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How to Create Rich Learning Environments
Author: Karen Ward, AALF Coach | November 9th, 2011

The best thing a teacher can do is to set up the best conditions for each kid to learn. Once you have that, then the computer can help immeasurably. Conversely, just putting computers in the schools without creating a rich learning environment is useless -- worse than useless! (Alan Kay)

I love this quote by Alan Kay because I believe it provides a common focus for all educators within a system. While never having been a 1:1 teacher or administrator, he envisions the possibilities while providing us with the words or phrases needed to potentially do the same. Mr. Kay includes two qualifiers of effective 1:1 teaching and learning that must be identified, articulated, and collaborated around. These qualifiers are:

* setting up the best conditions for each kid to learn, and

* creating rich learning environments

What exactly does he mean with these two qualifiers and, just as important, can we apply these two qualifiers to the professional development and teacher learning? I know that we must begin by identifying that 1:1 learning can help to provide our students with the best conditions for their learning because laptops or tablets are the most powerful thinking, doing, learning tools available for our students today. At the same time, effective and ongoing professional development should help teachers understand what these qualifiers are and how to create and sustain both while also helping them think about their work. In short…What are the foundations for effective and sustainable 1:1 professional development? Effective professional development requires creating a professional development plan that included focused, strategic, and intentional support. Because stories provide in one compact package information, knowledge, context, and emotion that help us understand new or important concepts, I would like to share a story that will help answer this question (quote: Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind).

Several years ago I had a year 11 student by the name of Jordan in my 1:1 English class. Jordan had some unique learning challenges and so he had become very astute at identifying ’what worked and what didn’t work’ with regards to his learning. His grades were the topic of discussion one afternoon during a conference between his parents and all of his teachers because they were all either good or acceptable, with the exception of one class. His parent and all of the educators present began to address the situation, with a focus on identifying why he was struggling in this class and the potential next-steps required to improve his failing grade. There was a lot of conversation about the reasons and possible solutions, but one person was not invited in to offer his ideas or thoughts: Jordan. Finally, out of frustration, he interrupted and stated, “Ask me and I will tell you. You taught me about the subject, but you didn’t teach me how to think about the subject.” I believe Jordan’s simple straight-forward statement includes a powerful message and lesson for all of us. Do we help our teachers think about the complexities of establishing the best conditions for learning or how to create rich learning environments, or do we focus on the how-to’s of the equipment and available resources?

How can we help our 1:1 teachers think about Mr. Kay’s two qualifiers? I would like to suggest a first-step practice or strategy that I have found to be effective in my AALF 1:1 work. It is titled, Creating My 1:1 Pedagogy Statement and the process includes helping teachers envision the possibilities and identify the realities. I believe it also helps teachers articulate what their rich learning environments will look like. I encourage administrator and teacher support staff (like technology coaches) to participate in the following process because it helps all staff to better understand their own work.

* 1st: Help your teachers learn about the possibilities that 1:1 provides. Share video clips, quotes, and stories that help teachers envision what is possible in their classes. Align these resources with your district or school 1:1 goals. Because learning is a social experience, encourage teachers to talk about the resources they are seeing.

*2nd: Encourage teachers to imagine the opportunities that these possibilities could provide for their students in their own classrooms. What would this look like? How would they create this environment?

*3rd: Help teachers identify some of the details needed to provide their students with these opportunities (the foundations for the best conditions and rich learning environments).

*Next: Require each teacher to articulate their vision for what these rich learning environments could provide by writing a 1:1 pedagogy statement that includes:

** Sentence/Paragraph 1: I believe ...this sentence or paragraph identifies the teacher’s beliefs about possible opportunities for learning in their 1:1 class.

** Sentence/Paragraph 2: And so, I will...this sentence or paragraph addresses the teacher actions or what the teacher will do to ensure that identified opportunities become reality.

** Sentence/Paragraph 3: And my students will...this last sentence or paragraph explains what students will be doing as a result of the teacher beliefs and actions.

Here are several examples of 1:1 Pedagogy Statements created by teachers from around the world (NOTE: you can find more examples on the AALF site by clicking on Discussion Boards you must join AALF at no cost to post your own statement). I encourage educators to post their completed pedagogy statements in a location where they will see it often and be reminded of their own requirements for creating their class rich learning environment.

Example 1

I believe that laptops are one of the most powerful and vital ‘thinking and doing’ tools available for my students.

As such, I will design and deliver lessons that focus on building content skills and knowledge, collaboration and communication skills, and creativity, through a focus on standards and the use of relevant 21st century tools or resources. I will provide opportunities for my students to apply what they learn to their lives in general.

At the same time, students will use their laptops daily to construct their knowledge, to communicate and collaborate with others, to create new projects, artifacts, and understandings, and to share their learning with others. They will use their ‘thinking/doing tool’ to contribute to our classroom learning culture.

Example 2

I believe technology is a powerful tool to use to model and explore mathematical concepts. While instructional, step-by-step guidance is still a necessary part of teaching math in order to build skills, there are larger mathematical questions that can be presented for students to tinker with, ideas to be tested, and relationships to be understood using their laptops.

I will provide regular opportunities for my students to construct and demonstrate the math concepts they are learning. I will push my students to apply their learning to their everyday lives. I will provide opportunities for my students to use their laptops to question, explore and learn deeper math relationships and connections.

Students will use technology to learn about and then demonstrate to others what they have learned and that will, in turn, provide additional clarifying opportunities for each. Students will use online texts and sites to watch and replay demonstrations of math that can help them understand the patterns, skills, and techniques important to memory that help for the foundation for further mathematical study.

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