Deep Learning

As I continued to read through A Rich Seam, I was inspired by the variety of examples of deep learning that were outlined, and the authentic actions that were being taken as a result of the learning.

I was particularly interested in a tiny link at the bottom of page 21 that led me to the story of Maximum City, an urban planning education program. Among other things, the program engages students in urban planning design challenges that impact their own lives, and have the ability to drive real change in their neighbourhoods. Through the design process, you could see students developing skills far beyond that of simply urban planning, as they used design thinking to understand the neighbourhoods they were working in, engage with the community, and work collaboratively and interdependently. 

Here is a video from a few years ago to take a deep dive into:

A More Local Context

It was fun watching a video from “back home” about amazing ideas in education, but I then needed to connect it to something a little closer to my current home. At my school, for the last two years, a team of teachers has been working together to teach grade 7 MYP science and design as an interdisciplinary course.

An example of the sorts of learning experiences that they have been using was a design challenge that incorporated knowledge and understanding of adaptations and biomimicry. Students were challenged to design a product to market to their peers that incorporated principals of biomimicry into the design. They followed the design process, and came up with a range of products from new ideas for water bottles, to shirts that circulated cold water through tubing for temperature regulation.

The final designs were pitched in a “Dragon’s Den” style presentation, in which I had the opportunity to judge. If I’m honest, I was a bit underwhelmed by the results, and while the idea behind the projects was admirable, it fell a bit flat.

Student pitch of their biomimicry design project

This year, along the same lines as the Maximum City program, they are taking a new approach. They are tackling the highly local problem of our Senior School students never wanting to go outside.

The outdoor space that they have access to is uninspiring, small, and was designed for much younger students many years ago. In groups, the students and teachers are combining design thinking, material science and physics in order to design new elements for our senior school campus. This is an authentic experience that is applicable to the students and they are engaged and excited by it (even before they found out that there is actually money to implement some of the best designs!).

Part of the current outdoor space for students

Authentic choice over what they learn and how they execute the learning

This idea of authentic choice in learning is powerful to implement, yet challenging to conceive of in an elementary setting. How can we manage to have so many different students’ voices honoured and listened to in the learning process? The Grade 5 PYP Exhibition is one example of how this might look in action. In my role as a technology integration teacher, I was able to work closely with the Grade 5 team throughout this unit.

Students were asked to explore the idea, “We can use our passion for a purpose”. They could choose a passion of their own, and develop their own purpose over the course of this unit. The teachers engaged in discussions with students to help them develop their understanding of purpose, which in this case we based on the PYP definitions of action.

Students could choose to make lifestyle choices by developing a personalized plan to be more physically active or eat healthier. They could focus on social justice issues by using their passion for sewing to create reusable feminine hygiene kits for the “Days for Girls” campaign or become social entrepreneurs by learning how to grow their own vegetables in a sustainable way.

Action and Agency – Sonya Terborg

Students were inspired by over fifty different presentations from members of the school community and beyond about their own passions and what purpose they might have. They were then invited to spend weeks developing their passion and purpose either independently or with other like-minded students.

It was the hope that these personal inquiries into areas of interest led to learning that did not end with the exhibition, but continued on as passions in the students’ lives. We still see evidence of these projects, be it students continuing to cook healthy meals for their families at home, or selling their baked goods at the monthly international market at the school.