Opinion
Education Opinion

Bridging the Abstract and Concrete to Impact Learning

By Beth Holland — December 03, 2015 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Last week, I submitted the first iteration of my annotated bibliography for my dissertation. As I wrote in a previous post, I am exploring a single problem of practice: that many K-12 teachers in the U.S. do not participate in, or have access to, effective professional development specific to fostering their students’ 21st century, knowledge economy skills. To research this problem, I have explored peer-reviewed, empirical articles from a historical, anthropological, sociological, and economic perspective as well as through the lens of cognitivism, constructivism, and sociocultural theories.

Justin Reich’s (co-author of this blog) keynote about the Greatest EdTech Generation significantly impacted my research for that project. First, I delved deeper into the changing composition of the labor market to better define non-routine cognitive skills as well as the reported skills gaps between current university graduates and industries at the leading edge of innovation. Then, based on the meta-analysis from Freeman et al. that Justin cited, I examined the underlying drivers for why teachers may or may not employ active-learning, constructivist practices. Finally, I dug into the concept of TPACK to see how the interrelatedness of Technological, Pedagogical, and Content Knowledge could serve as a predictor for innovation.

All of these readings presented interesting challenges and solutions at a theoretical level; however, I needed to shift my thinking from the abstract to the concrete. On Tuesday, I had the third in a series of five EdTechTeacher workshops with a group of teacher-leaders at an independent middle school. Though they have been 1:1 with iPads for several years, they now face the challenge of how to progress from simply using the device to impacting learning with it. While my initial thought for the day was to share many of Justin’s ideas, I recognized the difficulty in imagining the skills that a current eleven-year-old may need in twenty years. Instead, I decided to ground our discussion in reality and created the case study below to provide a concrete situation on which to base our conversation.

George, Judy, Jane, and Elroy have been charged to design and market a new colony in outer space. They will need to understand the concept of colonization from a historical perspective, conduct ecological research to design their new colony within the environment of their fictional planet, and then use a variety of persuasive arguments to market their colony to future investors. In history, English, math, and science, they will work on this project both inside and outside of class. To be successful, efficient, and effective in their work, you will need to help them with the following tasks: Task 1 - Active Reading and Research Each member of the group will need to actively read about colonization and ecology. How will they use active reading strategies with digital sources? How will they organize their readings so that they do not lose track of citations? Do all four students have to use the same tools and strategies? If so, why? If not, what drives their decision making? Task 2 - Synthesizing and Collaborating The team will need to synthesize and organize their knowledge. How should they have been taking notes both during reading and in class so as to see themes and trends in their own work? How could they start to collaborate and share their individual knowledge so that they can construct a collective understanding? Task 3 - Designing and Creating For a final project, the team will need to share the design for their colony. This final product needs to include research-based evidence as well as present an argument to persuade future investors. How could you scaffold this phase of the process to make sure that students do not lose sight of the primary objective to incorporate evidence and present a persuasive argument? What checkpoints or formative assessments might you build into the process? Task 4 - Share with a Broader Audience How will the students share their work? How will the students provide the necessary context so that the learning can be understood by someone who did not experience the entire project? What is the value in sharing with a broader audience?

After reading the case individually, the participants worked in small groups. Although we generated more questions than answers, we also engaged in a more nuanced conversation. The teachers began the day asking “iPad or paper?” By noon, our discussion had shifted to “what skills do my students need in order to develop as effective learners in a digital and physical world?

In his keynote, Justin issued a challenge to set the right-sized goal for the immediate future. He discussed the value of STEM/STEAM, Design Thinking, and Project Based Learning as strategies for building curricula to foster these non-routine cognitive abilities in a manageable way. The goal of “embracing 21st-century skills” presents a massive and potentially unmeasurable challenge. However, by acknowledging the abstract while situating thinking in the concrete, then we may be able to more realistically shift instructional practice towards a new vision of learning.

The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP