Recently, I had a student ask me for a review pack for our upcoming state test.
"I'm not giving review packs this year," I said confidently knowing my time spent gamifying their content would surely payoff. My ego was quickly put in check by the student's pale and unnerved face.
"Wait. What?! No review packet?! I WON'T PASS THE TEST!" And she meant business. Her world was crumbling around her. Noticing the panic in her face, I attempted to bring a little levity to the situation.
"Except the big, thick one packet you are getting tomorrow for your Social Studies test!" I said with the absolute cheesiest smile I could muster.
"OH THANK GOD! We were all talking and we just don't think we're going to be ready without a packet!" Her backpack slid down her arm as her expression of relief vibrated through to her finger tips. She bounced down the hallway, everything right in her world but I was left standing, mouth gaping and dumbfounded.
What have we done? Learning is everything. It is the gentle flap of butterfly wings in your stomach when uncovering new information. It is the power of curiosity to take one down uncharted paths. It is a continuous lifelong adventure that winds and twists with excitement.
Our classrooms should be where these adventures begin: harbors where students stockpile supplies and head out on daring journeys but may always return for safety and comfort, to restock and head out again.
Instead of instilling a passion for learning, we have created a generation that successfully maneuvers packets. This is certainly a 21st century skill that will propel them well into the future. The depth at which my sarcasm is running need not be quantified here.
Is it too late to rectify this situation? Identifying the problem is the first step. Our schools need to be design labs, rich, interactive environments where students explore their passions and are guided by us on an unforgettable journey. This journey must by make them life long learners, individuals who are willing to search out information for the simple benefit of learning more.
Setting out to create this environment can be challenging. There are financial stumbling blocks and perhaps even administrative deterrents. Before you begin, know your facts. Research is important. Industrialized learning spaces seems counterproductive to what needs to be accomplished therefore, learning space design was the best place to start.
Research into effective learning spaces yielded an enormous change in classroom atmosphere. Students no longer equated our classroom with their negative connotation of school, rather, they called it home. Comfortable seating in areas called "the living room" or "the genius bar" led to increased student interaction and many authentic learning experiences.
While student engagement had increased, pieces were still missing. How do kids authentically learn? They learn through play and exploration. The completion of a photocopied worksheet allows for little play or exploration. Games, however, offer a whole new world of both. Enter game-based learning and gamification. How this has not been identified as the Holy Grail of teaching is unknown to me. It is content, set into a meaningful and interactive context where students, through play and imagination, acquire the knowledge and skills they need. Often, they have no idea it is even happening!
As we look at our classrooms, we must ask ourselves an important question: are we exotic ports of call or run down docks parading as marinas? Be the harbor master and set your course, building a port they will always return to and be inspired by. It's not easy but it is certainly worth it!