While we’ve been busy thinking about and asking our stakeholders about the museum’s role in next generation learning, we’ve also been eager to engage with how other organizations are examining education in the 21st century. When we heard about the Future of Learning Institute offered by Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, it seemed like a great opportunity to compare our experiences so far and place them within the context of a research organization. The Future of Learning Institute’s goal is for participants “to envision and create innovative classrooms, programs, materials, and in- and out-of-school learning environments that promote deep, relevant, and engaging learning for our times.”
In considering the educator and student needs, we’ve identified proof, real world skills, play/experimentation, and engagement. These needs were heavily explored in the Institute’s course content. We learned about research that is in process and had many opportunities to learn from our peers. The overall design of the program was a strong model for professional development. The course featured a mix of formats including large plenary sessions, mini-courses with active participation, and a daily learning group that we got to reflect and grow with over the week. In fact, Howard Gardner and some colleagues recently wrote a response to a Washington Post article about the quality of teacher professional development that stresses the importance of treating educators as professionals, allowing opportunities for collaboration, and relevance, among other features. These same qualities factor into the development of professional development at the NCMA.
It would be impossible to confine all of my program takeaways to a blog post, but I’ll focus on three.
It is important to allow time for reflection and for that reflection to include the exploration of “disturbing thoughts” —thoughts that might represent someone else’s point of view and seem too difficult or upsetting to really think about but shouldn’t be ignored. Many members of my learning group agreed that we needed to make a conscious effort to prioritize reflection during the school and work day and not just leave it as something to be done later in favor of moving on to the next project.
I attended a session on systems design facilitated by Agency by Design (link: agencybydesign.org) research specialists Jessica Ross and Edward Clapp. Agency by Design is a research project that explores maker-centered learning. The session focused on identifying human-designed systems at play in an interconnected world. As the session unfolded we moved through many of the same steps that I’ve used with teachers in concept mapping: defining concepts, identifying the concepts or systems at play in an image, and making connections between concepts. This experience provided reinforcement for our approach to concept-based learning and was a great opportunity to share ArtNC and the concept explorer with peers from all over the world.
What to Let Go and What to Keep
On the first afternoon of the program, David Perkins, the Carl H. Pforzheimer, Jr., Research Professor of Teaching and Learning at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, posed the question, “What learning matters?” and prompted us to apply a “Mattermatics” equation to our practice:
- + 1 (one thing we might add to our practice that would be really different)
- x 2 (one thing we would like to expand or enrich that we already do)
- 3 (one thing we would shrink because it gets in the way)
We reflected on this formula several times over the course of the week. At our penultimate learning group meeting, we were given an assignment to bring in an artifact of our Future of Learning Experience. The night before I had encountered some books scattered on the sidewalk while walking back to my lodgings. Were they dropped? Were they left there on purpose with the knowledge that someone else would pick them up? I noticed a similar scene on a front porch the next morning, and when I passed by again both sets of books were gone. Luckily I had taken a picture that I could use as an artifact. To me the books represented knowledge or ideas that someone might be ready to let go in order to embrace the opportunities of the future of learning that matters. It reminded me of the challenges we face with this project. What projects should we keep, and what do we need to let go to meet the needs of next-generation learners and educators? The answers to these questions are still being written, but check back for more reflections as we move forward.