Updated: Jul 11, 2020
With the school year approaching, I am happy to offer this inspirational blog post, meant to grow awareness to metaphors we commonly use when talking about school. Developing those metaphors serves to embrace the concept needed in order to create class environments for social emotional and project based learning.
We believe in the the kind of education that grows the individual, yet we still have to instruct much learning material in class. Consider this metaphor of information and skills that we introduce as a material – a substance that can be transferred to the students. How much they come to possess it is measurable indeed. But do they remember it the day after the test?
This metaphor of material implies that in our minds the concept of learning as passing knowledge is ingrained, an unconscious obstacle preventing us from delivering inspiring education that grows minds, souls and hearts mutually.
The teaching metaphor of cultivating a garden, helping sprouts flourish, might have been narrowed throughout the years into mere passing of knowledge to grow the next generation into success, contributing to society’s flourish. Yet, even in a garden every plant and flower has different needs - how much light or water. How do we make the land fertile for all? By growing each student responding to his/her gifts waiting to flourish. What’s more, the natives of the 21st century simply are capable of more than accumulating data. Their bright minds need more stimulation.
Today’s students’ minds seek to grow. Their spark of genius as kids begs to grow into creative thinking. Intimidating, I know. But if we ignore it, we will only grow frustration and anxiety. That’s more frightening. So much waste, literally and metaphorically. We are creating weeds that do not serve to nurture growth, rather they choke it. Notice that we can create flowers the same as we can create weeds. We have the ability. But we do have choice. We can choose positive and productive growth. It’s worth the efforts.
I don’t think we can distance ourselves from the concept of teaching as instructing the learning material. The concept is too deep. And there is knowledge we need to give the students. We just need to develop the metaphor.
My story "The Bee Who Wanted to Fly" tells the story of Honey.
Its paining is on the cover of my PBL, SEL and STEAM book. Ever since Honey was a larva she dreamed of being a forager
flying the fields. However, first she must study all the tasks
of the hive. There’s time to grow and there’s time to glow.
In the mean-time she learns about the life of her society,
protected inside the nest. Imagine the school as a nest –
a social place, where everyone contributes to the overall
productivity, a place for exploring values and rules
as well as great treasures of culture.
When Honey is ready she forages the fields. Colorful sights and wondrous smells ignite her. She studies the world herself. And it seems like a spring flourishing field. In the story Honey had the opportunity to fly out of the nest before. But it was too scary. She wasn’t ready. Maybe that is what school is about – a safe place for learning about the world outside, practicing foraging while exploring the inner world – knowing one’s strengths, what one’s best in. When students go foraging themselves, when it’s time to glow, the experience will be fruitful.
It is indeed important to pass on knowledge. But it’s not enough. We also need to grow persons. For them to be ready they need to learn what their individual gifts are and grow confidence in expressing those talents. They need critical thinking to assess new situations when they forage, but also creative thinking to generate ideas and solutions adapting to challenges and changes.
Honey has been a forager from the day she hatched out of the egg. Children are like that, searching to nurture their personalities growing rich inner worlds that will serve as rich land fields in which creative ideas will grow. This is vital. Otherwise when they become adults they might be very good at completing tasks, but they will not have the joy of exploring. They wouldn’t know how to solve problems and how to glide breezes of change.
Here is some teaching inspiration for social emotional learning in a PBL method using 5 simple E's:
Explore – We introduce knowledge by a story, video or a short lecture.
Experience – We guide through experiential learning, to help students draw on their own ideas based on information new to them. We can, for example, invite them to doodle and write freely about what them have learned. Their intuitive products will serve for us to learn what their individual gifts are.
Examine – We check the ideas the students drew on in conversation, by visiting each at his/her desk. Our feedback and the classmates’ ideas help examine and elevate personal products. There is a mutual process going on of igniting learning that is like exploring.
Elevate – We can collect the raw products and read through them at home. Then we return the products to the students, each with guiding questions to take the products to the next level. Enhancing their products, the students deepen their knowledge, improve literacy skills, and get better at being themselves.
Express – We invite the students to resubmit their final creative written products or to present them to the class or to a group of mates, for the benefit of all learners.
To step into such teaching, embrace the extended growth metaphor of a working bee learning safely in the nest. When she becomes a forager, she explores the world on her own while communicating with the hive – the safe harbor. I know it’s difficult to create a safe place at class. It is possible though, since the new metaphor promotes cooperation in stead of competition.
The story “Honey – The Bee who Wanted to Fly” can be found in Creative Children Like the Animals of the World or in Raising Creative Thinkers Series: Butterflies, Bees and Ants.
I hope that was helpful. I know it’s difficult to embrace new strategies. But it’s also the way to grow professionalism. Old school teaching simply doesn’t work anymore. That’s why it takes so much effort. Better create an environment for 21st century learning, effectively communicating your teaching strategy to the students, to school staff, and to parents. Grow learners that will joyfully fly off to explore. They’ll always come back for more.