Monday, August 18, 2014

Reflections from WRDSB's CATC Camp 2014 (The Inquiry Based Learning Effect.)

Most of my doctoral blogs have focused on what I was studying this summer in Calgary:  the historical role of technology in education and inquiry-based learning.  Even though it seemed more sensible to catch up on some much needed sleep after my summer term,  I couldn't miss being part of my school board's incredible technology summer camp for educators.  For my fifth camp I moved from being a camper to the role of GAFE facilitator.

The philosophy of CATC Camp has evolved to "learning with your two feet" under the leadership of +Mark W. Carbone , +Harry Niezen  and +Rebecca Rouse .   Learning with your two feet requires a person to shift from what they perceive effective learning looks like.  When you go to the theatre or a sporting event, you are told that it is bad manners to leave your seat during a play, song or scene--you are suppose to wait until the "appropriate time" and you would never think that you could just walk in at any point--in some cases the doors wouldn't even open.   You have to abandon this philosophy to participate--you go where you need, get what you want and move at any time.  It requires an awareness of the opportunities and resources around you.  It makes you question what you know and seek out what you need.  We were all working on ideas, skills and lessons to bring back to the classroom--learning wasn't limited to only the campers as facilitators were learning along with them.

So how can I summarize what this experience is like?  It's the opportunity for educators to experience what true authentic inquiry-based learning looks and more importantly feels like.  I won't list all of the technology that was explored during the camp, but please feel free to read the tweets on Twitter #CATCCamp14, what I learned from the camp was the important role that this learning methodology provides.  It's not that I haven't read a bunch of memos, articles and documents.  I have had these given to me as an educator, but I never realized this learning style's full potential or how it should be executed until this past weekend and it made me reflect on one of my recent blogs.  By not only studying but experiencing this teaching methodology both as an educator and a learner, it made me realize we need all educators to have this experience--and it takes more than a staff meeting or an afternoon session.  It requires time to explore and reflect so that you can identify your learning needs and then find where you can access them.  It requires that the supportive scaffolding is put in place for the learner to go to after the session is over.    This skill has been identified in the NMC Horizon Report as part of desired 21st Century skills.  I wish there was more opportunities like CATC Camp.  We know that inquiry-based learning leads to a more engaged learner with a deeper level of understanding; this is how educators need to learn too.  There were examples of this all throughout the camp.  Some campers arrived excited and ready to expand their growing knowledge base but there were others who were fearful of the technology and their ability to learn.  There were campers whose doubt was based on how they compared their abilities against the alleged knowledge level of the other campers and facilitators.   I  heard repeatedly, "sorry to ask a stupid question" and "everyone else probably knows this"--but they didn't.  Slowly the hesitant let go of their perceptions and that's when the best learning took place.  Campers and facilitators were high fiving each other, calling and tweeting each other over to seek what they did (learned).  People didn't even wait, any cheer would cause others to stop what they were doing to go over and learn too--even from different rooms.  It was learning by your two feet at its finest.

The learning engagement wasn't only tethered to technology; it started with +George Couros keynote address and continued with each news time meeting.  However, the biggest cheer during the camp was when +Mark W. Carbone announced that Classroom by Google had just become available for WRDSB educators to use.  There were a few of us beta testers who had already been exploring it and instantly learning groups were formed.  In under 20 minutes, educators went from viewing this new teaching tool to adopting it--it was authentic inquiry-based learning at its finest.  The modelling continued during the final morning of camp as people formed and joined online communities or arranged to meet for follow up support and growth.

Isn't this what we all want for our learners?  We want to build a sense of curiosity, passion and drive. We want our students to move from a passive to an active role in their learning; we want them to be driven by the knowledge more than the mark.  Ask any of the campers what was more important the certificate they received at the end or the awesome digital resources that they built?  How do I know that the CATC Camp organizational committee got this camp right?  When I saw people saying that they were planning on returning next year--it was going into their calendar and I plan to see them there.

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