Sunday, December 14, 2014

If It’s Not Meaningful, It’s Just…Work

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted to my blog. After several months of reassessment, goal setting and general adjustment, I’m glad to get back to professional reflection and sharing. 

I have come to realize that my work must be meaningful. It must be an expression of what I believe, excite my interests and connect to and make a difference in the lives of real people. It must give me opportunities to create, grow and feel a sense of accomplishment. I need to like doing my work.

Is there anybody that doesn’t? What about our students?

I’m not under the delusion that everyday of work is going to be fulfilling, relevant, engaging and productive. If the thought, however, of going to work is drudgery and I can't make any connections to things I care about, I’m not going to apply myself or accomplish much.

Kids start out their lives loving to learn. It is truly a joyful thing to see the light bulb turn on when they figure something out. Our system of education has done a pretty good job of squeezing the love of learning out of a good many of our students. My daughter started her formal education in Montessori. She came home everyday telling me about her “work”.  She had choices, worked collaboratively with others, and learned practical life skills that applied to the real world. Learning in small flexible groups was the norm as was the interdisciplinary nature of the educational setting. Montessori does not have a patent on creating an atmosphere that facilitates meaningful work; potentially, every educator can help students find meaning in the learning process.

There are students who go through school everyday unengaged, uninspired and unconnected by activities that do little to fuel the natural love of learning they were born with. Hours spent memorizing facts to be regurgitated for a test and soon forgotten isn’t anymore meaningful to our students than it is for us to sit through a meeting where someone reads information off of a powerpoint that could’ve just as easily been shared through an email (ok, I know. We probably wouldn’t read that either). Now imagine sitting through several hours of a meeting like that each day. And don't talk to your neighbor. Oh, and put away your tech.

My daughter has her own You Tube channel to which she publishes
a weekly video to more than 2000 subscribers. She communicates
 with people all over the world and feels a "sense of responsibility"
to create quality content for her followers.
Not every topic in school can be meaningful or interesting to every student but if we can’t make it relevant or help them make connections to real life, we need to at least try to engage them in ways that build transferable skills for success in the real world. A future employer is not going to care if they know the capitol of Honduras or the name of that very important treaty in 1877 (I’m sure there was one) but they may care if they can locate and analyze the quality of information quickly, verify it’s sources and apply it appropriately to the given situation. They may be expected to communicate effectively orally and in writing using current technologies.  No matter what field they go into they will have to collaborate with others to solve problems. Worksheets, lectures, notes and a steady diet of multiple choice questions are not going to cut it. 

Here are some ideas that can make learning more meaningful for students:

Connect students to an authentic audience
  • Use of blogs and social media- both as a consumer and a producer
  • Multimedia production- videos, podcasts, animation
  • Book publishing
  • Website creation
  • Google hangouts, Skype-people around the world, subject matter experts, other students
  • Service projects-addressing local or global issues
  • Inventions, engineering, design, coding
  • Multidisciplinary endeavors- it's not separated by subject in the real world
  • Collaboration- We as adults rarely work in isolation
  • Embrace failures- its essential part of innovation
  • Feedback is critical to learning, grades are not
There are tons of ideas on the subject readily available on the internet. Building a professional learning network with resources such as Twitter and Google+  is a great way to learn how teachers all over the world are making the work of school relevant and engaging for students. Please check out the links below to some of my favorite meaningful learning examples:

Other Resources & Articles: