Modeling ‘Learning Beyond The Content’

For those that may have attended some of the workshops and presentations that I have done over the past few years, they would know that one of the ideas that I repeatedly stress is the idea of “learning beyond the content”. As I have maintained since I started my blog (and it has been on the mast head since day one), “There is no more money. There is no more time: there are 24 hours in the day.  It’s also the greatest job in the world, so let’s get on with it.”, and as a result, I feel that we have a responsibility to make the most of every moment of every learning opportunity that we provide to support our educators. As my good friends from Fort Worth said to me last year, “We don’t have time for “sit ‘n’ git”!”.  So whenever I attend a conference or professional development session as a participant, I like to try to find ways to take important messages and turn them into activities for faculty meetings or workshops that not only allow participants to ‘interact’ with these concepts, but to do so in a way that allows them to simultaneously learn other skills.  So if you are looking to dig deeper with your staff with some ‘learning beyond the content’ for an upcoming faculty meeting, administrator meeting, or workshop, the model used in this post might work well for you!

The ‘Content’:
In February, I had the opportunity to attend FISA 2016 in Vancouver, and was able to attend a session by Yong Zhao.  He underscored the importance of developing an entrepreneurial spirit in our students so they can begin to envision and take advantage of the emerging opportunities that arise out of innovations and technologies that are being prototyped, tested, and unveiled all around us on a daily basis.  The example Yong Zhao gave was around the driverless car, and he asked us to consider what driverless cars could mean to society from an entrepreneurial perspective:  what jobs will arise as a result of driverless cars?

On the drive home after the conference, I reflected that while I might have a functional knowledge of the schools and a few hypotheses about “the next curve” in education, my perspective beyond the K-12 system is actually quite limited.  I don’t usually spend a great deal of time thinking about things such as the future of biotechnology, working with ‘big data’, or becoming a ‘simulation developer’. Not to mention, I certainly haven’t drilled down to think of how I might prepare learners to find opportunities in new and emerging industry spaces.  And if I was feeling this way, I wondered if other educators would be able help learners to ‘spot the opportunities’ in emerging innovations.

The ‘Activity’:
As a result of what I heard from Yong Zhao at FISA, I have been testing an activity called “Spot the Opportunity”.  In this exercise, I have participants create and present a short, four-slide Google presentation using new or emerging technologies as the content (ie. driverless cars, drones, smart contact lenses). The Google slide deck (I provide blank templates to save time) needs to have four elements, each on a slide with a infographic, picture, or very short (30 second) video:
  1. a description of the new innovation/technology
  2. some ideas about what that new innovation/technology might replace in our current society
  3. some forward thinking and hypothesizing about potential entrepreneurial spin offs   
  4. the skills and training that students would require to leverage these entrepreneurial opportunities.

  1. I have the group divide into groups of two with one piece of technology (ie. chromebook or something similar)
  2. I send them the link to a ‘force-copy’ slide deck with four slides.
  3. I show the group the ‘Research Tool’, and how to drag an image into the slide deck.
  4. I start the timer.  The participants then have 10-12 minutes to develop this short, 1-2 minute presentation.  Having short timelines keeps the activity crisp.

    “Opportunity” slide on an innovation (drone technology)

  5. To model the iterative cycle, partners do an ‘iteration presentation’ to another set of partners. The other partners have two minutes to give warm feedback, cool feedback and suggestions for 2 minutes, and then the roles are reversed.  This takes 8 minutes (4 minutes per group)
  6. Groups have 3 minutes to make any changes, and clean-up.
  7. Groups do a final presentation to a different pair.  
  8. At the end, I ask one or two groups to present to everyone.  In total, the creation and presentation phase of this activity takes 30-35 minutes.

The “Learning Beyond The Content”
After the presentations, I have participants reflect for five minutes to analyze the task that they just completed.  I ask the participants to list and provide evidence of the skills that they had to demonstrate in creating this very brief slide deck through the lens of “What were you saying, doing, writing or producing that is evidence of you demonstrating this skill?” (In BC, I also have participants analyze the task through the lens of our re-designed curricular competencies so they become familiar with the process of task analysis, and being able to plan for what students would be saying, doing, writing, and/or producing as a result of activities such as these.)

In the true spirit of ‘learning beyond the content’, participants get to learn about an innovation such as the driverless car, and they begin to think critically about the entrepreneurial skills that students might need to leverage the new innovation, along with the other criteria for the slide deck.  But at the same time, they also
  • create content using Google slides
  • use the Google research tool
  • learn how to drag and drop pictures, video, and/or citations
  • practice giving and receiving feedback
  • iterate as a result of feedback
  • learn about effective slide design
  • present to their peers
  • analyze a task and reflect upon the skills they have learned
  • and….?

To this point, I have tested this activity with a couple of groups and had another group test it on their own. “Spot the Opportunity” has been well-received, so if this is an activity that might work for your faculty or district meeting, give it a shot! All I ask is that you share it back when you make it better. As well, if the idea of creating ‘learning beyond the content’-style activities inspires you to create others, please share them as well!

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