Sunday, May 27, 2012

Transformative Learning: 3 Examples of Students Engaged in Work that Makes a Difference

 a guest post by Mike Lombardo (@mlombardo99), Principal, Magruder Elementary School, originially posted on his blog at

How do you motivate students within the classroom?  As 21st century educators, we are well aware of the necessity to provide our students with rigorous and engaging learning experiences.  In addition, we know that our students expect to use digital tools in order to access the world and enhance their learning. 

After attending a January 2012 talk by Alan November (@globalearner), I began to reflect on my beliefs related to student engagement and the factors that motivate students to learn.  Alan November suggested that students are motivated when their work makes a difference, they have a sense of ownership, and their work transforms the learning of others.  Daniel Pink (@DanielPink) provides additional clarity to the issue of student engagement and motivation by arguing that student work must have a purpose. 

The following examples showcase transformative learning experiences in which the students were highly motivated due to the design of the work.  In each example, the students’ work made a difference, created a sense of ownership, and added information that aided in the learning of others.  In addition to these critical attributes, the use of digital tools in order to share the students' work beyond the classroom is a common characteristic of each learning activity.

Video of Classroom Procedures
Each fall, teachers begin the year by establishing clear classroom procedures with the students.  The procedures are then reviewed and practiced until the students have a strong understanding of the routines and the classroom is functioning like a well-oiled machine.  In Mrs. Caruso's (@CarusoM1) classroom, this process became a transformative learning experience for her students.  The students created videos for each of the established classroom procedures using Movie Maker.  Within each video, the students enacted the procedure, providing powerful demonstrations of the desired routine.  Creating the videos was a tremendous strategy for reinforcing the procedures for her current students.  However, the learning experience became transformative due to the fact that next year's students will view the videos in order to learn the classroom procedures.  They will of course be charged with creating new videos for the students who will be in Mrs. Caruso's class the following year. 
Long Division Claymation
The long division algorithm provides a daunting challenge to teachers in regards to student engagement and understanding.  Rather than simply practicing the steps involved in the process via rote learning, students in this example created Claymation videos.  Prior to developing the Claymation videos, cooperative groups of students created stories to represent their division problems and bolster understanding of the mathematical concept.  Then, using digital cameras and video editing software, the students created the Claymation products by taking photographs of their clay representations of division problems.  Through the Claymation process, they were able to convert the still photographs into a sequential video and gain a greater understanding of the long division algorithm.  Finally, once their Claymation videos were complete, they were uploaded to the school’s network and YouTube.  In doing so, the products added to the body of information and allowed others to learn from their work. 

Scientific Method Music Video
Utilizing the scientific method is a powerful process for students, providing them with a systematic means of exploring their world and drawing conclusions based on their investigations.  For Mrs. Hodges’ (@Hodgesvj) fourth grade students, the motivation for mastering the scientific method was evident from the moment she proclaimed that the class would be responsible for creating a music video regarding the topic.  The students were immediately able to take ownership of the work as they began planning the video.  Through the production of their music video, the students were able to emphasize critical components of the scientific method such as; making observations, predicting, identifying variables, and drawing conclusions based on data.  In this transformative learning experience, the students realized the profound purpose of the work since the product would be posted on YouTube so that others could learn from their scientific method music video. 

In the aforementioned examples, Alan November and Daniel Pink’s concept of motivation and transformative learning was clearly evident.  In each case, the students were motivated due to the work having purpose beyond a grade or assigned requirement.  The students took great pride in their work, knowing that it would be accessed by others far beyond the classroom.  In addition, the learning activities were transformative by design.  The students' work made a difference, created a sense of ownership, and added information that aided in the learning of others.  In our unwavering efforts to provide students with a world-class education, it is vital to create transformative learning experiences in which our students are motivated, engaged, and able to see the value of their work.

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