The classroom we know is a small room, crammed with desks and a blackboard, in front of which the teachers pose and explain concepts for us all day. As the 21st century is upon us, however, classes like Gifted Grade 6/7 split of Dalewood Middle School have taken a much more modern approach to learning. Their classrooms have no boundaries. G67 is not confined between the margins of their school building, never withdrawn from that sunny day for their studies. They are free, and their escape is not only the school playground – it is the heart of our city itself.
Into the city
Local university students look up from their cellphones, surprised by the racket we make as we clamber onto our local city bus. It’s almost as if we are shouting, “We are G67! We have escaped our classroom, and we are off to see the world!”
In our learning situation, the average teacher would generally instruct her students to fetch a textbook, read an article and write a response.
However, we have no ordinary teacher; we have Mrs. Pipe. You got it, Zoe Branigan-Pipe, one of the world’s leading educators and, in most of our cases, the only teacher we’ve had who was willing to listen to us and give us what we needed to improve our learning. Believe me, she has.
This is why today, instead of responding to a textbook story, we are responding to community stories and learning social studies at the same time by asking stall owners about fair trade and locally grown foods. We are going to the Hamilton Farmer’s Market and asking stall owners about real events that actually happened to them. We are telling the farmers in our city, Yes! We care about you! We want to learn about your lives and your businesses! We care about our community and we are here to show it!
Best of all, our big projects are more than just oral presentations. They get us involved in community discussions and making a difference in our city. We are currently working on creating a plan, design, and proposal for the Barton-Tiffany area in Hamilton, and in the process responding to many opinions on multiple proposals for this area. This leads us to the Hamilton Public Library, where the archives were made available for our research on these projects.
Influencing 21st century learning is, in turn, influencing the world. The way we teach our students is the way we teach society. Our teaching methods shape the minds of the future, and give learners an opportunity to make a difference now. Our class trip into the community is just one of the many tiny movements taking place around the world and, bit by bit, promoting, advancing and influencing 21st century learning for us. This could eventually lead to kids visiting specialists to learn concepts, and finding examples of where these concepts could be applied in class outings. At some point, classes around the world could collaborate, and students could work on projects that influence society. Let’s face the facts: school is no longer defined as a classroom, where the only tools for our students are a desk, a pen, and paper. School can be everywhere, and students can use anything to learn.
Learning can take you anywhere. You just have to open your eyes to see the way. But do we really have the strength to stand up and take advantage of what’s possible for our learners?
First published in Education Canada, September 2013