Education — Designed for Meaningful Learning Experience & Community Belongingness
Abstract: How micro learning experiences can be embedded in our education delivery system to create a meaningful learning experience for learners and a sense of belongingness to their local community?
After building my company and interviewing many engineers in the process of hiring, I found that many engineers have degrees but many lack understanding and logical ability to think. Dissatisfaction & disappointment with the lot of engineers with degrees we were producing made me think deeper about the issue and the problem that persists within our education system which does not lead people to be creative problem solvers. So my quest of how do we create “Creative Problem Solvers” through our education, learning and working experience in the ecosystem led me to experiment on different initiatives through my observation and experimenting with them on practical learning through meaningful engagement.
Questions of a learner such as
- Why am I here?
- What am I here to learn?
- What can I learn?
- Whom can I learn from?
- What did I observe here
- What did I learn from my observation?
- Is it only my observation in unity or on by large?
- Can I apply what I have learnt?
- How can I apply what I have learnt?
- Where can I apply?
- Where should I apply?
- Where can I bring a complete meaning to my learning and its application?
These are some questions as a learner, I ask myself about my Learning Needs and I believe most of the lifelong learners would be asking these questions to truly understand, make sense of belonging and add that meaning to their learning environment.
Schools primarily focus on creating a learning environment and an education delivery system through a predefined curriculum and methodologies whereas students don’t necessarily learn in the same manner as they have been taught.
So my questions are
- Why do we need an education delivery system?
- Whom are these designed for? For learners or for teachers or for certificates or for Seeking Societal Validation of being an educated person?
- What are the different Learning needs or learning paths or learning situations of an individual?
- How can these learning paths be crafted to meet the needs of a learner?
- How such learning situations are created for a learner which generates a sense of meaning and purpose?
- How can such learnings be compiled into a sense of meaningful learning experiences?
To be able to find answers to these questions, I have been running some experiments on my children and on myself to understand the learning process, needs, paths to learn and an individual takes to meet an objective or a goal to learn.
During this pandemic with school closures, delivery of education continued by adopting digital methods of delivering education to students of a class. We saw teachers adapting to the new methods of delivering, engaging, managing administrative work and validating the completeness of student’s work.
We saw the changes, the new methods but the question: did these changes really made our learning more meaningful, add more belongingness to the school, add more to the learning opportunities or created more learning situations for our learners or students?
Maybe yes and maybe not, we don’t know the answers as each is different from the whole, but from my observation it has obviously increased the disconnect with schools and teachers. I spoke to some teachers from my daughters’ school and even they didn’t enjoy the entire experience teaching online. They were not able to connect with the students.
I asked my 7 year old daughter how she felt with her online school and for 5 minutes she expressed her frustration and she really didn’t like it.
As a parent, I realised that one thing is that the learning environment and experience of what a school gives is not just about curriculum; it also brings a lot of daily learning moments for them. School is not just about curriculum and if the focus of the school or teachers is just to deliver the curriculum as designed for a particular grade we are not clearly catering to the needs, learning styles, learning paths, learning situations for a learner.
With these, I thought about how I can create learning moments for myself, my children and engineers (since I have an IT company :-), I always think about them too) with a purpose driven activity. For technologists started 2 initiatives (Creative problem Solving community, Green Dream hackathon) to make them come together to solve a problem on Waste Management locally for their city. Well it didn’t really take off.
Since I couldn’t run my experiment for technologists and designers here in my community, I thought about doing things at my home.
Pot Painting Project
We started with an activity to paint all the pots in my house. This project took about 3 Saturday mornings to finish all the pots. Initially we started with a single pot and then took all the pots one by one.
My observations and learning from this home project:
- I developed empathy for the painter who just maintains things and is not in the process of creation.
- I learnt the process of painting pot and the time it takes to finish one garden, one pot completely.
For my children
- They really enjoyed this project and were very much involved and engaged in the process.
- Everyday when they see these pots painted by them they feel a sense of achievement from a reflection of what they have done to the surroundings they live in.
- Now, they are again excited about this activity again with some new ideas.
- They understood teamwork and collaboration in this process.
- They understood patience by not telling them they need to have patience by actually seeing that completion takes time.
