This is the third in a series of guest blogs by the CREATE Lab Team.
By Bea Dias
I remember being 5 years old and entering school for the first time. I was a scared, insecure and naive child who didn’t speak the language fluently and was very unsure of herself. Still, I was curious; about the school, about whom I would meet, about who I would become, and about the world I will enhabit. I had many questions, but no license nor confidence to ask those questions. So, over time my curiosity went dormant, and pressure to adhere to norms and rules took precedence in my life.
When reflecting on “Fluency Mindset”, I return to that first moment of entering elementary school. What would it have taken for me to feel confident and empowered enough to ask questions, and then follow those lines of inquiry to find answers? Perhaps, I needed a teacher who could empathize with my experience or a peer who wanted to explore with me. This is something we are investigating through Fluency: How can we build a foundation for learning so that students feel heard, understood, and empowered to ask questions and follow those questions?
In essence, we want to encourage and foster the curiosity that children come into school with, and provide them with tools and a safe space to explore their questions. This type of atmosphere can help build habits of mind that lead to independent inquiry, critical thinking, confident communication, perseverance and creative problem solving. A Fluency Mindset is the critical ingredient we need to unlock this potential; it is a form of freedom to be our authentic selves, to value our existing knowledge without feeling inadequate about what we do not know yet, and to be confident and excited about exploring the unknown. A Fluency Mindset should make learning joyful and fulfilling, regardless of where you begin.
How we build this mindset in students cannot be prescriptive; rather, our approach must: be rooted in knowledge of ourselves and our students, build on what students already know, focus less on content and more on concepts, and give students space and license to inquire, explore and draw their own conclusions about topics that interest them.
Thinking back, I wonder how my story would have been shaped if I had felt valued and accepted as a student, instead of silenced and corrected. I will never know this, but I do know it is imperative that we take action to better prepare our children for a future that has not yet been imagined. A Fluency Mindset is a good place to start...
This is the second in a series of guest blogs by the CREATE Lab Team.
"What is Fluency?"
By Jessica Pachuta
That is the big question that we have asked a cohort of twelve diverse teachers in Allegheny County who participated in the exploratory year of the CREATE Lab’s “Fluency Project.” While we have plenty of data and research that tells us what technology fluency is and how to measure it, and can find plenty of anecdotes about it, we needed to find out how to get there. So real question veiled behind “What is Fluency?” is not a closed-ended question. It's a challenge to shift the way the think about our relationship with technology, each other, and ourselves.
The major things that we learned were about the foundations that must be laid for “fluency” to take place. If the goal of fluency is “the ability to make effective choices and use tools to advance one’s understanding and communication” as well as the "ability to manipulate, transform and move information across various media and platforms,” how do we get there?
To uncover the journey, I would first point you to the series of blogs and tweets and anecdotes that teachers participating in the project have written over 2016-2017. In there, we find evidence of a deep sense of values and the fruits of their efforts in relationship and trust building, a cultivation of student voice, and some of those victorious moments where we meet the empowered teacher and student. As well as some pretty authentic implementations of tools that served students’ learning.
As we transition from our Exploratory year, we begin looking at an elementary-level pilot project that culminates all that we learned, planned, and collaborated on. After we launched a “technology fluency” project where teachers would be trying all sorts of new things with computers and robots and maps and data, we were all quite surprised when we stopped at a pivot point and said:
“Why? To what end?” “What purpose does technology truly serve?”
In these questions, we learned that Fluency is a process that lets us go deeper. The license to hack and remix tech plus the opportunity to uncover our sense of purpose. Furthermore, the application of an “inquiry, case-making, advocacy” model means we look at content, materials, and sense-making with a new lens.
In our second year working deeply on this Fluency idea, the first cohort will work on “Spreading Roots” in their educational ecosystems with our support. At the same time, we’ll be partnering with elementary educators to apply this lens and to test out all of the ingredients that lay the foundation for a Fluency that will last beyond those victorious moments and will serve students for a lifetime.
This is the first in a series of guest blogs by the CREATE Lab Team.
Informal Learning in Formal Learning Spaces
By MaryLu Hutchins
I wrote these words a year ago using the lens of a public school teacher as I contemplated the potential impacts of #thefluencyproject: “Education for all in the United States was created as a basis for a democratic society. In the information age, development of student voice allows for teaching and learning to support growth across all divides as we use data based reasoned thinking to level the playing field. In serving this greater purpose as educators, we promote data fluency to empower our students.”
Now as an informal educator, I have updated my position statement to say: “Development of student voice is vital to the contemporary vision of teaching and learning. Within fluency frameworks, students and teachers are co-powered to investigate data. In doing so, they invest in working together to build compelling narratives, illuminate statistics and collectively design appropriate structures to share their learning experiences and perspectives."
While my belief system remains solid, my knowledge base expanded dramatically through my experiences of working with the magnificent CREATE Team and our beautiful Teacher Cohort. My investigation started with an important query: “What might educators learn from exploring informal learning spaces?” As the cohort made site visits to several CREATE Lab partner locations and reflected on their great works and messages we heard, teachers and team members entered a new realm to become learners. The most powerful message that arose for me was a reinforcement of my belief that strong and supportive Relationships (an intentional capital R) create the foundations needed for experimentation, mistake making, iteration, and genuine sustainable learning. With mentors to guide, support and sometimes challenge the process, learning is rooted, becomes distinct, and takes on a life of its own.
The informal learning spaces demonstrated very high mentor- learner ratios and this seemed crucial to nourishing early learner persistence in chosen tasks/adventures. Once established, the mentor - learner relationship ebbed and flowed according to need, while remaining a constant in the life of the young person. Formal learning spaces by their very definition move students from grade level to grade level and from teacher to teacher, making sustained relationships a challenge at best.
A former librarian, now an informal learning space mentor, explicitly discussed the challenge of luring the learner into an informal learning space. Exemplifying the exact opposite of formal learner spaces, where the learner is required by code to show up, adults in informal learning spaces make the time to listen closely to learner feedback. Thus enabling constant adjustments in the informal environment, student voice contributes significantly to evolution of the informal learning space. This interplay becomes a burgeoning example of youth voice and speaks to the value of collaboration while exploring the technology that is mainstream beyond school contexts. For educators, that challenge is very real: “Are we prepared to build ‘in school frameworks’ where adults are given the time to develop and mentor student interests?” “ Do we believe that student interests and strengths should guide our work?” “Are we prepared to listen to our students, from PreK- 12th grade, to actually hear and understand what they are telling us?”
Education continues its function as the basis for a democratic society. Democracy functions because we choose to invest in the greater good by responsible engagement in choice and ideology. The diversity of learners and their “ways of knowing” within larger systems in the information age present many challenges. Sharing ideas and caring about universal quality of life separates humans from chaos. Nurturing students and humanizing our schools means that we must listen closely to remain centered on learners’ needs, encourage social responsiveness and sustain caring relationships. Our students are our future. If we want student leadership to grow, as educators, we are obligated to model student-centered design and focus on cultivating and endorsing student voice.