#CyberPd 2013–Who Owns the Learning?

Today begins the third annual #cyberpd event hosted by Cathy MereJill Fisch, and Laura Komos. This is an online book study that offers up deep reflection and wide-ranging discussion across grades, disciplines, and time zones.


This year we are discussing Alan November’s Who Owns the Learning?


It is important that I finally read Alan November’s Who Owns the Learning? because I have been playing at the edge of his thinking for the past year. I happened upon his TEDxNYED talk first, and was compelled by his stories of transformed classrooms; of what the buzz words “authentic” and “relevant” and “meaningful” learning could look like. He describes how students tackling real problems in their communities and working towards finding real solutions are not simply engaged in the tasks, but that they are ‘owning’ it.November establishes the analogy of the family farm, where everyone had a role and all contributions were meaningful and purposeful, to assist us in understanding how we need to shift our roles in our classrooms.  As it was essential for the success of the farm that everyone, including the young people, contribute, so too is this true in our classrooms.  November posits that  “the power of purpose and meaningful contribution has been missing from our classrooms and our youth culture for some time” (p. 5).

This rings so true for me.

Consider the rise of the maker movement.  It is a reflection of people’s desire to “get real”–to make, to create, to produce. From arts and crafts to robotics and coding, maker fairs are popping up in and out of schools to help us reconnect our lives in physical and productive ways. But November’s point is not just about productivity. It is importantly about the power of purposeful and meaningful contribution, not just “look what I made”, but “look how I have solved this problem.”


The Big Question:
Will the work survive beyond the student’s time in school?

When my youngest son was in grade eight (2007), he won the regional Heritage Fair with his project on the historical architecture of homes on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. He built a replica of the buildings and mounted them on plywood. Later, the local museum requested to include the project in its display, and there the Heritage Fair Project remained until the museum renewed its exhibits.Was this a terrific experience for the youngster? Absolutely.

Did the project solve a problem? Contribute to the knowledge of the world?
No. Once its usefulness as a static exhibit had run its course, the work became trash.

The issue, then, is one of curriculum design. How do I understand the curriculum expectations through the Digital Learning Farm lens? How am I supporting students’ development in reading, writing, listening, and speaking in a way that is purposeful and meaningful? This must be curriculum design that goes beyond having students write reviews for GoodReads or construct comments for online news articles, beyond running a Today’s Meet back channel in class, beyond writing reflective blogs, and beyond writing essays or collaborative poems in Google docs.

This is curriculum design that fuses the gradual release of responsibility, the student inquiry and deep questioning process, the sophisticated integration of information and communication technology, and November’s concept of the Digital Learning Farm.

This is curriculum design that breaks the traditional game of school.

Although #cyberpd has chunked chapters one and two together, I want to think through each of November’s four roles for students and what they might look like in my classroom, so I will post a second entry on “The Student as Tutorial Designer” separately.

I look forward to reading what everyone else thought about this week’s reading.

Thank you to Cathy for hosting this week’s #cyberpd blogs. Don’t forget to stop by Jill and Laura‘s blogs in the coming weeks to keep the discussion going!


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Filed under #CyberPD, Professional Learning

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