In this process, we had some guests at home who were in their 50’s also loved and contributed to this project.
Our schools and teachers need to engage students in taking care of things around them, maintaining them, engaging them in the local environment and surroundings through activities designed to meet a sense of belonging and meaningful connection with a local environment.
Our education delivery system needs to design hybrid activities designed around community based projects to give a sense of belongingness to the community.
Plant Labelling Project
I was teaching my daughter from her school textbook “Environment” and it has chapters about trees and plants and their names but we are not surrounded by them.
So I thought about how I can make her know about the plants and trees which are at least around her in her garden. How important it is to know which plants and trees are there in different cities and what are their names unless she is surrounded by them and or is in that environment?
As I thought the textbook chapter was not really adding to the meaning of developing a curiosity about trees and plants and their lifecycle, I thought why don’t I start a plant and trees labelling project for the ones that are there in my garden.
We got labels
Since we didn’t know the names, we thought of using Augmented reality apps which can identify the names by taking a picture of the plant or tree that needs to be recognized. Since these apps didn’t have the database of local trees and plants, it was not identifying them properly.
- Labelling project was boring for them and for me. As we didn’t know the names and was using technology to find them but they were not identified correctly.
- They loved the augmented reality feature where the bees come on the flower especially the younger one(4 years old) really loved it.
Our textbooks and curriculum have been designed so theoretically that it is not engaging enough for the student to know what they have around them. Activities like this, if designed rightly can create a mode of curiosity and learning for things around them by making them engaged in their own surroundings.
To develop curiosity and a liking towards the environment, it’s not as much important for them to remember the names of the trees and plants but to truly know and understand the lifecycle of plants by observation. Activities such as journaling on a plants lifecycle would leave children to observe, and being curious about the changes that happen in their own environment will make them come up with a rote mechanism to just remember the names of the trees whereas activities like these would truly make them learn to observe.
One of my cousins gave my child a book on Sustainability and we took that book and did some activities together. Post that book, my daughter on her own made a chart with listed bullet points on “Ways to Save Earth”.
I asked her to hang this one outside our house, so that people who are passing by can see this. Ofcourse the chart did not sustain due to wind. We took it off, but this activity got her really excited about the chart and putting what she created for people to look for and care for. It was completely self initiated.
Composting at home
I got a composting bin at my home, where we used the bokashi tea out of home food waste for our soil. She has seen me doing this and she has also poured the mixture in the soil sometimes. This has made them involved in caring for the plants and segregating food waste.
All of this has led them to care for the environment and plants and trees around them.
I could only see the result after my younger one’s birthday where we had blown up a lot of balloons.
The next day, I just reached the office, and I got a call from my daughter with a lot of urgency, so I asked her “What’s the matter?”, she said , “All the balloons are now gonna go in the fish’s mouth. CAN’T WE RECYCLE IT?
I realised that we created so much waste over a birthday party and thought next time we wouldn’t do so and make sure we have an alternative biodegradable balloon and I convinced her for the same.
When she asked about “RECYCLING”, I was happy that she CARED and CARE TO ASK.
Selling Old Clothes (2 weekends)
My daughter came up with an idea to sell her old clothes. She did so and post the sale, she was excited about her idea and was imagining what will happen, how she can make it more attractive for people to come by and stop by and how she can ask more people to join to volunteer in selling old clothes.
In this process, she started getting more ideas once her initial idea was put into action. This project made her imagine and created an excitement for the future.
From this very incident I realised
how ideas build imagination, how it gives an excitement for tomorrow.
A tomorrow that you can create and A tomorrow that would be.
Simply by looking and observing my child through this entire process and realizing what if I would have said “No” to do this entire activity what it would have done to her imagination, it would have not built and would have not led to excitement.
If such a small event or experience can become a lifelong memorable experience for her and can add to her imagination then why don’t we let our kids imagine at school?
To Imagine is to create excitement for the future!!
All these micro projects and experiments have led me to think that the learner does not learn in a synchronous way of what has been delivered to him/her today through education material. True learning happens through engagement, reflection and situation to apply that learning and when we complete the whole process of application of what we have learnt, then only it makes our learning meaningful.