one way we can identify stuck patterns of thinking and doing. If we give students a chance to exercise their own visualization skills along with the freedom to imagine possibilities, they’ll likely devise ingenious solutions that fit the complex situations faced today. Rope Trick is a diagnostic activity targeted at fostering that critical ability for any field; check it out!

Could you get loose? Click here to see how other teachers fared at a professional development workshop! Do your students build mental images of the concepts you cover? An oft-overlooked part of our job is to give students a frame of reference and conceptual understanding that naturally transfers to other contexts. Click here for an in-depth explanation of why Rope Trick really works.

That’s how collaborative problem solving happens in real-world success stories. And that’s how it’s happening in real student projects right now! For example, I was re-charged by the phenomenal work displayed at Catamount Institute’s Student Symposium this spring. Community leaders, parents, teachers, administrators, and students teamed on their own time to figure out what they would/can do to make unique contributions to solving global environmental issues. And they’re making it happen!

We tend to forget that it’s just as important to learn what doesn’t work as what does work. That’s called research. The inherent power of problem-based learning can be exponentially increased by building on personal relevance, attending to uncertainty, and developing student negotiation, critical voice, and shared control. These are the 5 scales of the Constructivist Learning Environment Survey on which I base my research. From another perspective, Shelly Blake-Plock shares her Thinking about Collaboration on the TeachPaperless blog. The only trick is in adapting (or replacing) current practice with practical accountability.

With unprecedented amounts of information at the fingertips of most of our students, our role as educators (no longer teachers) is made even more exciting with the power of digital media and electronic tools. The HippoCampus site empowers even greater advances! How are you keeping pace with new technologies? More importantly, how do YOU set a proper pace for YOUR students?

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