Monday, September 30, 2013

Innovation for the Classroom

Blogging about innovation in education is one thing, putting those ideas into practice with students is another. Since the beginning of the new school year in September 2013, we have been trying to bring about this transformation in the classes under my responsibility in Lycée Pierre and Marie Curie in Châteauroux (France).
The classes of "Terminale" (12th grade) began their work with the TED video "Changing Educational Paradigms" by Sir Ken Robinson. Their first task: brainstorming about the question "How do we learn things at school?" It comes as no surprise that their list is quite conservative, except for the last item: "By being self-motivated".

Confronted with Robinson's arguments, they began digging deeper. After first identifying his arguments, they quickly moved on to explaining, analyzing and criticizing them, with the goal of making them their own. Sometimes they run off the rails, criticizing the very ideas Robinson himself is opposed to while under the impressing that they are taking Robinson to task. Little by little, however, they have managed to integrate Robinson's arguments into their own logical constructions, adding here and there elements of their own.

Continuing with this theme of innovation, we watched another TED video, WilliamKamkwamba's "How I harnessed the wind." Students were so impressed by Kamkwamba's accomplishments that they spent the following class hour discussing how striking his work is. This young Malawian built a windmill with parts from a scrapyard, with no formal education beyond primary level, no knowledge of English and just the few bits of information he could glean from physics and electricity books he read at a local library – written only in English. On the test two weeks later, I asked them to what extent Kamkwamba was a sort of hero. Approval was nearly unanimous.

However, showing videos in class and talking about them together is hardly an innovative teaching practice in and of itself. But we have begun to cross this bridge. Students thinking about their own conditions of learning is an important first step. They have begun looking for answers and ideas beyond teacher-centered lectures and target-language documents studied in class. The next step is to go on the web and watch other videos they choose themselves, searching for new ideas on their own and beginning to build a personal self-motivated learning process designed to supply answers to their own questions. They will explore the "Pearl Trees" diagram that we built together and exchange their ideas with distant partners using Skydrive and the Office Webapps as an exchange platform.  Tools like Mindmeister, Audacity, MS Photostory, Blogspot, Smart Notebook and Smart Ideas will also be used. Although this project has only begun, its innovative side will come to fruition in the work they realize in coming weeks.

Finally, I should note that this project is also intended to serve as an example of "best practices" to showcase ways of integrating educational technology into the classroom, as well as encouraging students to "think outside the box" and take charge of their own learning. I hope that the Barcelona Partners in Learning event will give me more opportunities for networking and finding distance communication project partners.

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