Unfold Learning

exploring the best innovations in learning and teaching

A new beginning: hello, again…

It’s been far too long since I posted to the Unfold Learning blog, but my absence has been profoundly productive. For about the last 18 months, I had the privilege of leading an exceptional team of learning designers as we developed a learning approach centered on learning-by-making. The conversations were challenging and rich, and we made some spectacular learning materials. Along the way, we recognized the extreme importance of supporting our work with research and making sure it’s academically sound yet also easily accessible and easy to implement.

One of the challenges of the cubic learning model that’s been the subject of so many posts here is that while it can be a very helpful model for diagnosing learning situations and for understanding the interrelationships between the three central elements of learning — content, context, and community — it’s not necessarily immediately clear how to apply it for creating projects or how to integrate it into larger curricular or teaching plans. This new paradigm is designed to remedy that, providing teachers and learners with a simple “fractal” seed that can scale to any dimension for creating meaningful, engaging project-based and constructionist learning.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring the details and background of this paradigm in a series of posts, but here’s a quick taste:

  • Follow (direct instruction): Based on the lowest dimensional levels of the ‘cube,’ this first move features step-by-step procedures supported by basic information and guided by the instructor to create the ‘platform project’ on which all later steps build. This common starting point also helps establish the classroom community, giving everyone a shared point of reference. The activities and structures of this move won’t be new for teachers and should fit nicely in existing school curricula. The only thing different here is that this is the first of a series of moves rather than the last (or only) step in the learning process… The ‘platform project’ in this move could involve almost anything: a coding project, making a video, a physical project like a robot, a technical application involving 3D printing, an AR or VR application, etc. — even a drawing, animation, dramatic scene, or dance.
  • Tinker (guided practice): This next move emphasizes exploration and testing by learners using the ‘platform project’ as a basis for developing and refining understanding. Learners accomplish this by changing the ‘platform’ project’s parameters, working to change small details of the existing project to consider and understand the impact of those changes. Because learners are modifying small features of an existing project rather than creating an entirely new one, they can get a better sense of their own knowledge and understanding through a low-stakes chance to explore. And if they foul things up badly, they can just return to the ‘platform’ project, performing a kind of ‘reset.’ The ability to return to square one and start over makes experimentation safe, keeping learners from unproductive failure. The shared ‘platform’ also helps learners learn from others in the class as they see how other people are tinkering. They’re part of a shared community of tinkerers, all working from the same basic starting point. All of this works together to undergird learners’ success — and to start them on the path to a new identity and membership in a new community of practitioners.
  • Play (independent practice / performance assessment): Based on what learners have explored and discovered in the Tinker phase, they’re now ready to develop and demonstrate their skills and understanding by creating a new project of their own — building, exploring, inventing, applying, and problem-solving. This is where, for example, learners might create a project that applies to a real-world situation in their lives or where they might create something for public consumption. It might be the stage at which they create a project for in-class work that demonstrates their ability to apply what they’re learning in a context not contrived by the teacher. Because the Tinker project gave them opportunities to create a sort of ‘guided’ practice version, they’re more confident and less likely to cast about fruitlessly for ideas to pursue. Play is where the real making happens — and it offers teachers meaningful projects they can assess (and offers parents and other community members a chance to see into the learners’ learning process). Most importantly, it’s an opportunity for learners to become productive members of the ‘community of practice.’
  • Share (critical engagement / authentic & critical assessment): This final move in the series involves performance or sharing, giving learners an opportunity to demonstrate their critical as well as their creative skills. They do so via one of four primary methods: comparison, coordination, collaboration, or/and competition, looking at projects that fellow learners or practitioners have created and offering their assessments. They might compare to see how other teams have solved similar problems; they might compete to see whose project is the most efficient, the most robust, or the most successful; or they might collaborate or coordinate to join their projects with other projects to create an even larger overall project. All of this allows learners not only to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in the primary subject area, but also to build and practice the ‘fusion skills’ (‘21st- century skills is such a tired term!) they’ll need to succeed beyond school: collaboration, critical and design thinking, research and media literacy, creativity, and communication. In other words, this last step helps learners build the social and intellectual skills that surround, scaffold, and nurture the disciplinary or content skills learners are learning — and their exposure to the work of others helps extend their disciplinary or content skills at the same time. And it is only in performing this kind of critical engagement that learners can claim full-fledged status as members of the ‘community of practice.’

I hope you’ll join me for this series, and I hope it proves useful for you. More to come soon!…

Author: williamrankin

Explorer in emerging pedagogies, mobile learning activist, digital book prospector, information designer, medievalist

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