Inno-Econ Learning Experience

Digital Portfolio for Mary O'Brien

Designing a Creative Pathway for an Engaging Learning Environment by Actively Listening to and Observing Classroom Learners

This year has been a year of learning, for both my students and myself. We moved into a new building with limited space, piloted the new Focus on 2 literacy curriculum and figured out ways to grow as learners using technology, Beautiful Stuff and building tools to support our growth as real-world learners. Using the 4Cs +1 of 21st century learning, my students were able to develop knowledge and student agency around their critical thinking skills, they developed methods for communicating with others more effectively, collaborated on strategies with an audience other than the adults, creatively explored what they were interested in by taking ownership of tasks, and by becoming equals in their contributions to the classroom community. Through opportunities afforded in this experience and others offered by the district, my students have been able to move forward in innovative thinking, have redesigned classroom learning experiences and have been given the freedom to develop personal agency towards their growth mindset in their academic journey through personally chosen interest-based experiences.

Moving Forward After Looking Back

When the academic year started the students were invited to use stem bins, three mornings a week as before school work. They were given a pencil box and a task card. Materials needed were in each pencil box. There was no opportunity for true creativity. As the year progressed and my thinking and experiences were challenged by opportunities provided to me through professional development experiences, my planning changed and it gave me the courage and freedom to let my students take charge and co-develop explorations with a peer or an adult, need be. Below are examples of the random groupings of task cards and the match of a pencil box with various items for creativity. (Beginning of school year)

As Time Moved On We Grew as a Community of Learners

Using my experiences in this learning experience, I listened closely to the talks at the MFA, to the students from BLS at MIT and was actively engaged in chatting with colleagues from other schools about connections to the Fo2 on the World Ocean School sailboat cruise.

The only variety of my stem bins in at the beginning of the year was what objects might be paired with the task cards. It didn't leave a lot for personal agency in creation of the tasks.

In our most recent learning experience, students researched pollinators. They also researched four specific flowers, that are exceptionally challenging to pollinate. They looked at models of the flowers and exactly what a pollinator would need, to be able to complete the pollination task successfully. Then they created tools that would support them in hand pollinating a flower, such as a bucket orchid. The examples shown here are the original designs, then the students took it a step further.

Below you will see their hand pollinators after researching their flowers via the internet and then using "Beautiful Things" to be as creative and precise, as possible. Students had to really think as engineers to complete this task. Their hand pollinators had to fit into the structure of the flower (examples for research purposes included test tubes, PVC elbow piping & petri dishes). These model structures supported students in their design process and they had to apply their engineering skills to design a pollinator that was flexible enough to enter and exit the flower.

In my role as a facilitator, I stepped back and became an active listener. Student planning took place as students worked collaboratively to co-develop a plan of action as they progressed in their critical thinking and inquiry of what was driving their creativity towards their final product. Conversations ensued about the structures of pollinators, including a brief struggle with abdomens, thoraxes, and "where exactly did legs go?". Watching the students productively struggle through their challenges, I was able to witness learner agency at work. Students knew where they could find the information they needed by using resources available in the classroom, such as the internet, books, anchor charts, models and peer experts.

Opportunities to Create Flower Structures in Studio Time

Personal Recount of Shifting to Student Centered Learning

It's never easy to release the responsibility in the classroom to the children, but at some point we all have to trust that they have been exposed to the skills and content they need to be independent and explore the 4C's that support 21st century learning with a passion and desire to be self-directed. My students have grown as learners who think critically, collaborate with peer experts, explore their creativity and communicate their passion to their peers while demonstrating that they are valued contributors through activating their student voice via discourse and modeling in the classroom.

By inviting my students to personalize their learning experiences I was able to observe students make connections with their peers that supported personal growth in their interests, talents and through imaginative and innovative paths. I learned that while one student may replicate, a parts of the flower visual aid professionally, another student may be able to dramatically use a variety of scarves and scraps of fabric to demonstrate the entire life cycle of a plant using rich vocabulary and expression that demonstrates complete mastery of the subject matter, while another group of students debates over the engineering of a K'Nex replica of a flower and constructively argue over exactly where should the pistil be in the structure. Allowing children to have these authentic experiences, that can be challenging and offer opportunity for productive struggle, we as educators/observers are allowing our students to develop learner agency while creating a culture of inquiry and creativity that is invaluable to their acquisition of designing their own learning-centered experiences.