Natural Learning Experienes

Contributed by: Craig Gastauer

This post was originally shared on Just Start for Kids & Schools and the author has given his permission to post it here.

Natural learning experiences are generated by observation and questioning.  As individuals share their different perspectives, each of us begin to make meaning of these experiences and deepen our understanding of the world.

Hiking on the cliffs above the the Pacific Ocean with my nine year old son creates for us a safe space to explore the world.  Questions abound as we come across animals, plants, rock strata, and even the wonderful variety of people we encounter. 

And as a science teacher I may have an idea of much of what we come across, I hear from the nine year old perspective new questions and thoughts that may have never occurred to me.  There are no texts or assignments forcing students down a path that the teacher wants the student to focus.  Instead, the child’s questioning and wonderment lead the discussions and the ideas to explore.  The generated excitement even invites those people passing by to add their understanding and questions.  Learning opened through the initial questions and new insight allowed us to look at the experience in new ways:

  • Why are all the organisms under plants or why are the animals a certain color?
  • What eats what?
  • Why there are more insects than lizards?
  • Why do the birds circle above?Why?  Why?  Why?

The TEDTalk21 invitation to remember a safe learning space reminded me of how a simple hike led to an natural and engaging learning experience in which my 9 year old has developed a new understanding of the world in which he lives.  But it has also opened a new learning experience for myself.  Seeing the child’s excitement and the additional different perspectives brought into the experience has led me to wonder:

  • How can this excitement and natural engagement become the learning norm in my classroom?
  • How can these natural interactions be replicated to invite in others through new formats using digital literacy so that everyone can impact their own creative learning process?

Actively participating with the Lead21 team in learning how to actively engage learning through the use of technology to replicate this system has opened a new world.

Why are so many of us using technology as a replacement of the ribbon based typewriter instead of the social environment that could help learning flourish? 

Setting up something as simple as a student blog opens the door to the natural learning cycle.  Asking students to publish their learning, followed by others positively promoting different perspectives or inquiries, provides students an opportunity to re-engage with all these ideas to deepen their understanding.  The static learning experience transforms into a dynamic space that strengthens them as resilient learners.

For teachers, this promotes deeper learning of the content, but also of three essential components to becoming engaged, life-long learners.  We can help them learn to self-regulate, self-motivate and self-evaluate their learning process and products. As teachers, we need to:

  • Promote and actively engage students in asking where they are in their learning process
  • Ask what strategies they have employed and how they have worked
  • Ask what their engagement is trying to achieve
  • Ask what their next steps need to be in order achieve their goal

We can never create a destination to where every student wants to go to, but our students can. By opening up the learning experience to a more natural, collaborative, self directed way, students can take charge of and build their own meaningful learning process.

Reflection question (would love to see your comments below):

How do you set up the use of technology to incorporate the natural learning cycle in order to help students deepen meaning making and become more independent learners?

[Craig Gastauer is a high school biology teacher in Northern San Diego County.]