Friday, June 1, 2012

What is Authentic, Real Life Learning? By Shirley

As teachers, we often talk about “the real world” and discuss “real life learning” believing that somehow our students know what we mean. I often wonder if they do understand and challenge myself to find out what more I can do to make learning real for them.

We do a lot of project and problem solving learning at PDS and try to be as authentic as possible. This year my 6th graders participated in a global conference in Geneva with a panel of futurists, connected with other schools around the world during a 20/20 Education for All Challenge, worked in local service learning projects and Skyped with authors and other people globally. Is this enough?

Our latest “real life” project has been to help to design, plan and soon build a solar studio for our school to share. This came about through one of our parents, Glen Callahan from American Green Home Builders who generously offered to sponsor and create this exciting project that would involve the kindergarten and their 6th grade buddies.

Big and little students were so excited when Glen’s team came to tell us more about this project and ask for our ideas and suggestions. They showed us amazing buildings using Sketch Up (a program many of my students are familiar with) and explained all the reasons for building a “green “ structure.  Our students enthusiastically came up with a whole bunch of great ideas for this dream studio…some unrealistic and some very doable. Some of the most important details in their sketches were seating, electricity, charging stations and windows.

Glen's team presenting their idea to our students
We then used buddy time to worked in small groups to design our own buildings using Sketch Up. The older students became the teachers, explaining the program and guiding their little buddies so they could create their own dream playhouses.

One of the student plans…
We then waited on the final plans to arrive.....

Glen’s team eventually arrived enthusiastically with their computers and tools, as excited students watched the plans being revealed. Included was the important seating, windows, electricity and charging stations… and everyone was delighted.  We learned a lot about how this building would be energy efficient by finding the right angle for our building and how the roof overhang would regulate the amount of sun coming in for winter heat and shade for cooling in the summer. Students were surprised to find out that Sketch Up tools were used to determine the amount of sun and that they are available for anyone to use.

The plans for our solar studio.
The next words were music to my ears as these architects, engineers and builders talked about using open source material to learn new strategies for efficient building, sharing tools with other companies to build more efficient buildings, building on their knowledge and adding to other people’s knowledge. We talk about modeling for our students so what better way than this; to have real people with real jobs share their life long learning with us.

Our next step was to take a field trip to the American Green Homes facility in Kingston, NY and watch as some pre fab structures were being built.  Everyone was amazed at the size of the factory and the huge tools used for construction. I think we had several students who would like to try their hand at this kind of work.  Lunch in the architect's office helped us feel part of the company for the day and we even had an unexpected side trip to behind the factory where a number of antique trains were stored for restoration. Of course, we had to finish off with some ice cream after our day’s work.

Antique Train
Enjoying a break with ice cream
Executive Meeting

A wall almost completed

We are now waiting in anticipation as our walls are built, insulation and wiring inserted and windows installed. The pre fab pieces will soon be delivered to our school and our students will help with some of the assembly. So in this case, I think these students understand and have lived authentic, real life learning…