Authentic Learning Opportunities at theNAT
The first thing in the 2017 Horizon Report (for K-12 preview) that caught my attention was the section on Authentic Learning Opportunities. This is a big theme of the curriculum I am working on. Students are presented with facts about the various ways humans have negatively impacted the environment and local wild life of San Diego. Then they are tasked with creating posters (in groups) to inform the public about a particular human impact topic from water usage to animal migration or recycling. At the end of the week the students’ posters are displayed to the patrons of the San Diego Natural History Museum as a special SITP gallery next to an exhibition about similar topics. Because the posters are actually hung in a real museum and seen by paying museum patrons, the students take the work very seriously and exhibit much greater pride than usual. Earlier in the week one of the museum’s graphic designers visits with the class and provides instruction on what makes a good poster and how best to communicate your main points visually. This experience provides students not only with an opportunity to learn about design skills from an expert but also to ask questions of the professional, including how they got their job and how much money they get paid. Making this career connection does not mean all students will go on to become graphic designers but they will be able to use the skills in many other situations going forward both academically and professionally. Another reason why I believe it is important to integrate technology into this curriculum is to further support the idea of authentic learning. For example, graphic designers would be more likely to use modern technology tools when creating posters and these tools may enable them to create work of a higher quality. Providing students with the same kinds of tools or at least similar (such as graphics software on iPads/iMacs), adds to their authentic experience. Additionally, if we can find a way to facilitate feedback about the posters from the museum patrons, this would help further the authenticity of the process.
Below are some photos of authentic learning activities at theNAT (The San Diego Natural History Museum) from the SITP program.
Another section of the Horizon Report that relates to my work and area of focus is the section on digital literacy. The idea of providing digital literacy lessons to our students is an idea that often takes a backseat to the main content being taught. However, digital literacy is a set of skills and a kind of understanding of technology tools that most people will require to survive in the 21st century. These skills have become so incorporated in modern life that many people completely take them for granted and I believe there is an assumption that people learn these skills as naturally as learning to speak or walk. That is not the case and students need access to technology on a regular bases to be able to develop and learn these skills. The Horizon Report mentions that using collaborative tools to work on projects with others is a key point in digital literacy. For the Human Impact curriculum, we will have students using a variety of devices and technology tools to seek out and access information while learning to do so responsibly. While using Google apps, such as Drive and Slides, students will collaboratively work on documents, providing feedback to each other in real-time. The students will also have access to graphics software and learn how to communicate their ideas and main points through visuals and multimedia.
Almost all the sections of the Horizon Report relate to the SITP program and its goals but the last one I would like to mention is the section on Coding as Literacy. I have struggled in the past to convince the educators that even if the students aren’t learning about a topic related to coding, coding can still be used to teach other things and ultimately computational thinking in general. One of the rotations at our program is for 3rd graders and focuses on mapping skills and knowledge. The students are required to identify the characteristics of landmarks and be able to provide specific directions to someone for how to get from point A to point B. At the time I was working on this rotation, the Hour of Code was popular and we had just held an event at the school site. I thought it would be interesting to have the students learn a little bit of code that could show them the basics of giving directions. For example, directing an Angry Bird to move 2 spaces to the right then forward 5 spaces and so on, just like they might give directions to a person to walk east until a certain landmark then North over the bridge etc. This activity could also be done using people moving around desks. Not only would the students see the idea of giving directions in different terms they would learn the nature of coding is providing instructions or rules for a program to follow. Computational thinking along with digital literacy are crucial skills our students will need in an increasingly technological society and workforce.
Hour of Code. Retrieved from: https://code.org/learn
New Media Consortium, & Consortium of School Networking. (2017). Horizon Report 2017 K-12 Edition Preview (Rep.). Retrieved from: https://cdn.nmc.org/media/2017-nmc-cosn-horizon-report-k12-preview.pdf