Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Teacher's Place in the Radically Creative Classroom

What would a truly creative classroom look like? I don't mean what would a classroom with more colorful posters or student-made art look like. I mean a classroom where students create useful projects and learn from their successes and failures.

Reading an article on the creation of the game The Oregon Trail (the link to which I cannot find...), I couldn't help but think of the Digital Aristotle. Basically, there is so much content available online, there is no reason an open source system cannot be made that combines all the world's educational resources together, creating lessons and assessments that adapt to the particular student. Think of the way Google knows your searches by the second word and apply that kind of personalized adaptation to education. Think of Kahn Academy mixed with a digital, personalized tutor that assesses you at just the right time and gives you immediate feedback.
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But as the video linked above makes clear, there will be many fewer teachers in the radically creative classroom. What exactly will be the job of a teacher should this Digital Aristotle come to pass? Enter the analog Socrates.

Long philosophical digression short, in Meno, Socrates demonstrates that knowledge is already inside the soul of the learner when he elicits a geometrical truth from a slave boy with no prior mathematical training. And here's my idea: if the digital Aristotle--think Skynet powering a digital-textbook-iPad--allows access to the world's knowledge, the teacher's job is to pull from the student--elicit--the skills and self knowledge that one needs to complete a project.

What might this look like? What if a student used a generic template that started form the end, what the student wanted to create. It could be a video documentary of how a dog's smelling works, what cosmetics are made of, or a song, or a small app for their mobile phone, or plan a dinner/charity event, whatever floats their boat! Then they would work backwards and find out what skills they will need to use, what knowledge they need to know, likely sources for research, and a checklist/timeline to keep on track. Basically, the student would take over the traditional duties of the teacher-as-curriculum-planner.

With some obvious assumptions out of the way, including developmentally appropriate goals, an adequate budget, appropriate supplies, and significant scaffolding of motivation, this method of project-based-learning would meld well with the Digital Aristotle. The teacher's job would become less (pardon the cliches) sage-on-the-stage and more guide-on-the-side. Like Socrates, the teacher would become an expert in eliciting from the student the knowledge and motivation needed to carry out the project. Questions for eliciting might include:

  • How will you accomplish this particular goal/milestone?
  • What sources of information will best suit your current research?
  • What hurdles can you anticipate?
  • How do you know that this is challenging enough to promote real learning? Not too challenging to make you want to give up?
  • Why is this a worthwhile project?
  • What larger goals or plans does the project fit into? 
  • How does this improve the lives of the people around you?


Where is the place of the teacher in the project-based-curriculum? Maybe it's more that of coach, counselor, and philosopher. The teacher has to provide timely feedback, know a bit of human psychology (especially developmental progress and motivation) and has to be an expert in asking the right questions at the right time--and then getting out of the way and letting the student take over when ready. Like the NYC programmer who taught a homeless man to write code, in the project-based class, the student and his or her goals are paramount. The student has to be given choice, resources, guidance, and the expertise of someone who can guide them. But the student, like in the example above, has to do the heavy lifting.

1 comment:

Kristen said...

Now robots are playing soccer... I wonder about what the implications of this is on keeping clean and natural athletes in the game.

http://www.npr.org/2014/01/15/262641016/peter-stone-cant-get-enough-of-robots-playing-soccer